Easter Clash with the Pelicans – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at NOP
- Tip-off: 5:00 p.m. CT
- Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
NEW ORLEANS – In the midst of this current stretch of 11 straight games against above .500 teams, the Thunder is currently slogging through a spurt of four straight Western Conference foes who are all scrapping and clawing to either get into the top 8 of to move up the standing ladder.
That trend continues on the road as Head Coach Billy Donovan gets his squad ready for the New Orleans Pelicans, and in order to snap a three-game skid the Thunder will have to make plays down the stretch. It’s not just making shots and getting stops. It’s knocking down free throws throughout the game and making sure to get the best shot possible on each possession
“There have been some things as it relates to execution,” Donovan said. “Certainly the free throw line has hurt us in two of those four games.”
Against the Pelicans, dealing with Anthony Davis will be the biggest chore, but point guard Jrue Holiday has been one of the most exceptional secondary stars for a team this season. Defending the high screen and roll, stopping the ball out top and denying lobs to the rim will all be extremely important for the Thunder.
On the other end of the floor, it’ll be up to Donovan to put his playmakers in prime positions to be successful. Russell Westbrook has been one of the NBA’s greatest closers over the past two seasons, but even he doesn’t always have the perfect answer each night. There’s a trust involved between Donovan and Westbrook, and that is a vital aspect of creating a comfortable crunch-time work flow between the Thunder’s leaders.
“I trust him in those situations when the ball is in his hands. He has to feel comfortable with what he is generating, what he is creating for himself or somebody else,” Donovan explained. “The minute you get into telling him that you want him to do a, b and c, and the defense takes those things away, you are leading him into a situation that can be very, very difficult.”
The key to making sure that the game doesn’t come down to those do-or-die final possessions is to play with tenacity throughout the first, second and third quarters. During this season, the Thunder has displayed a proclivity for being able to “turn it on” in crucial moments, including fourth quarter stretches like the one against the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. The key for this Thunder group is to display that level of intensity for the entire game, not just select portions.
“We always have it,” forward Jerami Grant said of the energy. “We shouldn’t do it, but I think we kind of pick and choose when to turn it on. I think we have to just put a full 48 minutes together.”
Despite losing three straight games, and four of its last five, the Thunder is still 11 games over .500 and in a solid position to decide its own fate in the final playoff positioning. It’s an absolute mess in the 4-through-10 spots in the Western Conference at the moment, but the Thunder is confident that when the final 8 teams are sorted out, Oklahoma City will be represented in the postseason, and that this team will be ready to battle. For now, the most important thing for the Thunder to do is stick together, remain positive and keep up the fight in the final five games.
“It’s very important to stay high in spirits, get ready for the next game,” Westbrook said.
- Throughout the season, Donovan has trusted his gut and has made decisions throughout games about substitution patterns, player combinations and rotations, in addition to late-game lineups. On Friday against the Nuggets, Donovan opted to go with Jerami Grant for a long stretch in the fourth quarter. Carmelo Anthony was set to check in with just under three minutes remaining, but Grant delivered a corner three-pointer while Anthony was at the scorer’s table. Realizing that Grant had it rolling with the other four players on the floor, Anthony encouraged Grant to keep it going. It was a selfless and team-first act by one of the greatest players in NBA history.
- “Everybody knowing who Carmelo is and what he does for this team, it definitely means a lot for him to put his trust in me,” Grant said.
- “You’re talking about a guy that played extremely well himself. He shot the ball at a really high level and was just an instant bucket,” George added, regarding Anthony. “Timely baskets, big shots, big threes, and for him to let JG (Grant) continue on with the group out there, it definitely says a lot about who Melo is and his character.”