Just Like Last Time, But Better – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. UTA Game 2

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

The Thunder executed the game plan in a myriad of ways, and played quite well on Sunday. Plainly put, however, if the Thunder repeats the way it played in its Game 1 win over the Utah Jazz, it likely won’t win Game 2.

As Head Coach Billy Donovan brought his group together for a pair of practices and a shootaround to deal with the aftermath of a victory that saw Paul George knock down eight 3-pointers and the Thunder break away in the fourth quarter.

Shots going down and a timely run can cover up a lot of mistakes, however, and heading into Game 2 the Thunder are focused on cleaning up crucial areas like transition defense, long rebounds and pick-and-roll coverage. In order to take a 2-0 lead in the series, defend home court and put the pressure on the Jazz to defend their turf in Salt Lake City, the Thunder needs to hone in on what is in front of them to handle.

“When you make shots in this league, a lot of times things get masked and camouflage what the truth and reality is,” Donovan said. “The thing I tried to always talk to these guys about is the 'controllables' like, what are the things that we have control over and what are the things that we need to do at a higher level that we can control? What are the standards of those controllable things that we wanna play to?”

One major area that the Thunder has pointed out in the build up to Game 2 is turnovers. Seventeen of them on Sunday led to 20 Jazz points, which helped contribute to 21 Utah fast-break points in the game. On pick-and-rolls, Thunder ballhandlers tried passes over the top and back to the weakside, only to see the ball get clipped by the long, outstretched arms of Jazz defenders.

“We gotta be sharper and crisper with our passes,” Donovan said. “We gotta put the ball where it needs to be and when it needs to be there. We missed some chances to shoot the ball because the pass wasn’t where we needed it to be.”

Part of creating those passing lanes is not on the man with the ball in his hands. It’s the other four players on offense executing an action to carve out an opening. Setting proper, timely screens in addition to making hard cuts with the strength and quickness to power through hip checks and grabs is an integral part of offense. Fortunately, the Thunder has a bruiser in Carmelo Anthony and a crafty, shifty cutter in George to find space. That mantra applies on the defensive end, too, where physicality is necessary to not just finish off rebounds but to maintain good positioning.

“The word, ‘physicality’ gets used in a way that sometimes people think it’s just, like, guys banging into each other,” Donovan said. “Some of it is just really getting over screens, legally and physically getting over it, trying to avoid being screened. Some of it is running back in transition and being able to get into spots where you can absorb drives.”

Watch: Practice Rundown - April 17

Donovan’s job over these days in between games is to highlight areas to replicate and others to mend. He also is sifting through film to uncover and anticipate anything his team might see as far as an adjustment on Utah’s side. Whether it’s offense or defense, out of bounds plays or specific tendencies, the Thunder coaching staff is picking and choosing to present the appropriate amount of hypotheticals to the team in order to make sure everyone is prepared for a new wrinkle to the matchup.

“There’s always a balance there. You can speculate a lot of times what the other team may or may not do, and I think a lot of times you can overload players with things that may not happen that you’re trying to get them prepared for,” Donovan said. “You talk about things in a general sense, what you need to be ready for.”

TOMORROW. Round 1 | Game 2

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Thunder Notes & Quotes

- The Thunder held practice on Tuesday and everyone went through contact drills, although Paul George and Corey Brewer were both limited in practice. George is nursing a hip contusion and didn’t participate in any contact. Brewer, whose sprained knee is still a bit sore, did some of the contact work.

-At shootaround on Wednesday, center Steven Adams explained that defensive discipline is the most important factor for the Thunder in Game 2. That means being locked in on the game plan, reliably staying in the proper positions on the floor and maintaining a level of energy and effort to take care of individual responsibilities on the floor.

Watch: Game 2 Preview

  • "Just to sum it up in one word there: discipline," Adams said. "If you don’t go rogue and you stick to what everyone knows you’re going to do, that’s staying disciplined. That in itself will be much better off in the long run."

- A beautiful wrinkle the Thunder implemented in the fourth quarter of Game 1 was utilizing Jerami Grant as a roller even while Steven Adams was on the floor, and that tied up Jazz defensive maestro and 7-foot-1 center Rudy Gobert. The multi-talented Grant has been a Thunder strength all season long, and showed it with his ability in the middle of the floor. He’ll need to be on point in terms of receiving the ball and making decisions in Game 2 as well. The Thunder knows Utah may trap playmakers like George and Russell Westbrook, so if Grant gets the ball at the free throw line, he’ll need to read the defense and kick to the corner if his path is blocked.

  • “The coaching staff did a good job of kind of preparing us, showing us where the holes are at on the defense and I think we did a good job of exploiting them in Game 1,” Grant said. “(I’m) just giving them all the credit, and my teammates did a great job of just figuring out where we need me.”

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