Stay Focused, Keep Throwing Different Looks – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. POR Game 4

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

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

Billy Donovan had the card in his pocket. Hours of film work and a few meetings with coaches and players helped sharpen the resolution. The players were ready with the gameplan. Late in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Donovan made the switch – Jerami Grant bodying up Portland’s center, and Paul George glued to Damian Lillard in the pick-and-roll coverage.

It was a look not yet seen in the series, and the wrinkle was disruptive not just because of George’s instincts and defensive prowess and Grant’s length and quickness, but also because of the timing of the strategy’s deployment.

“It’s something that watching games, you’re always going to have different things matchup-wise that you can look to go to. The biggest thing is just making sure guys are aware of it,” Donovan explained. “That presented itself at that point in time to be able to try to do something different.”

“It’s just mixing it up. They’ve been seeing the same thing all game. Just give them something different and hopefully that catches them off guard, and late in the game it’s something that they can’t really scout at that point,” George noted. “That’s something that’s like a back-pocket thing.”

Who knows how much the Thunder will be able to utilize that coverage on Lillard and the Blazers on Sunday night in Game 4, but the team continues to think strategically that way in the inevitable circumstance that Portland changes up its own plan of attack to thwart the Thunder’s tactics. Being one step ahead can make all the difference in the NBA playoffs, especially in a crucial game that, with a win, the Thunder would hold serve on its home court and send the series back to Portland 2-2.

Watch: Game Day Report
The Thunder will need to lock in on defense and play with flow on offense in Game 4 tonight.

“It’s the best part of the year, and you just do everything and anything that you can do to win,” George said. “Just play every possession like it’s the final possession.” 

“To win, you gotta defend at a high level. That’s the only thing we have to focus on,” Westbrook said. “Stay locked in. We know we gotta do that, especially with this team to be able to put ourselves in position to win the game.

While the defense will clearly need to be stout again, as it was both in those late moments and also in the second quarter of Game 3 when it held Portland to 17 points, the Thunder’s offense must produce again as well. That’s another area where forward thinking and a creative mindset is vital for the Thunder.

For most of the series, Donovan utilized Grant as a floor spacer, off in the corner to knock down threes. The forward hit four of them in Game 3 after missing all eight of his attempts in Portland, but he racked up 18 points with six other points that came down low, as the roll man after screening for Russell Westbrook in the middle of the floor. If the Blazers switch that action, Grant can try to get an early seal for a post-up over a smaller defender. If Portland tries to keep its matchups, Westbrook will find a window to create a two-on-one heading to the rim.

“Russ will always beat his man,” Grant said. “As soon as they turn their feet, it’s easy for me to get downhill and he makes his decision from there.”

“Just find ways to make sure he’s comfortable and he has an open shot, open space,” Westbrook added. “That’s my job.”

Jerami Grant from Game 3. #ThunderUp | #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/W4gbQ7dKAr

— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) April 20, 2019

The x’s and o’s are always critical to the final score, but after an emotionally-charged and sunset-tinged homecoming on Friday night, the Thunder will have to maintain it’s same level of competitive fire mixed with concentration and discipline in Game 4. Plainly put, the Thunder hasn’t done anything yet with one win on its home floor. To have a chance to make this a best-of-three series going back to the Pacific northwest, the Thunder first has to take care of business at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“The emotion of the game, we have to put behind us. We have to make our adjustments and our changes and be ready to get focused that they’re going to try to win a game here,” Donovan said. “It’s going to take 48 mintues and we gotta really keep our focus and concentration on the things that are going to ultimately be important that are going to determine the outcome of the game.”

1-on-1: Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant on the keys to victory in tonight's Game 4 matchup again Portland.

NEWS & NOTES

-       George was a whiz defensively on Friday night, but is still re-gaining his shooting touch since the shoulder injury he sustained against Houston. Despite going 3-for-16 from the field, George managed to score 22 points on 14-of-17 free throw shooting while also racking up six assists and by Donovan’s count, at least three more “hockey assists” where a pass leads to another pass to a wide-open teammate. George will get double teamed and bodied up as the series goes on. It’s up to him to keep making plays as they present themselves to him.

  • “That can’t be my mindset going in each game, that I got to just score. I got to let the game come to me,” George said. “That’s what I’ve been so great at this season is letting the game come to me, knowing when to attack, knowing when to set up guys. Just play the game, get lost in the game, let the game dictate who shoots it, where the shots are coming from. And I’ll live with it.” 

-       Another player who is at his best when he attacks decisively and makes the best play available is Dennis Schröder, who had his best game of the series in Game 3 with 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (2-for-3 from three and 5-for-6 FTs) to go with six assists. Being an offensive catalyst for others is a crucial part of Schröder’s job, and one that he becomes even more effective at when he uses a quick first step to get into the teeth of the defense.

  • “I don’t think you want any player over-thinking, over-analyzing. You want them to play obviously intelligent, smart basketball. You don’t want them making mistakes and creating turnovers and those kind of things. But at the same point, too, you want a guy to play aggressive,” Donovan explained.  
  • “My biggest thing for Dennis has always been the more he’s quickly making decisions, I think the more effective he is as a player,” Donovan continued. “When he goes quickly, it can kind of catch the defense off guard and it gets him into spots and areas of the floor where he’s effective.”

Steven Adams

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