Time to Capitalize on Opportunities

Basketball fans and analysts often lock in on what is visible in the aftermath of a game to determine where and when it was won or lost. As the Thunder prepares for Game 3 of this first round series against the Utah Jazz, in many ways it is analyzing what didn’t happen in Game 2 just as much as what did.

For example the Thunder noticed that in the first quarter, it had a myriad of opportunities to take control of the game, and take advantage of Utah missed shots. The Thunder turned the ball over 8 times in the first quarter. That’s eight opportunities to put points on the board thrown out the window, and coupled with 6 offensive rebounds allowed in the opening 12 minutes, the Thunder saw a golden opportunity to take command of the game slip away.

So despite a few exhilarating rallies, including a 19-0 third quarter burst, the Thunder recognized that the cost of missing out on chances to break through early in the game was just as costly as the missed shots in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what generally creates momentum either for or against is when you either have opportunities that you miss out on or you capitalize on opportunities,” Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan said of those fleeting first half moments. “There are going to be momentum swings back and forth. When the momentum is going back and forth like that, you have to kind of find a way to stop it.”

At the Thunder practice facility on Thursday, center Steven Adams laid out the challenges and strategies for dealing with a huge momentum swinger that the Jazz was able to dominate: second chances. Derrick Favors snapped up a barrage of offensive rebounds in the first half, and Utah had a plus-10 edge on the glass in the game.

Adams said that against Favors, it’s important to do your work early and with Rudy Gobert the key is to drive him as far from the rim as possible. Against both Jazz players, box outs need to be smarter, not necessarily harder. Driving the opposition under the rim or away from a potential carom is more important than the amount of space created.

“We need to do a better job rebounding the basketball. There was plenty of opportunities for us on film where we had (Favors) sandwiched and we had him blocked out,” Donovan noted. “We needed to go up and rebound the basketball better. There were times we got caught in rotation where we had some guards. They got caught down on him because we were in rotation. Then there were some times where he really kept the ball alive on the glass.”

In Game 3 the Thunder’s toughness and intelligence on the glass will need to be raised a level, as will its execution on the offensive end. Beginning the game with 3 turnovers in the first 4 possessions won’t be a viable outcome on the road in Salt Lake City, nor will attempting just 36 shots in the paint compared to 19 non-paint two-pointers like the Thunder did in Game 2.

On Sunday evening in Game 1, the Thunder hit difficult shots, and came away victorious. Donovan knew his team hadn’t played well enough to have a repeat performance in Game 2 and win. He was right, and now the Thunder is preparing for at least two games in Utah where the margin for error will be razor thin. Getting a shot, and even better a high efficiency shot, on each trip down court will be paramount.

“You can’t live by missing or making shots,” Donovan said. “You gotta live by the controllable things that you know you can do possession by possession.”

Thunder Notes & Quotes

- Donovan elaborated on his thoughts about the offense, and the best way to engineer looks in the paint. With the way Utah utilizes Gobert in drop coverage to linger in the lane and protect the rim, layups from Russell Westbrook and lobs over the top to Adams or Jerami Grant are nearly impossible to come by. Donovan noted that he’s given thought to giving more playing time to Alex Abrines and Patrick Patterson to space the floor in an attempt to pull Gobert from the rim, but that decision obviously comes with mismatch issues on the other end. Inevitably, the Thunder will have to take shots in the midrange regardless of the personnel on the floor. It’s about having the discipline to the right ones in those situations, and not second guessing going into those jump shots.

  • “It’s more to me about what kind of shots you’re generating. Are they coming inside the rhythm and the flow of what you’re trying to do offensively?” Donovan asked. “So it’s about making good choices. I thought we had possessions in the game, throughout the course of the game that we probably needed to do a better job of moving the ball and executing at a better level."

- The other dynamic the Thunder is adjusting to in the series is the balance between protecting the paint and closing out at the three-point line. In both Game 1 and Game 2, the Jazz scored 50 points in the paint, which is more than the Thunder would hope. However, Donovan’s club did limit the type of volume three-point shots from Utah’s best shooters. In Game 2, Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors, who shot 35 and 22 percent respectively from three-point range this season, hit 7 combined three-pointers. There’s a fine line between overreacting to shots going in and making adjustments, and that’s one the Thunder will be evaluating over the next couple days.

  • “They’re a team that is gonna drive the ball hard and they’re going to be aggressive and then offensive rebounding and all of those things kind of add up. You can sell out and totally take away the paint and then by totally taking away the paint you’re going to be vulnerable at the three-point line,” Donovan said. “So there’s a balance there and I think for us schematically defensively there’s things that go into trying to defend both of those areas.”