Thunder Focused on Learning From Game 1
The instant the Thunder stepped off the court Saturday night, it immediately turned its attention to Game 2 of its first-round NBA Playoffs series against the Dallas Mavericks.
Matching up against the defending champions isn’t an easy task, so Head Coach Scott Brooks and his staff are fully prepared to anticipate potential moves the Mavericks might make, in addition to making strategic changes of their own, one game at a time.
“There are always adjustments, a little wrinkle here and there, but it’s always figuring out what we did well and maybe adding to that,” Brooks said. “We’ll work on the things that we need to get better at. We had low turnovers, 14 for us, that is below our average, but they scored 27 points off of them. That’s almost all of our turnovers led to two points. We have to make sure we manage that.”
At practice Sunday afternoon, Kevin Durant and his teammates had the chance to re-watch Saturday’s game to see where it can improve.
“Those guys do a great job of converting off our turnovers, so we have to try to cut that down and stop playing in a crowd,” Durant said. “We have to get back on defense and match up with those guys. They do a great job of passing the ball. We have to play a little bit harder, too. We saw some good stuff in the film that is going to help us out.”
One area the Thunder saw on film that was a major positive was the play of forward Serge Ibaka, who finished with a career-high-tying 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Many of his buckets were assisted by Durant and Russell Westbrook off dribble penetration, as the Dallas defenders double teamed and came over in help-side defense. Ibaka was able to take advantage by both knocking down open jump shots and finishing plays at the rim, even through contact.
On Sunday, Brooks said that Durant, Westbrook and James Harden must continue to look for Ibaka and make him a part of the offense.
“We definitely have to continue that because they do a great job of defending and putting bodies around our scorers,” Brooks said. “By loosening up the defense, you have to be able to make sure those passes are executed and completed and converted into two points. Serge did a great job of catching around the basket and finishing strong and quick and getting to the rim. He was like that all game.”
The most critical part of Game 1 turned out to be the final three minutes, when the Thunder erased a seven-point deficit to squeeze out a 99-98 victory. Usually in those situations, Durant, Westbrook and Harden are the ones taking shots. Saturday, Ibaka was heavily involved in the rhythm of the offense, finishing two plays at the rim while drawing fouls to facilitate the comeback with three-point plays.
Moving forward, Ibaka wants to continue to be an option late in the game.
“I will just be focused and I’ll just be ready,” Ibaka said. “I know it’s the Playoffs and the other team knows we have three of the best scorers in Kevin, Russ and James. So most of the time they will have two players on them. So I’ll just be ready to make big steps.”
Knowing the Mavericks and Head Coach Rick Carlisle, Dallas will surely come into Game 2 with adjustments of their own, meaning the Thunder will have to anticipate and counteract those changes.
Having played the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals a year ago and four times in the regular season this year, the Thunder is well-acquainted with Dallas. The Thunder is prepared for the entire series to be a battle of wills and one that will be played as much mentally as it is physically.
“We’re so familiar with these guys, playing them so tough last year,” Durant said. “It was a 4-1 series, but we played them tough. Playing them tough throughout the season this year, we’re so familiar with them. So we knew how they were going to play in a playoff series. I’m glad we finally got to the Playoffs and got Game 1 out of the way with the win. Hopefully we can get another one in Game 2.”