Harness Emotion, Come Out and Execute – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. POR Game 3

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

Earlier this season, former Thunder forward Nick Collison said this year’s team had an “edge” that wasn’t there a much in 2017-18. That mental toughness and swagger waxed and waned a bit in the second half of the season, but there’s no time like the present, down 0-2 in a tough playoff series with the Portland Trail Blazers, to put it on display.

Brimming with just the right level of emotion under the surface, the Thunder comes into Friday’s Game 3 with a little bit of anger and a whole lot of concentrated motivation to get back into this series.

“Just get a bit more fired up,” center Steven Adams said. “Not too fired up, it’s more like just trying to stay focused on what’s really going to try to help us win the games. There’s a level of emotion you gotta play with. You can’t be too emotional to forget what you really gotta do, x’s and o’s.”

On offense, the Thunder is getting the types of shots that it wants. Over the first two games it has hot 61.4 percent on 35.0 attempts in the restricted area and taken nearly as many corner 3-pointers (9.0 per game) as it has non-paint 2-point jumpers (11.5 per game). Unfortunately for Donovan and company, the Thunder is shooting just 22.2 percent on corner threes and 14.0 percent on the 21.5 above the break 3-pointers it has gotten.

Tapping into that fire.

// Playoff Practice Report pic.twitter.com/G8Y7kDh50U

— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 18, 2019

Back in OKC, the Thunder can be more productive with those same shots. Where it must be more efficient is in the turnover column. This team will have a hard time surviving another quarter like the third in Game 2, when Portland took seven more field goals due to eight Thunder giveaways. Those stretches can snowball if the Thunder doesn’t deliberately get exactly what it wants on each trip.

“The bad plays come when you don’t run your sets, you get turnovers and they bust out in transition,” Adams said. “It’s different if your guys are going set for set and they happen to be hitting shots, we’re not. That’s a bit different. The bad plays are when we deviate from what we normally do, what’s consistent for us. Those are the ones that kind of hurt the most.”

Those better offensive possessions can definitely help out the Thunder on the defensive end of the floor as well. Winning the fast-break points battle always helps, as does forcing Blazers playmakers like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to switch directions on drives to the paint.

In Game 2 the Thunder gave up too many straight-line drives to the Blazers’ backcourt, after a Game 1 when the Thunder defense allowed dives to the rim by Enes Kanter. With proper positioning, early in a possession, the Thunder has to find the balance between guarding the ball and the roll man.

“We need to do a better job on the ball. I need to do a better job plugging in transition,” Adams said. “It’s tough to get back in transition (defense) after turnovers but I have to do a better job of plugging off of my guy and trying to just slow down their drives and whatnot."

Watch: Game Day Report
With backs against the wall, the OKC crowd will be a factor in tonight's game.

Despite the Thunder’s poor shooting, just 10-of-61 from 3-point range so far in the series, it had a chance to win Game 1 and was in control for nearly the entire first half of Game 2. At this stage in the series, no blood has really been drawn. For the Thunder, the perfect response to Portland’s 2-0 start is to come back to Chesapeake Energy Arena and get two right back. Thunder players can only bite off one game for now, and have to do it minute by minute, possession by possession.

“We’ll get our rhythm going. There will be confidence gained. We play well here. We have an amazing crowd and home court here. We’ll get back on stride being at home,” forward Paul George said. “We have to come out and play, execute, do the things that we do to win our home games here, but it’ll definitely be a difference being back here.”

“Our thing is just stick together throughout the whole thing, especially on the defensive end,” guard Terrance Ferguson added. “Stick together throughout the whole game, never get down, and just play as hard as we can to get the win.”

1-on-1: Dennis Schröder
Dennis Schröder talks about playing at home, finishing off the end of quarters and shooting with confidence.

SHOOTAROUND NOTES

- In order to win these playoff games, any NBA team has to be locked into the game plan and give maximum effort on every play. There can be over 200 possessions in a game, meaning 200 opportunities to build or lose momentum with a game-changing play. Being able to have the attention to detail and energy for every single one of them is easier said than done, but the Thunder is focused on doing just that at home in Game 3.

  • “Just play a whole game,” Russell Westbrook said. “We have times, spurts in the game that we do it, but we gotta defend for 48 minutes.”
  • “Every possession matters. We gotta be locked in for the full 48 minutes,” forward Jerami Grant added.

- A major factor that will aid the Thunder in that effort is its home crowd, who will be that sixth man for the team as it always is in the regular season. In the postseason, however, that level amps up even higher and on top of that, today is a special occasion in the city. Friday April 19, 2019 marks the 24th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s an emotional day that the city memorializes each year, so the Thunder expects not only the best effort of the season from itself but leans on it from the fans as well.

  • “They’re very, very excited, loud and intense throughout the whole game,” said Westbrook of the home crowd.
  • “It’s huge playing at home, especially with the fans that we have. It’s an extra man on the court with us. We’re definitely excited for this,” Grant said. “They bring the energy for us, regardless of what we’re doing.”

NEWS & NOTES

-       In stark contrast to the unlucky shooting of the Thunder thus far, the Blazers are knocking down 42.1 percent of its 3-point attempts. Lillard is averaging 9.5 attempts from behind the arc and is shooting 47.4 percent on them, while McCollum is averaging 7.0 attempts and is hitting at 42.9 percent. Both those numbers are remarkable, and are just as unlikely to be sustained as the Thunder’s current shooting woes. Still, the Thunder has to be just as vigilant in defending in pick-and-roll, one-on-one and help-side positions, regardless of how the Thunder lines up tactically in Game 3. 

  • “They’re great offensive players. They’re good scorers. They’re good shooters,” George said. “Those are the guys that can make those shots. Some of them we gotta live with. It is what it is. They shoot them sometimes right when they cross halfcourt. There’s no defense for that.”
  • “They’re tough shot makers, and sometimes you’ve got to live with it, but sometimes you’ve got to just get the ball out of their hands and live with other players making decisions,” Ferguson added, hinting that the Thunder may try to use more length or maybe an extra body on the Blazers duo. “Just stay locked onto those two guys and try not to give them any space. We adjusted today during practice on what we’ll do next game and I feel like we feel confident in our game plan.”

Where the heart is. pic.twitter.com/KhCuBPXv6R

— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 19, 2019

-       A huge factor in Game 2, which is a staple of most playoff games, is the way that teams finish off quarters and how that impacts the final result. The Blazers took control over the final five minutes of the second quarter heading into halftime, cutting a 10-point Thunder lead down to a tie score at the break. In the third quarter, the Blazers used a flurry of three 3-pointers and three foul shots over the final 90 seconds of the period to turn a six-point lead into a 16-point chasm.

  • “It’s very important, very key to close out with momentum and not give a team momentum going into a new half or a new quarter,” George said. “You feel a lot more in tune and your margin for error goes up a little higher knowing that you have momentum, you’re playing well. Guys have confidence to try new stuff. As much as possible that we can eliminate that factor of them having momentum, the better for us.”

What to Watch: Game 3 Preview
The Thunder looks to find its offensive rhythm as the host Game 3 against Portland.

Steven Adams

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