Take What the Defense Gives, then Give it Back in Full Force - OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at LAL

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Digital Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 9:30 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

LOS ANGELES – It’s no great secret that the Thunder hasn’t shot the ball well from the three-point line, but at 23-13 this season, Head Coach Billy Donovan has gotten his team to be productive and effective by doing everything else well.

Despite shooting just 32.2 percent from behind the three-point lime, the Thunder has actually shot 52.2 percent on all shots inside the arc, and given how opponents are guarding Donovan’s club recently, that dynamic might be just alright. In a two-game home-and-home back-to-back with the Dallas Mavericks, the Thunder were handed open jump shots from the perimeter and the elbow area all night long. Mavericks Head Coach Rick Carlisle opted for his team to sell out completely on protecting the paint and limiting driving layups and offensive rebounding opportunities.

It remains to be seen if Los Angeles Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton elects the same strategy on Wednesday night when the Thunder rolls into Staples Center, but if so Donovan will have his squad prepared to fire with confidence from inside the arc if those shots are given up.

“You have to shoot the basketball. I don’t know what the other alternative is when somebody is backing off of you,” Donovan said. “I would rather have two points than zero points.”

While the Thunder’s ideal identity is to get all the way to the basket on drives or rolls by big men like Steven Adams or Jerami Grant, and to drive into the deep paint and kick out for catch and shoot three’s, the Lakers might not allow for it. As a result, the Thunder will have to rely on some mid-range shooting and a stout defense that creates stops and gets out into the open floor. The Lakers’ lineup of youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are all tough covers, but the Thunder doesn’t have one of the league’s top rated defensive units just by happenstance.

“We lean on our defense,” said Russell Westbrook. “Regardless of what happens, teams are going to make shots. The way the game is played now, a lot of threes go up, some may go in – but we do other things; get deflections, guard the passing lane, blocks, obviously steals. Once we get on the break, it’s beneficial to us."

“We want to get stops and get in transition and play,” added Paul George. “That is what we are geared towards, so when we get those opportunities to score fast and strike quick. It takes a toll on them defensively because they know they have to be perfect because we are scoring in different ways.”

The Thunder is coming off a pair of games where it scored a total of 57 fast break points, thanks in large part to turning over the normally precise Mavericks an unbelievable 53 times for 56 points. The Lakers, who seem likely to not have LeBron James in the matchup, come into the game turning it over 15.6 times per game, while the Thunder is now forcing opponents to cough up the rock 18.6 times a night, by far the best in the NBA. The team doesn’t come into games expecting to turn teams over, rather it is a byproduct of when the five-man units on the floor play with energy, discipline and focus possession over possession.

“When we are really sound defensively and we are in good rotations and we are where we are supposed to be and we are on point our length really gets involved, whether it is a deflected pass or interception or rotation, we can have the quickness and speed to kind of be disruptive,” Donovan said.  

“Where we get hurt is we turn it over, fast break points, we don’t do a good job of getting back in transition or we give up offensive rebounds and the ball gets sprayed out,” Donovan continued. “If we can get the ball in the half court and make teams play against our set defense, that is when we are really effective. I don’t know if we can turn teams over all the time every game, but if we are disciplined in the right spots we have a good chance of making that happen.”


WESTBROOK DEBUTS ZERO.2

The "Future History" colorway popped from every surface. Bright blues and reds were upstaged only by neon pinks and oranges. Russell Westbrook’s color palette was on the floors, the walls and most importantly, his brand-new shoe, which drops globally on January 10, with all sizes later this month. On Tuesday evening in downtown Los Angeles, with his family by his side, Westbrook unveiled the Why Not Zer0.2, which comes with the slogan “Own the Chaos”.

Westbrook himself certainly did that on Tuesday, as a place to shop for shoes was turned into a basketball festival. Hundreds of local children gathered around a rooftop court as Westbrook engaged in a few mini-games, including one where the young hoopers had to make the Thunder guard’s signature “cotton shot”, a pull-up elbow jumper. Between the engagement with the youth and the release of a beautiful shoe, Westbrook made quite the splash upon arrival to start this road trip.

SHOOTAROUND NOTES

- The Lakers present a unique challenge tonight because of how relentlessly they attack the deep paint. So far this season the Lakers lead the league in field goals in the restricted area with 70 more attempts than the second-highest team, which happens to be the Thunder. The Lakers are also shooting 65 percent in the restricted area, so stopping dribble penetration and limiting lobs to JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler will be critical tonight.

  • “You gotta guard the ball. They’ve got, generally, four guys on the floor who can put the ball down and dribble,” said Donovan. “It can’t all be on one player. You gotta have good built-in help. They have a lot of guys who can start the break on missed shots. Sometimes you get cross-matched in transition. When the ball does hit the paint it gets kicked out and you’re in close out situations and you have a lot of guys who can put the ball on the floor.”

- From the Thunder’s standpoint, the backcourt features a pair of devastating attackers in Westbrook who launches into ferocious rim runs, in addition to Dennis Schröder, who is crafty in the way he slinks into the paint. Both are effective at what they do, and help the Thunder get into the heart of the defense. As a one-two punch Westbrook and Schröder are getting more and more comfortable playing alongside one another, and finding their moments to dive to the rim.

  • “That’s (Schröder’s) game. He’s just sneaky. He knows how to catch the defense when they’re relaxed. He just knows when to attack,” George reviewed. “Russ, there’s just nothing you can do to stop him. He’s so explosive. It’s a good mix between the two. One is smooth and finesse and the other is power and explosiveness. It’s a good combo that we have.”

NEWS & NOTES

- After perhaps one of the toughest shooting nights of Westbrook’s career, going 4-for-22 in Dallas, the Thunder point guard turned it around in predictable fashion back at Chesapeake Energy Arena on New Year’s Eve. Westbrook was brilliant, poised and extremely accurate, knocking down 13-of-24 shots, including 9-of-15 mid-range jumpers while taking just one three-pointer. By the time 2019 was about to begin, Westbrook had 32 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his 10th triple-double of the season and 114th in his career.  

  • “It speaks to (Westbrook’s) character as a competitor having a game like he did yesterday where he didn’t shoot the ball nearly to the level of his standards, and then he comes back 24 hours later and can refocus and re-concentrate and go out there and do that,” said Donovan.

- Westbrook now has 10 combined steals in the last two games, continuing to separate himself ahead of the pack for the league lead in steals per game average. Unlike most seasons, Westbrook’s steals have mostly come from just being grounded and in solid defensive coverage within the team scheme, but he’s still making a handful of his quintessential improvised gambles, coming in from behind on unsuspecting big men or jumping passing lanes.

  • “(Westbrook) has a good instinct of seeing when the defense is turned and when he can come in there and be a little bit disruptive without getting burned on the back side.”

- With Alex Abrines sidelined due to a stomach illness and now personal reasons, the opportunity to be in the rotation has arisen for Abdel Nader. The second-year forward has played shooting guard, small forward and power forward over the past four games and has been a bit up and down both offensively and defensively. While it was wonderful to see shots fall down in Phoenix (18 points) and at home against Dallas (10 points on 4-of-6 shooting), the more encouraging signs came in his defensive focus and execution in each of those games.

  • “That’s just my dream come true. I’m taking as much advantage as I can of that situation,” said Nader. “If you stay ready you never have to get ready. I think I’ve done a good job of that all season long. So when my number is called, I don’t miss a beat.”


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