Playoff Practice Round-Up – April 20, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

All season long Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan has been using the words “stamina” and “consistency” when talking about his team’s performances. Those two words combine dissolve down into one general idea: can the Thunder execute at a high level on both ends of the court possession after possession, and do it for 48 minutes?

So far in the Thunder’s first round playoff series against the Houston Rockets, it has shown the ability to do both, just not for all four quarters or for without stretches of time where it doesn’t do so. In both Game 1 and Game 2, the Thunder burst out of the gates playing at a high level. On Wednesday, they even held a 16-4 lead to start the game, and led by as many as 12 during two other crucial junctures. Each time, the Rockets made a burst to get back into it. Then, with just minutes left in the contest, Houston embarked on one final run, a 10-0 explosion fueled by poor execution by the Thunder, which resulted in a 2-0 Rockets series lead.

Still, as the Thunder regrouped in Oklahoma City for practice on Thursday, there’s plenty to like from the Game 2 performance, much of which will need to be replicated at just as high of a level on Friday night in Game 3. This time, however, Loud City will need to help their squad maintain that level of focus, determination and discipline for all four quarters.

“If you look at the stat sheet, the first half numbers offensively and the first half numbers defensively and then the same thing in the second half, there’s been a big disparity in those two areas,” Donovan said. “The consistency of being able to play when we’re playing at our best and working to do it for longer stretches.”

“The one thing that was encouraging to see was coming out of Game 1 and going into Game 2, we did a better job in those areas and we had longer stamina in those areas,” Donovan continued. “It has to be something we keep building on.”

Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan

- The consecutive possessions inside of the final three minutes in which the Thunder got outscored 10-0 will be highly critiqued and analyzed, but Donovan and his staff, along with Russell Westbrook and other team leaders, are breaking down the execution from all four quarters of play. Each possession in the postseason counts and can’t be thrown away or lost in the shuffle. Being at that mental level for all 48 minutes will be crucial for a Game 3 win. Most likely, those possessions will involve Westbrook, who has shown the ability to both make the right play and make spectacular plays in crunch time all season long.

  • “Collectively as a group, we’ll have to read defense better and make those decisions,” Donovan explained. “I have an enormous amount of trust and confidence after being with Russell this season for 82 games and seeing the ways he’s closed out games and different things that he’s done. I trust him when he’s got the ball in terms of making decisions.”

- One of the keys to the Thunder’s offense early in the game was the way Donovan utilized Andre Roberson off the ball. Teams tend to leave Roberson open along the perimeter, and the Thunder is at their best when they use that neglect against their opposition. On Wednesday, Roberson cut through the lane to get a head of steam towards the basket, caught the ball and finished at a high level. Generating layups in the flow of half-court offense is tough, but thanks to Roberson’s timing and instincts, Westbrook and his teammates were able to help Roberson rack up 12 points. He’s now averaging 15.0 points per game this series.

  • “(Roberson) has done a good job of cutting without the ball,” Westbrook said. “He can pretty much get where he want, because they’re just pretty much bringing everybody in the paint and they’re not really watching him. So he can get where he wants to go.”

- Another player who got into the mix early for the Thunder in Game 2, and will be a factor again in Game 3 is Taj Gibson. The veteran forward served as a post-up threat when matched against Ryan Anderson and he took advantage by scoring around the rim. He also initiated double teams from that spot, which helped the Thunder get some swing-swing passes along the perimeter for other easy looks at the basket.

  • “You’re always looking for offensive engines for your team, where if you can get two on the ball. And if you can get two on the ball, generally there’s going to be an advantage somewhere on the floor,” Donovan described when asked about Gibson’s effect. “Now, the next part is to connect, make the decision and get the ball where it needs to go.”

- A huge piece of the Thunder’s puzzle all season has been Victor Oladipo, the multi-talented combo guard who has worked to become an all-around impact player this year. In the offseason he was pushing himself in private workouts while his teammates played in Summer League. Later in the summer he worked with Westbrook. All of that preparation has gotten him to this moment as a dynamic two-way wing for a playoff team. His first time in the postseason hasn’t gone the way he’d hoped in the scoring column so far, but the Thunder staff and his teammates are encouraging him to keep shooting the ball, but also to devote much of his focus towards the other aspects of the game that he can control.

  • “The one thing he needs to try to get even more into his game is his passing on drives, putting it on the floor, trying to attack the paint, making extra passes and trying to generate shots for other guys. Victor is not a one-dimensional player,” Donovan noted.
  • “Everybody wants to come out and play great, it doesn’t always work out that way. Your mindset has to keep going regardless of whether you miss or make shots,” Westbrook added. “He does so many more things for our team when he’s on the floor. Defending at a high level, rebounding and he can make plays. Regardless of whether he misses or make shots, his job is to play. He’ll be alright.”

Thunder Talk: Russell Westbrook