Showing Defensive Identity for 48 Minutes of Utmost Importance

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

 “We always come back and figure out ways to get better. Sometimes there are small gains. Some days there are bigger gains,” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said on Wednesday after a long practice filled with great work, mentally and physically.

The Thunder balances its film sessions and on-court time based on what Brooks and his staff believe is the best way to impact the team. On Wednesday, it was a little bit of both. After an hour long film session, the Thunder then got after it against one another to put in place what it just learned.

After the Thunder’s 112-104 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night, the Thunder coaching staff and leaders like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook identified stretches of the game where the defensive intensity was lacking in a major way. Moving forward, the team knows it cannot have any slippage in that department.

“We can’t afford to have five or six minutes of the defensive intensity disappearing on us,” Brooks explained. “Today’s film session on the floor was really good. We’re looking forward to coming back the next game and playing better.”

“We just have to be more engaged,” Durant said. “We have to be in a stance and trust our defensive schemes. It’s not going to be perfect every time or work every time, but the majority of the time it does. We’ve seen that the last six years. We have to stick to what we do and do it to the best of our ability.”

Re-integrating Durant and Westbrook and their nearly 70 minutes of playing time per game into the flow of the team will be a challenge for the Thunder, but the continuity the team has had over the past seven years will aid in that process. Part of the team’s struggles on Tuesday can be attributed to that adjustment. Brooks believes that regardless of being at full strength or playing with eight players, as it did early in the year, the defensive mindset should be there.

“There is going to be a period that we’re going to have to navigate through during the integration of some of our players coming back,” Brooks said. “That’s more of an offensive issue. Defensively, it’s a mindset of playing with toughness and playing with engagement. That has nothing to do with guys coming in and coming out.”

Positive Returns in Durant’s Debut

Part of the adjustments process that will take place with the Thunder centralizes around how it re-integrates Durant and Westbrook into its offensive schemes and how the team communicates on defense. Although there was a bit of rust and more turnovers than Durant is accustomed to committing, he performed well in his return to action. With 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting, Durant found a rhythm right away and was even able to play 30 minutes despite not having played in a real game in almost seven weeks. 

“I felt great,” Durant said. “I definitely wanted to play better but I’m glad I’m out there playing. When you’re away the game for so long, you just appreciate every second you’re on the floor. That’s how I felt last night.”

“The next step of his rehab process was to play in a game,” Brooks said. “He’s done a great job. I give KD, our medical staff and strength and conditioning staff credit.”

Back to Full Strength in Practice

From both a visual and auditory standpoint, there was a completely different feel to the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center on Wednesday afternoon. The line of chairs where just weeks ago Thunder players watched their teammates go through individual drills was empty. The practice floor, however, was abuzz with activity.

For the first time all season, the Thunder had all 15 players at its disposal for practice activities. Perry Jones practiced, along with Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett. It remains to be seen whether those three will get any game action in the near future as they continue to recover from injury, but a view a floor full of players and the benches empty was a welcome sight.

“It’s great that we have our entire roster able to participate in practice and have a chance to play in games,” Brooks said.

“It feels great to have everybody back,” Durant said. “Everybody is healthy. It’s good to see Perry back out there and good to see Mitch.” 

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