Thunder Protects the Ball, Secures Game 1 Victory

Protect the basketball.

Those three words have been spoken frequently by Head Coach Scott Brooks during his four seasons with the Thunder, almost as a Mission Statement for his team.

Monday night, it was Mission Accomplished.

The Thunder, embracing the every-possession-counts-in-the-Playoffs theory, recorded a franchise-low four turnovers while totaling 20 assists in a 119-90 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of their best-of-seven, second-round series. Game 2 is Wednesday night (8:30 p.m. Central) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“Our offense was good and we didn’t turn the ball over ,” Brooks said, looking at the final boxscore. “That’s been a problem most of the season. The last series we did a good job of taking care of that and we did it again tonight.”

The Thunder averaged 16.35 turnovers during the regular season, and did not have one game with single-digit totals. The Playoffs have been a different story. The Thunder is averaging a co-NBA Playoffs low 11 turnovers a game, matching the Philadelphia 76ers, and has registered single-digit numbers in two of its five games.

“With the turnovers we’ve had throughout the season, it’s good to see the last series and tonight that we only had four turnovers. That’s huge,” Brooks said. “We’ve had four in the first six minutes of games sometimes. We did a great job of taking care of the basketball.”

The Thunder had one turnover in the first quarter, one in the third and two in the fourth, but that was only half of the story. The benefit of that was ball movement, leading to open shots and drives to the basket.

“It was a team effort. Everybody came out tonight and did a great job of distributing the ball, finding open guys and getting easy shots,” said guard Russell Westbrook, who finished with 27 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. “It was a good thing for us and we took care of the ball.”

The Thunder, to a man, challenges itself to improve, no matter its recent success. So while the four turnovers is a franchise low, forward Kevin Durant is eager to put Game 1 behind and instead focus on Wednesday night, with the mindset that the series is 0-0.

“To be honest, I think we could be better,” he said. “We could do a lot of things better such as executing on the offensive end, helping each other out more on the defensive end and cutting down our turnovers. We did a decent job tonight, but we have to keep pressing. … We can always get better and I think if we have that mindset, then we have a good chance. It’s all about growing and learning from our mistakes.”