Up Tempo Style Suits Thunder

Defend then get out in space and play with speed. It sounds like a simple recipe for the Thunder, but it’s something that it focuses on every day.

Heading into tonight’s contest against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder had two days to prepare and work on different aspects of its game. Head Coach Scott Brooks always keeps his practices and shoot-arounds consistent, giving his players a great sense of what is expected of them day in and day out. Over the past two days, Brooks’ squad has honed in on its defense and ball movement, in addition to its transition game.

“We just wanted to continue to work on all of our fundamental drills that we put in every day,” Brooks said. “We are always a defensive team first and we have to always touch up on our defense. If we do need some offensive work, we touch up on that. I think we’re moving the ball, we’re passing the ball, we’re not turning the ball over as much and we have to continue to do that. We are a team that has to work on all parts of the game.”

The Thunder comes into this game as winners of 14 of its past 16 games and has scored over 100 points in ten straight contests. The Thunder ranks eighth in the NBA with 16.1 fast break points per game while limiting opponents to 11.6 points per game in transition, the second best mark in the league. Being able to switch gears from defense to offense quickly, then do the reverse with the same speed is essential according to leaders like Kevin Durant.

“I like the pace we’re playing with right now,” Durant said. “Our chemistry is growing every day. Guys are just going out there and having fun playing. We’re giving up our bodies for each other, we’re playing together and we’re going out there and leaving it all on the floor. That’s what good teams do. We have to do it at a consistent level though, every single game.”

Being able to win the battle of fast break points has proved effective for the Thunder so far this season, considering the team is 13-1 when outscoring its opponent in transition and only 2-3 when being outdone in that category. The blow-by speed and strength of Russell Westbrook provides one gear for the Thunder in the open court, while the shifty, quick movements of backup point guard Eric Maynor provide a complementary balance when the Thunder attacks ahead of the pack.

“I think we’re playing at a high level right now, and we’re playing fast,” Maynor said. “I think that’s the main thing that Scott (Brooks) wants, is for us to play at a faster pace. I think we’re doing that right now, and we’re defending. We’re doing both of them. It’s hard to beat us when we’re playing like that.”

The fast break for the Thunder starts on the defensive end with a quality 24 seconds worth of principled play and focus. Keeping their men in front, locating the opposition once a shot goes up and boxing out are all crucial aspects of a Thunder defensive possession. The proper positioning to prevent an offensive rebound is perhaps the most crucial, because it then allows for a quick strike up the floor, or a well-executed offensive possession.

“It’s always important that we play the way we have success and that is a defensive minded, tough mentality,” Brooks said. “Offensively, continue to attack and push and draw double teams and pass out of double teams and keep moving the ball with great spacing. That’s basically our philosophy on both ends of the floor.”

The matchup against the Lakers pits two of the top three first quarter scoring teams in the league, which means the Thunder must be prepared to jump out to a great start out of the gate. That comes with energy, intensity and commitment to team values from the opening tip. Getting off to a good start tonight could make a huge difference as the game goes along, but the consistency with which the Thunder plays throughout the game is also of importance to Brooks.

“We tell our guys, everybody has a job to do and they have to go out and do it from the start of the game,” Brooks said. “Whatever time of the game you come in, you have to be able to bring the energy and bring the enthusiasm and bring the effort to the team.”