- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
The Thunder isn’t overreacting to its win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. To the leaders of the group like Russell Westbrook, that type of performance should be normal. It’s hasn’t been that way consistently all year, but it needs to be tonight against the Detroit Pistons.
“That game is over. In this league it’s a different night,” Westbrook said. “That has to be our identity regardless of who we play. We have to come out and get a win.”
“That’s what we’re supposed to do,” Westbrook continued. “To me that’s normal. That’s how I feel about it.”
Game Day: Russell Westbrook
Detroit comes into the game leading the Central Division and playing with a nice balance of interior might with Andre Drummond, shooting from Tobias Harris and shifty playmaking from Reggie Jackson and Ish Smith. Defending as a five man unit like it has done most of the season will be vital, with the caveat that it needs to have all five men block out and corral loose rebounds.
“It’s just boxing out your man and being aware,” center Steven Adams said. “Ball watching is what really gets you in trouble when it comes to rebounding. It’s just finding your man, especially on the perimeter. These guys are flying in from the perimeter which makes it a bit more difficult.”
“We have to put bodies on them. That’s what they do well, offensive rebounding,” Westbrook noted. “Once we get the rebound, particularly if they send a lot of people to the glass, when we get the ball we have a chance to get out in transition. They have to pick their poison. We have to get the ball and go.”
Those offensive rebounds are much more likely if the Pistons are carving into the Thunder’s defense, getting into the lane and forcing help defenders to stay longer than normal. That’s how catch-and-shoot threes for Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley will occur, how lobs over the top to Drummond will free up and how any misses from the attacking guards can end up in the hands of crashing Pistons players who dive in from all over the floor.
“From a bigs standpoint, it’s pretty much trying to make sure the ball gets stopped,” Adams said. “(Ish Smith), he’s all over the place you know. Make sure that he gets under control and then pretty much for Drummond, it’s the backside. You have to help the bigs out in terms of getting back. All you need is to just buy us a second and be able to get back. But if you don’t stop the ball and they get downhill, that’s when all the problems happen.”
Game Day: Steven Adams
On the offensive end of the floor, the Thunder has to play with the type of mental stamina that it showed for most of the night against Golden State. Still, in the third and fourth quarter the Thunder relaxed a bit, letting itself take contested shots in a slowed down halfcourt offense. Head Coach Billy Donovan needs his team to keep defenses on their toes while throwing all of its punches, in an organized manner. A commitment to movement on and off the ball is vital.
“When the ball moves and finds open men, it makes them work a little more. We are trying to create is the stamina to be able to do that,” Donovan said. “These guys are terrific one-on-one and when they feel like they have opportunities to go, you want them to go. The challenge is when the ball does get stopped, we have to either go or get off of it.”
Watch: Game Preview
- The Thunder comes into the game with nine straight performances where they turned the ball over fewer times than the opposition. Part of that dynamic is that the Thunder has done a great job of limiting its giveaways so far this season, but the more impactful aspect has been the disruptiveness on the defensive end. The Thunder leads the NBA in deflections and getting to loose balls and Paul George has been a major catalyst to that. He himself is number one in the league in deflections and steals this season.
- “The other thing is he saves a lot of plays,” Donovan said. “There are guys open on the back side and just him sitting in his gaps and plugging gaps on the back side, and just his length and ability to go and deflect passes or slow down passes or steal passes was a huge catalyst for us.”
- Donovan’s ability to utilize his athletes to make plays defensively is what has helped the Thunder be so good on that end of the floor this season. Part of the reason the Thunder has had success is because Donovan has been willing to try different lineups and combinations. On Wednesday, he took Adams out early in the first quarter to then start him with the reserves to begin the second quarter. Westbrook and Andre Roberson played with a group of reserves that included Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson. Thunder players are able to adjust to new combinations and rotations because they believe in the coaches and their jobs stay similar, just with slight variance due to matchups.
- “I always trust anything Billy does,” Westbrook said. “He’s an exceptional coach.”