Keep Stopping the Ball, Then Attack With Confidence – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at IND

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


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

INDIANAPOLIS – Over the past 48 hours, the coaching staff has done everything they can to compile all the information. There’s the advance scout who watched the Indiana Pacers play some recent games, the assistant coach whose job it is to sift through all the play calls and tendencies, then Head Coach Billy Donovan who puts together some overarching strategy.

By the time the game really gets going into full swing, some of those points of emphasis may turn out to be gold. Other times, the opposition has made adjustments before the game or the way things actually happen on the court aren’t quite what they look like on film. That’s when the basketball genius of the Thunder players comes in, as well as the knowledge and expertise from the coaching staff. Everyone has to adjust on the fly, communicate with each other and re-form a new approach.

“You start out with a gameplan and a scouting report that you have to be sound, that everybody’s on the same page with. But as things start to unfold and they start to see what different players are trying to do,” said Donovan. “They can start to anticipate, they can start to get their length and athleticism and they’re speed into the game. But it’s a tribute to their intelligence and how smart they are as players.” 

That’s what lies ahead of the Thunder tonight on this home-road back-to-back with the Indiana Pacers, a team is fourth in the Eastern Conference and has been one of the most efficient shooting teams from the field and the three-point line all season long despite playing at one of the slowest paces in the NBA.

Even without former Thunder guard Victor Oladipo, who is out with a season-ending injury, the Pacers have a potent attack with the lightning-quick and efficient Darren Collison at point guard, the long, rangy and skilled Myles Turner at center and a new addition at shooting guard with the veteran Wes Matthews. The Pacers will run Collison and Turner together in pick and roll, and also spread the floor to dish to shooters like Bojan Bogdanovic, with bruising interior players in Thad Young and Domas Sabonis attacking the rim.

“(Pick-and-roll) is what every team is going to throw at us. See how well we can scramble around and test our pick and roll defense,” said forward Paul George. “If we get the pick and roll defense down, we are going to smother teams. If we don’t, they are going to have their way with us.”

“Certainly, we want to generate and create turnovers and steals, but it can’t be at the expense of we’re just running through passing lanes, being vulnerable at the basket, giving up threes,” Donovan added. 

On the offensive end the Thunder will need to be efficient, productive and must limit turnovers like it did in the second half of Wednesday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets. Back at Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Thunder only had two second half turnovers, one of which came when the team intentionally took a shot clock violation as it ran out the clock. Russell Westbrook was the maestro, putting together one of his best performances as a part of his post-All-Star surge.

Against Brooklyn, Westbrook put up a 31-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance, and since the break, he has been incredibly efficient by shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from the three-point line. It took a bit for Westbrook to get settled in after missing training camp, losing time to an ankle injury and attending to the birth of his twin daughters, but it’s clear the Thunder point guard has turned a corner that has helped elevate the group.

“That’s just what Russ do. Playmaker Russ,” George quipped. “He creates opportunities and he just makes the game easy for everybody else around him. I think that’s just Russ being in his element.”

“(Westbrook) is a guy that never makes excuses, he goes out there and plays, pours his heart and soul out there,” said Donovan. “Since the all-star break his shooting has come around, but he is closer to his numbers of what he has been for his career and I think at the end of the year it will even out.”

Tonight’s game marks the fifth in a stretch of 9 straight games for the Thunder against current playoff teams, and the 11th in a stretch of 12 games where the team plays in a different city in its next game. The schedule is intense for the Thunder coming down the stretch in March as the team tries to jockey its way into playoff positioning, and that means the margin for error is minimal. In fact, in the remaining 14 regular season games, the Thunder only plays four games against non-playoff foes. The level of concentration and focus must be high for all 48 minutes, and that continues tonight in Indiana.

“Sometimes, you can play games, and win, and get away with things. You can’t get away with things with our schedule,” Donovan said. “It’s a good thing for us, because we know what we have to do. It’s encouraging, for us, that hopefully we can get back defensively.”

NEWS & NOTES

-       George will play just his second game back in Indiana since being traded from the Pacers to the Thunder in the summer of 2017. His focus, instead of on the return and his offense, is to simply make the most plays he can to help his team win. Whether it’s defending at a high level on the perimeter, serving as a playmaker for others, passing out of double teams, being a decoy to pull defenses over on the weak side or to simply get in the paint and fight for rebounds, George is willing to do whatever it takes for his team.

  • “I give Paul a lot of credit because whether he’s scoring or not, it really doesn’t make that big of a deal to him. He’s interested in just playing the right way,” Donovan explained. If you said to Paul George, ‘listen, you can’t take a shot tonight,’ he’ll still find a way to go out and impact the game. That’s the beauty of him as a player, he plays both ends of the floor, he’s all about winning, and he’s a team guy.”

-       An unsung hero from the Thunder’s win over Brooklyn was Dennis Schröder, who may not have had an explosive offensive night like he did in Utah, but he was ferocious on the defensive end. Despite the size in Brooklyn’s backcourt, Schröder played with tenacity, quickness and disruptiveness on the defensive end of the floor and helped the Thunder get control of Brooklyn’s pick and roll attack.

  • (Schröder’s) engagement defensively was really big,” said Donovan. “He guarded everybody on the perimeter defensively and he took away three-point shots, he contested, he stepped in and for a big-time charge, he just did a lot of really good things out there. I never worry about his shooting as long as he is taking good shots, he is going to make his fair share.”

-       Former two-way player turned full-time Thunder forward Deonte Burton played 15 crucial minutes for the Thunder off the bench against the Nets in place of Markieff Morris, who missed the game with a neck injury. Burton’s quickness, physicality and length proved a nice complement for the Thunder in its defensive coverages, but he also attacked the rim as a cutter and knocked down a three-pointer on his way to 7 points, 2 rebounds and a steal. Burton is an affable character, matter of fact in interviews and seems to live in the moment. It genuinely seems that his contract status has had no bearing on his approach.

  • “I have the same confidence that I had before the contract,” Burton said plainly. “I’ve just always had the same amount of confidence because I put in the work and my teammates trust in me.”
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