Once Again, It’s On – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at MEM
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | email@example.com
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
MEMPHIS – Buckle up. There’s one more game left before the 2018 All-Star Break, and suddenly, just 24 games left in the regular season. For the Thunder, this second night of a back to back is about heading into the break on a high note to emerge on the other side at a high level.
Less than 72 hours after wrapping up a dominant home win against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Thunder will close out its pre-All-Star slate with another battle with the rebuilding Western Conference foe.
On Sunday evening in Oklahoma City, the Thunder took care of business against the Grizzlies, winning in dominant fashion even with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony out with ankle sprains. Paul George and the rest of the Thunder bunch flowed efficiently on offense and were stout on defense, but are well aware that it’s very challenging to beat the same team twice in such a short period of time.
Now with a rematch back on the road, the Thunder is prepared for a hungrier Grizzlies took on the hunt for payback.
“They play better at home,” Westbrook said. “(We’ll) get ready to go in and try to get a win.”
“When you a play a team within a few days, they always remember what happened,” George added. “There are going to play harder, especially being at home. They are going to be ready for us, but we got two of our guys back so we are going to be ready for them.”
The Thunder got hit for 16 made three-pointers by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, and learned a lesson about stopping dribble penetration and preventing those line drive passes that can slice through the defense like a knife. Defensive whiz Steven Adams explained that forcing those cross-court and wing passes to have some air under them instead of being straight lines can make a huge difference in terms of the time defenders have to close out.
Against a Grizzlies team that utilizes Marc Gasol in the high post as a distributor, the Thunder knows it will have to disrupt passing lanes to prevent easy catch and shoot chances for shooters like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.
“It’s high hands and also being aggressive on the ball from both players,” Adams explained. “It’s hard when you deal with a player who is probing a lot because it’s like a neutral dribble and you don’t know what he is going to do. If a person makes a decision, he puts his head down. It’s real easy just to go trap him because you know he is not going to pass it.”
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On the offensive end, the Thunder will need to play efficient basketball predicated on both player and ball movement to get the best shots in the game – at the rim, at the free throw line and behind the arc. Limiting turnovers, minimizing the long-two point jumpers and knocking down foul shots will all help the Thunder have an effective night on the offensive end, rewarding its defensive effort.
“You’re going to have some possessions that aren’t great throughout the course of the game,” Donovan noted. “You want all possessions to be great and get the best shot available.”
“Teams are trying to get fouled, trying to get threes, or trying to get layups,” Donovan continued. “That’s just kind of the way the game has evolved, and I think probably analytics has had a lot to do with that. It is probably the most efficient way to play.”
- While Westbrook of course dismissed any questions about his previously sprained ankle and turned the focus ahead to the Memphis game, Anthony was a little bit more loquacious about returning from injury. The longtime forward has played in over 1,000 career NBA games, but still appreciates the opportunity to get out on the court with his Thunder teammates. With a game to shake off any potentially lingering rust, Westbrook and Anthony are primed and ready for the clash with Memphis.
- “I felt great. It was actually good to be back out there with the guys playing basketball again, getting healthy,” Anthony said. “For the most part, my body felt good. I think that week helped.”
- Adams was the recipient of some of the loudest cheers at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night, garnering the love after repeatedly coming up with offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive. Through sheer grit, toughness, quickness and of course size, Adams is a handful around the basket, and his presence has been a crucial factor for the Thunder this season. Teammates have been struck how the Big Kiwi has continued his upward trajectory.
- “Proud of that guy, man. He just keeps getting better,” forward Josh Huestis said of Adams. “I think a lot of people forget how young he is and how much better he is going to keep getting. He is a monster down there. I am proud of him.”
- Since Jan. 20, George has been one of the NBA’s highest scoring players, and during this recent stretch he’s done what he’s best at with prolific skill. George has hit at least 5 three-pointers in four consecutive games, a Thunder record and just two games shy of an NBA-high this season.
- “He’s just taking advantage of what the defense is giving him,” Anthony reviewed. “He is attacking, playing downhill, creating easy baskets for himself and other guys. When they give him the threes he is knocking it down. I think he is playing at a very high level right now.”