Stick to the Recipe for Success – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC vs. UTA
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
In Billy Donovan’s book, it takes three crucial characteristics to be a great team at any level of basketball. So far in the 2018-19 campaign, with a record of 16-8, standing near the very top of the Western Conference, the Thunder has mostly embodied all three. Each are parts of a team-wide identity that must be maintained all season long, game-in and game-out, and the Thunder’s next chance to do it will be against the Utah Jazz on Monday night.
Donovan’s Criteria #1: Connectedness
“You gotta be connected because there’s so much adversity and different things that go on you have to lift each other up and inspire each other,” said Donovan. “I don’t think you can take (connection) for granted. It’s something you have to keep working on. Our guys have really good relationships. They get along really well. They communicate really well. They talk really well. They have relationships away from the game.
Donovan’s Criteria #2: Competitiveness
“You have to have a resiliency and a toughness in the face of adversity and a will and a drive,” Donovan said. “Our guys compete, they play hard and they give effort all the time. I never have a problem with that.”
Donovan’s Criteria #3: Concentration
“You gotta have is discipline, concentration and focus and that’s an area where we’re trying to constantly get better,” Donovan noted. “There have been times this season where it’s been off the charts. It’s been great. That’s the balance and consistency we’re looking for.”
With Russell Westbrook and Paul George as leaders of the team and stewards over the Thunder culture, there’s almost never room to pick at Donovan’s first two criteria. This Thunder squad has embodied a family-like culture every single season in Oklahoma City, and the personal touch displayed throughout the organization has made a clear impact on each player.
The two Thunder All-Stars are tenacious, but so are teammates like Steven Adams and Dennis Schröder, who help galvanize the entire squad to never say die in a game no matter the circumstances.
Where the Thunder wants to continue to raise the bar is in its concentration, focus and discipline as a team. For the vast majority of this season, particularly during the stretch when the team won 16-of-19 contests, that quality was very pronounced. Over the past two games, however, a buzzer-beating win in Brooklyn and a loss to Chicago, there was slippage in that department.
Against the Northwest Division rival Jazz, the team the Thunder lost to in the first round of the 2018 Playoffs, the Thunder is uniquely familiar with the style of play coming its way. On defense, Donovan’s bunch will need to limit dribble drives from Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio into the paint and to stay tight on the perimeter to prevent skip passes and drift passes from finding Jazz shooters like Joe Ingles and Kyle Korver in the corners.
On offense, the Thunder will look to post the ball at the basket with a variety of players in order to get into different concepts and to move the defense. Planted down low will be Utah center Rudy Gobert, who is averaging 2.0 blocks and impacting many more shots than that at the rim. The Thunder may not be able to completely pull Gobert away from the rim when he sits in that drop pick-and-roll coverage that Utah employs, but it can find ways to put him in some binds down there.
“That’s tough because that’s how (Gobert) plays the game,” George said. “He clogs the paint. He’s a presence. He doesn’t move around that area too much. We’ll find ways to be creative in attacking him but it’s not impossible.”
“(Gobert) is going to be back there. There’s not a lot necessarily that you can do. Steven, with his passing, can facilitate and create some offense,” said Donovan. “That’s what he does. That’s what they do. They will do that to try to utilize his shot blocking.”
- Unlike the vast majority of teams in the NBA, the Jazz start each game with a traditional frontcourt that features a true center and power forward with Gobert and Derrick Favors. In tonight’s matchup it will be paramount for forward Jerami Grant and a gang rebounding effort by Thunder perimeter players to crash in and prevent the Jazz from getting second chance points and easy buckets around the rim. Gobert and Favors average a combined 6.5 offensive rebounds per game, and the Thunder knows it needs to minimize those putback opportunities.
- “We just gotta come ready to play. Offensive rebounding and rebounding is big for us and getting out in transition, making the game easy for us,” said forward Jerami Grant. “There are points of emphasis we gotta focus on.”
- On the other end of the floor, Thunder wings like Grant can help put pressure on Gobert and the Utah bigs by timing their cuts precisely and slipping into the deep paint a step quicker than the opposition. With Adams or Westbrook posted up, teams often opt to provide help, giving quick divers like Grant a chance to flash to open space for a high percentage look.
- “Typically whenever Russ or Steve-O gets it, they’ll cause somebody to come help,” explained Grant. “So if they do go help or double from the baseline, it’s probably a good time for somebody to cut.”
NEWS & NOTES
- Sure, the game-winning three-pointer and 47-point effort in Brooklyn was a signature moment for Paul George this season, but the type of effort he put in was very similar to the ones he’s been generating for this Thunder club every game this season. George’s impact on the team has been pervasive across the floor as he is rebounding and assisting at career-best levels in addition to providing the scoring and high-level defense that are his hallmarks.
- “My job is just to give everything I have, play the hardest I can and just try to win as much as possible,” George said. “I know who I am. I step on that floor and I just try to play as hard as I can. I have a goal to be the best player every time I touch that floor, to try to be the best me. It drives me to play hard on defense and it drives me to play hard on offense.”
- Since returning from a sprained ankle, Terrance Ferguson is averaging 5.7 points per game on 46 percent shooting, including 50 percent from behind the arc. More importantly, however, Ferguson is manifesting his aggressiveness and confidence in ways that are positively impacting the team overall. Being able to catch in a triple-threat position and forcing the defense to be uncertain about whether he will shoot, pass or drive makes Ferguson a true offensive weapon that can make plays for himself or others.
- “I’m really happy with the way (Ferguson) is playing and the things he’s trying to do,” said Donovan. “He’s making good decisions. He’s gotta keep on doing some of those things. It gives us another guy in closeout situations to put the ball on the floor, create and attack the paint.”