Get Back on Track with Disciplined, Disruptive Defense – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. POR

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

Around the Thunder, there was always a level of understanding that the natural human tendency would be to focus so much on fixing one thing, that another area becomes faulty. That’s what the team is going through right now, as it tries to right the ship defensively, now that the offense is playing at a better pace, tempo and rhythm.

As the Thunder comes off of a loss to the Phoenix Suns on the road and into the start of a tough divisional back-to-back against the Portland Trail Blazers, its re-commitment to the defensive end of the floor is paramount. Head Coach Billy Donovan is drilling his team in their rotations, traps and closeouts, with the hope it can bounce back as a group against an explosive Portland offense.

“We gotta learn from (Sunday) and get back to the level of basketball we wanna play at,” Donovan said. “Hopefully we can make some significant improvements.”

Many of the same problems the Thunder had against Phoenix will be challenged at Chesapeake Energy Arena by their Northwest division foe, including the ability to stop the ball on the drive, play disciplined pick-and-roll coverage and to fly out to the perimeter to correctly contest three-point shots. The dynamic playmaking of CJ McCollum and Shabazz Napier, who is starting in place of the injured Damian Lillard, will be even more difficult to defend than Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker was on Sunday.

“We let the ball get too deep on pick-and-roll coverage. We let it get too deep in penetration. It put us in rotations, scramble situations,” Donovan noted. “The ball got to the middle of the floor. We didn’t funnel it where it needed to go well enough.”

“(The Blazers) are a group that has a lot of familiarity with each other. They’ve played with each other. Our guys understand who they are as a team and their identity and how they like to play,” Donovan said. “But we’ll have to do a really good job defensively with their back court, the way they rebound the ball.”

One way the Thunder’s defense can get back on track is to begin forcing turnovers at the same level it did earlier in the season. Against the Suns, it didn’t manage to force double-digit giveaways, and that simply allowed too many offensive possessions to result in shot attempts and free throws.

The ideal way the Thunder can force turnovers is by pushing the ball into areas of the floor that it wants it to go, specifically away from the middle of the floor and towards the wings and sideline. On regular drives, the Thunder utilizes a trapping strategy near the block, which forces difficult swing passes over the top to the other side of the floor.

In pick-and-roll coverage it’s a bit more complicated, but oftentimes center Steven Adams will hedge over hard to stop the drive, and then he and the perimeter player who is in the coverage can keep their arms active to deny passing lanes and cause chaos.

“Our ability to just go there quick, clamp it and just make it very difficult for them, that’s where all the deflections come from, just making those tough passes over high hands,” Adams explained.

Watch: Thunder-Blazers Preview

Nick's Notebook

- Andre Roberson didn’t participate in Monday’s practice and is out for the Blazers game, although he did participate in some individual skill work on Monday. Donovan didn’t disclose whether Terrance Ferguson will start again, but Alex Abrines did seem to come out of the Phoenix game fine after playing limited minutes in the fourth quarter because he participated in practice. After a rash of injuries over the summer and then a few more during the course of training camp and the regular season, Abrines hasn’t been able to get to top form, but the team is behind him and believes with some consistent on-court action he’ll be able to get there.

    “He’s not really physically the same level he was at. I have confidence he’ll get back to that level,” Donovan said of Abrines. “But he needs some consistency of being able to play for a period of time here where he can get his legs back under him and can get his conditioning back under him. And the only way he’s gonna do that is by practicing, by playing.”

- It was an inevitability, a matter of when, not if, that Terrance Ferguson would suffer from a rookie game, and that’s what happened on Sunday in Phoenix. He fouled out in 18 minutes while defending one of the league’s premier young scorers in Devin Booker. It was a great learning opportunity for Ferguson, but Donovan has been pleased by the way he’s mentally handled the success he had in Los Angeles.

    “You never know how a guy is gonna respond, being young. I got a lot of confidence in him competitively,” Donovan said. “He just kinda doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low, pretty consistent.”

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