Dig in, Catch a Rhythm – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. SAC

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

If the Thunder’s previous three meetings with the Sacramento Kings are any indication, tonight’s fourth and final matchup will be one that tests the team to the final moments, and forces Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club to maintain focus and discipline for all 48 minutes, regardless of the circumstances

Against the San Antonio Spurs two nights ago, the Thunder managed to keep that attention and urgency at a high level for all four quarters, even through stretches where shots didn’t fall. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined for just 13 points in the game, yet Oklahoma City kept digging in on defense, grinding out stops and then executing on offense to get high percentage shots. Against the Kings, that’s the exact formula the Thunder needs to follow.

1-on-1: Alex Abrines

“That was a big part from a growth perspective as a team. When the ball is not going in the basket, that is really when you have to dig in and play defense,” Donovan said. “It is a lot easier playing defense when you are making shots and everyone is energized.”

The defense will have to lock in on De’Aaron Fox, the speedy rookie point guard for Sacramento, along with rookie forward Justin Jackson, a knockdown jump shooter. A surefire way to help out the defense is to get high percentage shots on the offensive end. Pushing the tempo, continually moving throughout possessions and making plays for one another can help the Thunder be efficient.

“The biggest thing to me is the emphasis on moving the ball and letting the ball find the open man,” Donovan summarized.

Getting a boost from the second unit would be a nice bonus too. The Kings’ second group has been a challenge for the Thunder’s bench so far this season, and for good reason with a prolific scorer like Buddy Hield, a rolling big man in Willie Cauley-Stein and veterans Vince Carter and Garrett Temple. Being poised, locking in to personnel tendencies and playing with physicality will all be important tonight.

On Saturday, the Thunder’s reserves scored 50 of the team’s 104 points. It’s not realistic to expect that on many nights, but being able to get into the teeth of the defense and not settling for jump shots will be crucial for the group led by point guard Raymond Felton. Catching a rhythm off the bench is easier said than done, so shooting percentages won’t always remain consistent. Getting layups and foul shots by moving the defense from side to side can help the Thunder be efficient even if jumpers don’t drop.

“A lot of times the bench unit guys are never in a rhythm. One game they may get eight shots, the next game they may get two, the next game they may get zero, the next game five,” Donovan explained. “That’s really challenging for a guy that is coming off the bench because a lot of times you don’t necessarily know where or when shots are coming from.”

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Nick's Notebook

- Thunder center Steven Adams is listed as questionable for tonight’s game against the Kings with a sprained ankle, while Terrance Ferguson remains classified as “out” as he goes through the NBA’s concussion protocol.

- Last game against the Spurs, Donovan played Paul George the entirety of the first and third quarters, and then for the first few possessions to start the second and third quarters, bringing him back a bit later than normal to close out the end of both halves. That tactic helped give a boost to the reserve unit on both ends of the floor. Keep an eye on Donovan’s rotations tonight to see if he applies that strategy again.

Thunder Talk: Corey Brewer

- After not shooting the ball well from three-point range in Los Angeles, guard Corey Brewer has been blistering hot from behind the arc since joining the Thunder. Over the last three games, Brewer is 6-for-12 from behind the arc, with all of his makes coming from the corner. Though not a prolific shooter, giving Brewer the confidence and freedom to take a couple in the game as a balance to all of the hustle and dirty work plays he makes.

  • “The one advantage I have with Corey is that I have been through a lot with him as a coach, player, and our relationship,” Donovan said. “I know him in and out. He is a guy that when he is involved and encouraged, I’m not saying from me but even from his teammates, he plays really really well.”
  • “If he is going to shoot them with confidence, then we put the confidence in him,” George added.

Thunder-Kings Preview

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