Composure, Trust and Hustle – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at BOS
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
BOSTON – In the final stretch of the season, the Thunder is doing exactly what it set out to do at the beginning of the year – play its best basketball heading into the postseason.
While its position isn’t secured or finalized, the Thunder has certainly shown an elevated level of performance over the past two weeks, including a thrilling shootout victory over Toronto in the buildup to its road tilt with the Boston Celtics. Although the Celtics may not have Kyrie Irving or Jaylen Brown for this matchup, and definitely won’t have Marcus Smart, the Thunder knows this is one of the best-coached and most talented groups in the NBA.
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan
“We’re playing against a team that is one of the better teams in the East who has had a great year,” Head Coach Billy Donovan said. “We’ll need to play very, very well here on the road, regardless of who is playing. For us, we’ll prepare like everybody is playing.”
“We gotta address it the same way. We’re on a mission regardless of who is in, who is out,” forward Paul George added. “We gotta pick these games up. We owe them one. We lost at our floor early in the season. That was a different team than we are now. We have to show the adjustments, the progress.”
Thunder Talk: Paul George
One of the reasons why Boston is still such a problem for opponents is because of their veteran big man, and former Donovan protégé, Al Horford. The All-Star inside-out threat has been a rock for Boston all season long. It’s not shown in gaudy numbers, but rather the way he leads the group and makes winning plays.
“He has an incredible ‘it’ factor,” Donovan said. “He’s an unbelievable winner. He’s always had that.”
The Thunder has been playing with that element to its game as well lately. Whether it was Carmelo Anthony racing back in transition to slap away a layup attempt or Paul George and Corey Brewer trapping DeMar DeRozan in the backcourt, the Thunder showed a grit in Toronto down the stretch that it will need in Boston as well. With a veteran core that doesn’t just include the starters but also Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson off the bench, the Thunder has played with tenacity, trust and communication on the defensive end during this recent span.
“When we’re out there trying to scramble with second and third efforts, we have faith in everybody,” Anthony described.
Thunder Talk: Carmelo Anthony
On offense, the Thunder must again play with poise, as it did in the final six minutes against Toronto when Russell Westbrook took over with 17 points and dictated everything on offense. When the Thunder reads the game, makes quick decisions and lets the ball find the open man, its efficiency increases mightily. Against a stout Celtics defense, opting for high percentage looks will be paramount to success.
“We’ve done a really good job of generating good, quality shots. Our ball movement has been much better,” Donovan said. “You gotta keep fighting for those things.”
Thunder Talk: Russell Westbrook
- This season, Thunder center Steven Adams has made another leap, partially due to the way he’s meshed with the shooters surrounding him as the lone traditional big man on the floor. But much of it is due to Adams’ incredible work ethic. With just 10 games remaining, Adams is averaging 13.9 points on 63.5 percent shooting and 9.0 rebounds per game, with over one block, steal and assist per contest as well. His connection with Russell Westbrook in the pick and roll is beautiful to watch, and that has brought them close together personally too.
- “When he first got here, he was a kid coming in wanting to get better. He’s become better and better each and every year,” Westbrook recalled. “My job is to make sure I can help him any way I can.”
- “He just likes to win,” Westbrook added. “When he plays well, our team plays well. He’s been doing a hell of a job.”
- The addition of Corey Brewer into the starting lineup has not only helped lift the Thunder to six straight wins, but also seems to settle everyone in the rotation back into a comfortable place. The reserves coming off the bench are playing with rhythm and confidence, but most importantly it’s allowed George to be extra special defensively: be disruptive. When Brewer takes on the challenge of defending the other team’s best wing player, it allows George to use his uncanny off-ball instincts to anticipate, make plays and blow up opposition actions.
- “I’m able to zone up defensively when Corey takes the primary matchup, play more help, just be much more disruptive from the help side perspective,” George noted.
- “The way we’re able to kind of make adjustments, kind of amongst ourselves on the court, adding Brewer helps that because he’s another veteran guy who knows the game,” Anthony added. “He sees the game kind of the way we see it.”
Thunder Minute: March 19