Keep it Moving, OKC – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. ATL

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

Now, it’s time to build. The Thunder can see light on the horizon, at 16-15 and back above .500 with five more home games left in 2017, and just one on the road. It’s next task comes tonight in the form of the Atlanta Hawks, who are rebuilding but have a coach in Mike Budenholzer who is developing a system and style of play that can be sustainable.

That’s precisely what the Thunder has been working on these past few weeks, and although it was just one game, there were some welcome signs on Wednesday in the team’s win against the Utah Jazz. The ball zipped around the court as the Thunder racked up 23 assists from nine players and shot 51.9 percent from the field, despite making just 8-of-23 three-point shots.

The key to the Thunder’s offense, something they’ll have to do again tonight at a high level, is continuing to make quick decisions when the ball arrives, whether to take a catch-and-shoot look, put it on the floor or to keep it moving with the pass. Being able to attack the defense while it is still moving into position is a crucial part of any team’s offensive flow.

“For any offensive player, you always want to have space and always want to have room. Anytime you make the defense shift, you’re potentially attacking close outs, you’re potentially attacking different areas and space on the floor,” Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “It just forces the defense to move. The more your defense has to move, the more opportunities there is for it to break down.”

“When the play doesn’t generate a quick shot or a one-pass shot or doesn’t generate something open, what’s gotta happen is that we keep the ball moving on that backside or make quick decisions,” Donovan added. “If it comes out to somebody and there’s a closeout, can we capitalize on that closeout? That closeout may not necessarily mean a shot, but what it may mean a pass to somebody who is open.”

1-on-1: Josh Huestis - 12/22

On the defensive end tonight, the Thunder knows that the demoralizing 17-2 start that it put on the Jazz on Wednesday can’t always be replicated, but that it must set a tone early. Despite Hawks point guard Dennis Schroeder’s uncertain status, the Thunder is well aware that defense is at times less about the opposition and more about the integrity of executing the team’s principles.

For example, tonight the Thunder must completely trust its helpside defense, pushing attempted drives into certain spots on the floor where the defense is designed to provide help. From there, the Thunder’s length and athleticism should do the trick. Keeping hands high to block off simple passing lanes can often force difficult, high-risk passes that the Thunder has thrived off of as it turns defense into offense.

“It’s all where your whole team knows where the ball is being funneled. When you don’t have control over the basketball and you don’t know where it’s going, it’s very difficult to generate those kind of steals,” Donovan noted. “When the ball is getting funneled to certain areas of the floor, the other two or three guys on the backside have an idea of when it’s going there, and then the ability to use length and anticipation.”

“Then the other big part is the guys on the ball trying to disrupt the vision of the passer. If you don’t have active hands, high hands, pressure on the basketball, with good passers it’s hard to prevent the ball going where it goes,” Donovan continued. “If we all know where the ball is going and when it gets funneled there, then maybe you’re able to come up with deflections.”

Thunder Talk: Raymond Felton

Nick's Notebook

- Heading into tonight’s game, the Thunder has the best defensive efficiency in the entire NBA, allowing opponents just 100.8 points per 100 possessions. Donovan’s club also still leads the league in steals at 10.0 per game after racking up 15 against the Jazz. A key factor in the Thunder’s defense has been the length, anticipation and intelligence of George, who has been a part of some of the NBA’s best defenses throughout his career, and has been a three-time All-Defensive team performer.

  • “I definitely wanted to bring defense here,” George explained. “I know what level that you have to play at and what you need to bring from a player and team standpoint. This team has all of the characteristics that those teams had. We’re right on schedule with where we need to be defensively."

- Just before halftime against Utah, the Jazz picked up a technical foul right after George was fouled. All season long, Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s captain, has been working with his teammates to decide who should take the free throw in that situation. On Wednesday, the answer was George, who had the chance to see three consecutive free throws go in with about 39 seconds left in the first half, giving him six points on 1-for-5 shooting. After halftime, George played 13 minutes and shot 4-for-7, scoring 12 points in efficient fashion. Those free throws before the break made a difference.

  • “It was good to see the ball go in,” George explained. “When you’re having a tough shooting night, it’s always good to get to the free throw line. Those free throws definitely helped."

- In Wednesday’s win, forward Jerami Grant scored two of his 11 points on an acrobatic one-handed putback dunk, where he started underneath the backboard, behind the rim, and managed to catch the carom mid-air and slam the ball back in the hoop in one motion. That set off an eruption from the Thunder sideline, including a hilarious march from Adams, who was quite impressed.

  • “That was just outstanding,” Adams remarked. “It was stupid. I thought he was going to squeeze himself on the rim just because of where he was. He jumped and his head was underneath the rim. It was just outrageous.”

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