Keep Striding into Saturday Showdown – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. SAS

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


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By the numbers, the Thunder put together one of its more complete defensive performances of the season on Thursday night against a typically high-octane Phoenix Suns team. Whether it was the analysis of the tape or the understanding of who is up next on the schedule, the Thunder is adamant that the defensive precision will have be much better moving forward than it was on Thursday.

As Head Coach Billy Donovan gets his team ready for the San Antonio Spurs in a Western Conference positioning battle at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday night, the message was about awareness and coordination on the defensive end. That means recognizing screening actions and talking them out well in advance.

“Our defense gets better when our communication’s better,” Donovan stated.

Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan

Against a Spurs team that is disciplined in its execution and can present a variety of challenges on offense, the Thunder’s defense better come ready to play. Patty Mills is a lightning quick point guard who can shoot it from behind the arc. LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star and one of the NBA’s most prolific post-up and face-up threats. Surrounding them are capable role players, not to mention three NBA champions in Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green.

While Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich has developed and maintained a system on both ends of the floor that has stood the test of time, personnel dictates quite a bit in the modern NBA. According to Donovan and Thunder center Steven Adams, an apparent film studies major in Spurs basketball, San Antonio is making some alterations this season.

“They’re gonna go to certain matchups,” Donovan predicted. “They’re gonna try to go to Aldridge in certain situations. They’re gonna try to get Patty Mills certain screening actions, same thing with Danny Green. They’re gonna put Ginobili in a lot of pick-and-roll. They have their system, but they’re certainly looking to put guys in position to do what they do best.”

“They’re doing a few different things that I notice because I watch everything,” Adams said. “I watch all their stuff. They’ve been changing. They’re kind of evolving their offense.”

Thunder Talk: Steven Adams

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder will have to be efficient because the Spurs are one of the very best in the league at not giving opposing teams easy points. While above average in second chance points and points off turnovers allowed, San Antonio ranks first in the NBA in fouls per game at just 16.9 and free throw attempts allowed with 18.5 per contest.

“They really kind of pack the lane,” Donovan explained. “They try to get out and contest shots. They do a good job of getting back in transition, of trying to take away easy baskets.”

“They hear the help so they know they don’t have to foul because the trap is coming,” Adams added. “Stuff like that really helps out with fouls in that sense. It’s just drilling them and the players just do a good job of being aware of body positions and whatnot.”

In the flow of the offense the major focus for the Thunder, despite scoring 115 points on Phoenix, is to do a better job of delivering passes on time and on target. In the Suns game, Donovan’s group missed out on some opportunities to hit three-point shooters in rhythm by passing the ball to the wrong spot or with improper speed on the ball. Those types of physical errors can possibly cause a missed shot or allow a scrambling defender get back into the play.

“We’ve got to be better putting the ball in places where it leads a guy into the shot rather than taking him out of the shot,” Donovan noted.

“As scorers, you want the ball in rhythm. You can catch it and go right up,” forward Carmelo Anthony added. “You don’t wanna have to kinda alter your stance or your shot or your rhythm because any small thing — the pass can be off a little bit — it’s a big difference between making a shot, missing a shot or just a shot going in or not.”

Thunder Talk: Carmelo Anthony


Nick's Notebook

- Rookie guard Terrance Ferguson was diagnosed with a concussion after sustaining a head injury in the Thunder’s win over the Suns and has been placed in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

- Donovan wouldn’t say whether guard Corey Brewer would start again for the Thunder on Saturday night against the San Antonio Spurs, but Thursday victory made it clear that there are a few key areas where Brewer can help this team. While scoring 17 points, Brewer was in constant motion, putting pressure on the defense and finding high percentage shots near the rim. On defense, Brewer’s motor, length and quickness are all valuable tools.

  • “He’s quite smart with the timing of his cuts and whatnot,” Adams said of Brewer. “He won’t get in the way with the play. He actually really helps out with the play and you have to be quite savvy with that. He’s been doing it a long time so he knows the reads to make.”
  • “(Brewer) had a couple of good plays where he covered up a lot of potential problems because of his activity,” Donovan added. “His biggest thing is gonna be just maintaining that high level of discipline on defense as he learns our scheme.”

- Brewer has only been around for a few days, but players are already gravitating to him in the locker room. He’s a constant chatterbox on and off the court, and has his unique, toothy grin on his face all the time. It’s hard not to laugh when Brewer is around.

  • “Definitely one of the funniest guys I’ve ever been around,” said Anthony, who also spent a few weeks as a teammate of Brewer’s in New York. “Just an overall great guy, great teammate, great locker room guy. He brings a different energy around. His energy, his positivity is really gonna help what we’re trying to do here.”

    Gallo and BD: Thunder-Spurs Preview

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