Thunder Hustling, Feeding Off Each Other – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at DET

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com


Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 4:00 p.m. CT
  • Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

DETROIT – The long trip to great lakes metropolis of Detroit kicks off a tough sequence for the Thunder: a road-home back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday, then an unusual Washington-Denver road trip next week. Good thing Head Coach Billy Donovan team is churning up the challenges laid in front of it right now, riding a six-game win streak.

The Thunder’s huddle general is quick to note, however, that past success doesn’t predict future results, so he and the coaching staff have made sure to prepare the Thunder for a feisty, and hungry Detroit Pistons team. Compared to where the Thunder was back in November, there are have been major strides taken, and the results are starting to show on the scoreboard, and in the standings. Each win has brought the Thunder to a new season-high above .500, now at 28-20 with 34 games remaining to jockey for playoff position. The key to it all has been a resilience, an ability to pull out of lulls and

“These guys have done a great job. They work, they are focused on trying to get better and improve,” Donovan said. “The biggest thing I think we are fighting for is consistency.”

“Everything is starting to click from defense to offense. We are getting out in transition. We are getting stops,” forward Paul George said. “When teams go on a run in games we do a great job countering or still keeping our pace up. Where we struggled down the stretch in past games and where we weren’t winning, it’s because when teams made a run we would try to make home run plays right off the back. We stay steady throughout the game and there is a trust factor. We are all on the same page and we trust each other out there.”

One of the reasons the Thunder has taken off of late has been the extra verve in its offensive punch. Playing with a high level of pace and tempo by getting out into the open floor and being decisive and quick in the halfcourt makes for a true challenge for defenses to corral. On Thursday night against Washington, Westbrook powered the Thunder with his downhill drives, particularly in transition and after turnovers.

Twelve of Westbrook’s 46 points came on the fast break, and 15 total came off of turnovers. The result was the Thunder point guard spending a ton of time in the paint. In fact, 26 of Westbrook’s 46 points came in the lane, taking advantage of his incredible gifts of finishing around the rim.

“To help Russell, if there is a missed shot you really get down the floor and give him some outlets and some options. It is about finding each other with pace,” Donovan outlined. “We’ve got to figure out a consistent way we can all help each other when we are out there playing [and] that requires everybody doing things that have got to be done without the ball being in their hands.”

The Pistons during this recent stretch have been the mirror opposite of the Thunder. Though they come into this one having lost six consecutive games, four of Detroit’s losses have come by five points or fewer. The Pistons have been in every contest.

Andre Drummond is playing at an incredibly high level on both ends of the floor, coming off of a 30-point, 24-rebound performance against the Utah Jazz and Rudy Gobert. That means Steven Adams and the rest of the Thunder defense will have their hands full trying to prevent rolls and lobs at the rim, in addition to devastating second chance points.

In order to prevent Drummond from getting freedom to roam the lane, the Thunder will have to back up its performance from Thursday night by once again scrambling in defensive rotations, staying in front of their assignment on defense and getting to every loose ball.

“It just comes down to hustling. It just comes down to who wants it. We take pride in being physical,” George explained. “First person to hit the deck is going to come up with it. That’s the mindset we have.”


Nick's Notebook

- With 17 points on Saturday afternoon, Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony would become just the 21st NBA player ever to eclipse the 25,000-point mark for a career. Anthony currently sits at 24,983 points and has scored 827 of them with the Thunder this season.

- Much has been made externally about the connections being made between Westbrook and George, and the way that duo has been able to mesh so far this season. Especially since the Thunder found its groove in December, the results have been positive. George is having a career season from behind the three-point line, and Westbrook is once again playing at an MVP level. Against versatile defenders like Avery Bradley, Stanley Johnson and Tobias Harris, the Thunder duo will have be at the top of their games, and continuing to display the type of collaboration that is producing high octane offense.

  • “It’s the best of both worlds,” George said. “Russ is one of the most explosive athletic guys. I am the opposite of that. My game is more smooth. We complement each other very well. We both play off one another. I can set him up and, as you can see, he does visa versa. We just have fun. We enjoy playing with one another. It’s just fun to play alongside him.”
  • “We run off of each other, read, making plays easy for each other, getting open shots,” Westbrook noted. “He is getting me open shots, I am getting him open shots. We are constantly trying to make each other better.”

- On Thursday night against Washington, Donovan was extremely mindful of how close the Thunder was to the bonus, awaiting a potential Wizards decision to hack guard Andre Roberson. Just like every player, Roberson has strengths and weaknesses, and it is Donovan’s job to maximize his effect on the defensive end, and minimize the amount of times he goes to the free throw line. One way Donovan did that is inserting rookie Terrance Ferguson once the Wizards got to four team fouls in the quarter. Ferguson performed well during his stints, racking up 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting, including 3-for-6 shooting from the three-point line. He launched jumpers without fear, a feature rarely seen from such a youngster.

  • “He’s a confident kid. I see myself all over Ferg,” George said of Ferguson. “He’s very talented, very skilled, very confident. It’s great to plug him in and not lose anything on the offensive end or defensive end.”
  • “He is getting better and the experience that he is getting throughout these last several weeks I think is going to help him,” Donovan added of the rookie.