Point of Attack Defense, Communication Key Against T’Wolves – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at MIN

By Nick Gallo | Digital Content Reporter | mailbag@okcthunder.com

Broadcast Information

MINNEAPOLIS – At the top of the three-point arc on Sunday afternoon, in the midst of a nationally-televised NBA contest on ABC, there will be a game of cat and mouse happening.

Thunder big men Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel will be up in their coverage, hovering close to Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns but keeping a watchful eye on Minnesota’s guards Tyus Jones, Andrew Wiggins and Jerryd Bayless.

Towns will start to come over to set a screen, but monitoring Adams or Noel, waiting for them to commit and sit down in a defensive stance as a part of the Thunder’s pick and roll coverage. At the last second, Towns will bail out of the screen, run the other direction and try to square open for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer or a drive to the lane. It’s quite the sight, this mini-game within a game, but for the Thunder to win its third-straight game and win this Northwest Division war on Sunday afternoon, it will have to take that specific battlefield too.

“When you start calling coverages too early on (Towns), he’s hearing it or reading it and he can kind of react off of that,” Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan explained. “You’ve gotta wait as late as possible to make some calls, try to get him to dictate what he wants to do and then kind of read and react off of that a little bit. Then we’ve gotta obviously have, between the big and the guard, really, really good communication.”

“You’ve gotta be able to contain the ball and then get back to (Towns),” Donovan continued. “Because of his ability at the five spot to stretch it and shoot it, you get caught in close out situations and he’s pretty good at putting the ball on the floor as well. It requires a lot of communication and it’s something we gotta do a really good job of tomorrow.”

Just as the Thunder saw on Friday night against the Detroit Pistons with Blake Griffin, Towns presents not just a threat as a shooter from the outside, but as a player who can put the ball on the floor and drive. A key for the Thunder in the matchup will be to force Towns to change direction on his drives and shoot over the top of a contested hand. Any straight line drives, silly reach fouls or over-aggressive help defense could result in either easy points at the rim, the free throw line or three-point line for Minnesota.

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“You can’t just continually retreat to the basket. You’re going to have to hold your ground. The biggest thing is not getting your hands involved, not slapping down, but trying to come over with verticality,” Donovan noted. “Being in good position, not going for pump fakes, trying to make them shoot difficult shots over you, there’s things you can do. When you’re playing against someone that’s backing their way in or is being physical, you have to be physical back. Those are some of the fouls you’re going to live with.”

If the Thunder can be sharp on the defensive end, it will help the offense get out and be efficient in the open floor. That combination is often a recipe for success for the Thunder, which is 39-24 this season with having the same or more fast break points than its opponent and just 7-9 when scoring fewer in transition than its foe. With a win, the Thunder keeps the hope alive of moving higher up the Western Conference ladder. Three wins in the final three games can cement at least a 7th place finish, but there’s plenty of basketball left to play to determine where the Thunder will end up and who they’ll play against in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’re in charge of our own destiny with these last three games going. That’s where you put your focus on,” said Donovan. “It’s about us and what we have to do.”

Also playing on Sunday night is 8th place San Antonio at Cleveland, third place Houston plays against Phoenix, the 6th place LA Clippers go up against the 1st place Golden State Warriors, the 2nd place Denver Nuggets go to Portland to play the 4th place Trail Blazers and the 5th place Utah Jazz play the Los Angeles Lakers.

1-on-1: Nerlens Noel


-       After not playing since March 18 against Miami, Patrick Patterson saw some spot minutes in the rotation on Friday against Detroit due to foul trouble for Steven Adams in the first half. In one quick stretch, Patterson was effective as a defender and found ways to impact the game with his savvy. As Thunder fans have seen with Raymond Felton as well, Donovan is leaning on some veterans down the home stretch of the season, but remains flexible in his rotations come the playoffs.

  • “I want to keep Patrick engaged,” said Donovan. “He did a really nice job coming off the bench. I have trust and confidence in Patrick. He needs to be someone that is an option for us.”
  • “You always want to keep your roster engaged during the course of the year,” said Donovan. “You want to be able to rely on guys in certain situations.”

-       Sometimes it’s hard to believe that starting shooting guard Terrance Ferguson is just 20 years old and in just his second NBA season, but due to the absence of Andre Roberson and Alex Abrines, Ferguson has not only earned more playing time in his own right but also had to absorb more minutes than initially anticipated. The results are staggering. In his rookie year, Ferguson played 763 minutes, seeing action in 61 of the 82 games and starting 12 times. Pretty good for a rookie. This season, Ferguson has started 71 games, every single one he’s played, and racked up 1,847 minutes and managed to be more efficient and productive on both sides of the ball. His shooting splits have improved to 42.1 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from three and he’s become a defensive stalwart for the team.

  • “Remarkable, what (Ferguson) has done. Give him a lot of credit. He’s worked really hard,” Donovan began. “The thing with Terrance is that he’s learned a lot in terms of defending really good offensive players. He’s gotten better with the fouling. He can see situations happening before they’re happening.”
  • “He’s got really good feet. He’s not afraid to put his body in plays. He understands his role and he understands how to play. The group does a good job of utilizing him when they can,” Donovan said. “You know what you’re going to get defensively. You know he’s going to pay attention to scouting reports. You know he’s going to pay attention to film. He’s not going to make very many mistakes. He’s shooting the ball more and more with confidence. He plays to his identity of who he is as a player. I don’t think he gets outside his box. He does things that are going to impact our team and help our team. That’s allowed him to be really responsible and really reliable as a player.”

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