Pick-and-Roll Play the Key on Both Ends – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at POR Game 1

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Broadcast Information

PORTLAND – The start of a playoff series is always an uncertain proposition. While there’s still six potential games remaining, Game 1 can often set the series down a track that changes the landscape right away. For the sixth-seeded Thunder, it’s a chance to immediately snatch control and put a shock into its foe. For the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, it’s an opportunity to put its foot down and defend its home-court advantage.

While there’s 82 games as a body of work to look at, along with a four-game season series and recent run of play to analyze, the Thunder knows that Portland may operate with a slightly different approach right out of the gates. Being prepared for possible looks then being able to react in the heat of the battle will be critical for the Thunder.  

“The regular season, there’s tendencies that carry over, but again in terms of like strategy, what they’re looking for, what they’re trying to emphasize, it’s a bit different always when it comes to playoffs,” center Steven Adams noted.

“The first game is obviously the most important game, I reckon,” the burly Thunder center continued. “Why it is so important is that you don’t really know what they’re coming with, you don’t know what they’re coming with. You kind of just gotta feel it out and make the quick adjustments early and kind of roll from there.”

The Thunder and Blazers will test one another on both side of the ball in Game 1. What can be expected right away is that both teams will try to utilize pick-and-roll play to attack the other and to generate efficient scoring.

Watch: Practice Report - Saturday, April 13
Thunder puts final touches on preparation for Game 1 against Portland on Sunday.

Thunder on Offense:

With center Jusuf Nurkic missing from the Portland starting lineup, the Blazers have been playing former Thunder center Enes Kanter at the five. Blazers’ Head Coach Terry Stotts often keeps his big men back in pick-and-rolls against the Thunder, daring Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schröder, Paul George and Raymond Felton to shoot mid-range jumpers. Instead the Thunder will likely try to attack the Blazers’ pick-and-roll defense by putting pressure on Kanter at the rim and forcing help over from the corners, if possible.  

“They’re a good defensive team. They’re going to do a good job protecting the paint, and you’ve got to make good decisions, and you’ve got to have ball movement,” Donovan said. “You’ve got to maximize possessions. You’ve got to get good shots.

“You don’t want to turn it over, you don’t want to have possessions that become wasted where you get nothing out of them. Shots at the basket are better than nothing,” Donovan added.

During the regular season series, George averaged an incredible 38.0 points and 45.5 percent 3-point shooting against the Blazers. Though George didn’t play on Wednesday night in the Thunder’s season finale, Donovan’s club capped a fifth-straight victory with OKC records of 40 assists and 23 made threes. The Thunder’s offense is trending back in the right direction, but it must be disciplined to get exactly what it wants on each trip down court.

Steven Adams

Thunder on Defense:

The most critical element of the defense against Portland is getting all five men in position early in the shot clock to provide a wall of defenders and a deterrent against quick attacks at the rim or from behind the arc.

“It’s about getting back, loading up, trying to get our defense set as fast as possible,” George said.

The Thunder pick-and-roll defense is set up differently than Portland’s. Utilizing the athleticism, length, size and quickness of its big men, the Thunder rushes players like Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel high up into screening actions to both quickly show to deny 3-point attempts and to try to deter drives into the middle of the lane. Due to Portland guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s propensity to shoot threes off the dribble, Thunder guards have high pick up points, well above the 3-point line, and that means big men like Adams need to be extra vigilant to be up at the level of the screen.

“This is a guard-orientated team. They play around the guards a lot but they play through the big if that makes sense,” Adams explained. “(Kanter) is going to be like the distributor. Same with like Nurkic, having him up top like a quarterback almost. Or if we jump them and he plays in the pocket and then they make a decision from there.”

“I feel like we’re really good where we’re at, confidence-wise, scheme-wise, just a good feel about it,” Adams added.

The other key aspect for the defense is what happens after the shot goes up. Since Nurkic’s injury, Kanter has averaged an unthinkable 5.3 offensive rebounds per game to boost a Blazers group that ranks fourth in the NBA in second-chance points anyway. While contesting jump shots by Lillard and McCollum, the Thunder will also need to be wary of rolls to the rim by Kanter and loose rebounds that fly off the rim.

“They have such elite shooting and on top of that they have elite rebounding,” Donovan said. “A long rebound they may (shoot a 3-pointer), but those guys are generally going back up with it.”

Game 1 Preview
Nick Gallo and Lesley McCaslin discuss how the pick and roll will be crucial on both ends.


-       Paul George (shoulder soreness) is still being classified as “day-to-day” by Donovan, but participated in the mostly mental work that the Thunder did on Friday and Saturday as it walked through the game plan against the Blazers.

-       While the Thunder is prepared to face Enes Kanter as the Blazers’ starting center at the outset of this series, the chance remains that Portland adjusts to more of a five-out look with shooters such as Zach Collins or Meyers Leonard at the five spot. Both players may see minutes in the second unit, so the Thunder defense must be prepared for the differences in personnel.

  • “Collins and Leonard are a little bit different because (shooting threes) is really part of what they do when those guys are out there,” Donovan noted. “So whatever the coverage is, we have to get back to those guys ... I don’t think you want to give them catch-and-shoot threes like that. That will be really important to try to get out here and contest.”

-       Up until the wee hours on Thursday morning when the west coast NBA games finished, the Thunder didn’t know whether it would play Houston, Denver or Portland in the first round. Before the Thunder’s own win against Milwaukee, there was still a chance to play Golden State. As a result, the Thunder coaching staff had been preparing well in advance for all possible outcomes and will be primed and ready for the Blazers.

  • “(Thunder assistant coach) Bob Beyer probably scouted half the teams in the Western Conference playoff race over the last week,” Donovan quipped.

Steven Adams

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