Hustle Back, Be Ready for the Attack – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. MIA

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

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

Seventy-three games have been checked off of the Thunder’s schedule and just nine remain. Yet somehow, until the past two days, Head Coach Billy Donovan and his assistant coaches have yet to watch film on and prepare for the Miami Heat.

After facing 28 of the 29 other teams in the NBA over the past five months, the Thunder will get its first crack at the Miami Heat tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena before flying down to Miami on April 9 for a rematch.

Personnel, tendencies and strategy might all be new for a less veteran squad, but for this veteran Thunder squad, there’s an inherent knowledge that exists regarding how opposing team’s players like to play that will be helpful in this scenario.

“Usually you play an Eastern Conference team somewhere earlier in the schedule, but this is how it fell,” Donovan said.

“It’s unique but up to this point, they have more than enough of a body of work to know personnel and what they do, so it’s not a game that we’re going into blindly,” forward Paul George added.

The run down on the Heat goes like this. Erik Spoelstra’s squad has great team speed and players who can both put the ball on the floor and knock down threes. Miami’s versatility and interchangeability in the front court with forwards and centers who can handle, pass and shoot the ball make defending the Heat a chore.

“It’ll be a great challenge for us defensively guarding them,” Donovan noted.

Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan - 3/22

“It’s going to be a battle,” guard Ray Felton said. “Those guys do a lot of moving, a lot of cutting, dribble hand offs. We have to be sound for 24 seconds.”

James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk have been impressive for the Heat in the frontcourt, with Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson providing shooting from distance from the wing spots. Off the bench, the Thunder will have to be aware of Justise Winslow crashing into the paint with slashing drives and physical finishes above the rim. Most crucially though, it’ll be tracking Wayne Ellington in transition as he launches threes from behind the arc.

The band leader for all of these flexible scorers is the All-Star point guard Goran Dragic. The veteran guard doesn’t put up outrageous stat lines, but he helps his team get into position. According to Steven Adams, he does it in a unique way: slowly.

While Dragic certainly pushes the pace, he manipulates the tempo to create advantages, slicing into the defense only to hold up and pause as defenders allow their momentum to carry too far. That opens passing lanes for catch-and-shoot threes, which the Thunder would like to avoid giving up.

“They run a slow transition as well. They still keep you kind of offset, Dragic does, the way he probes in transition,” Adams described. “They ain’t really trying to attack. It’s just kind of fake attacking and setting up for these trail threes.”

Thunder Talk: Steven Adams - 3/22

Nick's Notebook

- An interesting wrinkle that Donovan has employed over the past few weeks has been extending George’s minutes through the entire first quarter and even into the start of the second quarter. With George’s endurance, playing 14 minutes with a quarter break in between has worked out well to help him get into an early flow. It’s also provided the added benefit of minimizing the time that both he and Russell Westbrook are both off the floor. Playing George with starters, with reserves or a mix of both is usually a recipe for success.

  • “Whenever you can get PG in any sort of bloody five, it’s always a good thing,” Adams quipped.
  • “(It’s) just working with coach trying to figure out what’s the best to keep rhythm and keep a force out there in the first and the second quarter,” George explained. “And just trying to find minutes where we can get rest between myself and Russ.”
  • “I just prefer to keep it going when I start out in the first quarter,” George continued. “I’m a guy that within a game, the game starts to open up later in the game for more moreso than earlier. So it’s just trying to find reads as the game goes on. Coach realized that, that’s the reason why he’s extended me that whole first quarter.”

Thunder Talk: Paul George - 3/22

- Off the bench the past two weeks, Thunder guard Alex Abrines has been on a shooting tear. The Spaniard is 10-of-16 from three since March 8, and the Thunder has gone 6-1 since. It hasn’t always been on a high volume of shots or minutes. Abrines complimented his teammates like Westbrook and Felton for creating open looks. Felton joyfully disagreed.

  • “It’s all about him being ready when his number is called. That’s all about being a professional,” Felton said of Abrines. “We’re just more comfortable with each other from training camp until now.”
  • “(Abrines) comes into the game and I know he’s a hot shooter so I’m trying to find him,” Felton added. “I just try to get in the paint and draw his man and I know once I get it to him, he’s got a quick trigger.”

Thunder Minute: March 22


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