Be the Aggressor, Jumpstart the Defense – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at MIN
- Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
MINNEAPOLIS – Lulls happen during the course of an 82-game NBA season. It’s nearly impossible to play with the same level of energy night-in and night-out over the course of the seven months that spans the beginning of the year and the final weeks of the playoff chase, and right now, the Thunder is going through one of those mini-dips.
Two straight losses with subpar defensive showings is something that irks the Thunder’s players, a prideful, veteran group that wants to bounce back with a positive performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. On Tuesday it fell to the Portland Trail Blazers at home, dropping to 5-6 in the Northwest Division, and 22-19 overall in the standings. With another divisional foe coming up tonight, the Thunder must get back to its core defensive principles by being the aggressor out there on the floor.
“We aren’t forcing them into what we want to force them into, we aren’t keeping them on the side that we want to keep them on, we are just lacking the discipline right now,” forward Paul George explained.
“When there is a lack of energy there becomes a lack of communication,” forward Carmelo Anthony added. “You start searching and become one step behind. I think that is the case. The communication level is down. We try to bring it back in sprits throughout the course of the game. Sometimes it is a little bit too late.”
Getting into the ball, pushing it to the sideline and away from the middle of the floor, trapping over hard and keeping hands high to deter passing angles will all be a must tonight against a dynamic and challenging Timberwolves squad. With Karl-Anthony Towns bringing his inside-out skillset to the court, surrounded by wings in Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford, Minnesota is a team that will test any defense, on any night. Even without starting point guard Jeff Teague, the Timberwolves just dropped 127 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers two nights ago.
“They are a talented team, they have a lot of guys that can burn you: Towns, Wiggins and Butler. We have to be ready for that,” forward Josh Huestis said. “It’s going to be another defensive test for us. We’ve had a few chances at them, and I’m excited to go in tomorrow and try to fix what happened tonight and try to get back to our old selves.”
“Trying to match the physicality from jump ball. They’re very aggressive crashing the glass so making sure we box them out,” forward Patrick Patterson noted. “Talking on the defensive side the ball and just running our sets offensively trying to create easy shots for ourselves and push the ball in transition. They attack the glass so often, if we get rebounds we should be able to get some easy points.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 10, 2018
As Patterson alluded, the way the Thunder sets the tone in the first quarter could make all the difference tonight. In general, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s squad has jumped out to solid starts so far this season, but getting the opposition off track to begin the game can pay even more dividends than initially imagined. If the offense is humming from the outset, the ball has the energy and scoring often happens naturally. If it doesn’t flow early in a game for a team, NBA players are prone to going off script, and that’s exactly what the Thunder wants to happen tonight.
“If a team doesn’t have rhythm to start the game off then you never know what will happen, it might be a guy breaking plays off to try and get something going and it completely takes a team out of rhythm,” George explained. “If a team is comfortable out there, no matter who has it, they are going to feel comfortable to make shots and make plays. That’s on us to start games out and dictating how we want teams to respond to us.”
- Guard Andre Roberson will miss tonight’s game again as he recovers from that patellar tendonitis in his left knee. While the Thunder certainly has a next man up mentality and has players who are very capable to fill the role in Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis and Jerami Grant, it’s clear that the team does miss Roberson’s defense out there on the floor.
- “[Roberson] is an elite defender, so anytime you lose somebody like that, it stings,” fellow wing Huestis said. “We have a lot of guys who want to play defense and want to work hard. I think it is an adjustment, but it’s not something we can’t do. We have a lot of guys that will step up, it’s just a matter of doing it.”
- The young man who has been starting in Roberson’s place lately is Ferguson, the 19 year-old rookie who got hot in his first start against the Lakers, with 24 points on 6-of-9 three-point shooting. Since then he’s played aggressively and with tenacity, but has experienced some of those rookie bumps and bruises. After battling Evan Turner last night, Ferguson will have to try to deal with the likes of Wiggins and Crawford tonight. As he matures, he’ll get stronger, but for now Ferguson is trying to use his energy and footwork to account for a lack of muscle.
- “I am a skinny guy as everybody can see. I try to battle as hard as I can, but sometimes they just overpower me,” Ferguson admitted, before explaining the instruction he gets from the coaches. “It’s just normal defense. If you have to close out, close out, guard the man, and if you have a post player, then battle. That is pretty much it. Keep it simple.”