Teamwork and Togetherness Won West Finals
Over the course of a grueling Western Conference Finals series against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder used a brand of offensive and defensive teamwork along with an overall togetherness to shrug aside a 2-0 hole and an 18-point Game 6 deficit and turn it into a 4-2 series win. Led by young core team members like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s worth has increased through its work.
“We all worked hard, and we all believed in each other,” Durant said. “We put the team first. And guys like Russell and myself, James (Harden), (Kendrick) Perkins, Serge (Ibaka), everybody on the team, Thabo (Sefolosha), we come in and work every single day and we believe. And once you have that, then you always give yourself a chance.”
The process of continual improvement and a daily commitment to the fundamentals and values of good, smart, effective basketball have propelled the Thunder to successive steps up the hierarchy of Playoff successes. It started when the team moved to Oklahoma City, and thanks to the work ethic to stay in the gym and on the practice floor, the players and team have developed.
“Guys stay committed each and every year, each summer, came in every day and worked hard, and it's paying off,” Westbrook said.
After hugging his family members as Harden corralled a last second rebound in the series-clinching 107-99 Game 6 victory, Durant acknowledged the excitement he and his teammates feel while also displaying the maturity to realize that the team is far from reaching its ultimate goal.
“I never want to take those moments for granted,” Durant said. “I know we're just one step closer to our dreams. But it felt good. We've just got to continue, like I said, to keep believing.”
The hard-fought series the Thunder just completed would not have been won for a number of reasons, including the following four:
With a seemingly endless amount of energy and intensity, Russell Westbrook is one of the most dynamic and physically gifted young players in the NBA. At 23 years old and in charge of point guard and scoring duties for this Thunder team, Westbrook has been charged with an immense amount of responsibility. In these Playoffs, his sacrifices and patience with the ball in his hands in addition to the poise with which he got the Thunder into offensive sets set the tone for the way Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team turned the series around.
“The leadership that Russell has displayed, I'm proud of him,” Brooks said. “He gets criticized a lot, and I tell him, don't worry about what other people say; you're not their point guard, you're my point guard, and I like what he's about. I like what he represents. He had a never quit attitude tonight, and he did a good job of helping us win this game.”
Role Players Stepping Up
Throughout the series, with Westbrook and Durant driving and kicking with full trust in their teammates, Thunder role players have stepped up. In order, there was the 19-point effort from Thabo Sefolosha in Game 3, 26 points from Serge Ibaka on an epic 11-for-11 Game 4 shooting effort or Daequan Cook’s shooting barrage in Game 5, where he erupted for eight points on 3-for-3 shooting in 3:54 of game action.
“To be where we are, we have a pretty good basketball team,” Brooks said. “We have a very good basketball team, a deep basketball team, and a team that believes in each other. As you coach this group, guys step up, and guys step up at times throughout the year, and they stepped up tonight. Thabo stepped up last game with his defense, with his offense.”
When a team trusts one another and loses itself within the team on offense, ball movement is at its highest and it stretches the opponent’s defense. On the defensive end, when a team plays as one and all five guys are on the same page, defensive rotations and second and third efforts are commonplace. During this series, every player who saw minutes made an impact.
“Our bigs did a good job of defending and scoring,” Brooks said. “Give our playmakers a lot of credit. They were demanding a lot of attention. Like Kevin, Russell and James will do, and they were finding open shots for Serge, and open and drop off passes for Perk. That's what we've been doing. I give those guys a lot of credit for executing it.”
Length and Athleticism on Defense
The Thunder forced the usually offensively efficient Spurs into 15.8 turnovers per game in the series, largely as a result of the defense players like Sefolosha, Westbrook, Ibaka, Perkins and Nick Collison played against the pick-and-roll. After Brooks put Sefolosha on Tony Parker starting in Game 3 and began switching screens nearly every time, the Thunder was able to bottle up the Spurs’ shifty point guard. In addition, the commitment to strong closeouts to three point shooters and multiple efforts on rotations and help side defense, the Thunder used its length and athleticism to hold San Antonio to 44.9 percent shooting over the final four games of the series.
“I think my length bothered (Parker),” Sefolosha said. “I rely on my teammates a lot and they did a great job of helping me. We switched some of the pick and roll and I think that helped us.”
The numbers speak for themselves to explain Durant’s mastery: 29.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 53 percent shooting throughout the entire series. The next level of describing Durant’s impact on the games in this series is in the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet. Whether it was his patience on drive and kick opportunities to open shooters or the charge he took on Manu Ginobili in Game 6, Durant led by his quiet yet firm example, underscored by one final number from the closeout game- 48 minutes played.
“Kevin is an amazing young man,” Brooks said. “The stat line is not even close to who he is as a young man. He's respected by his teammates, by his staff, by the city. He's a great ambassador to this league, and I'm proud to coach him. He wants to be coached. He's just a great leader.”