Against the Defending Champs, Discipline is a Must – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. GSW

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer |

Broadcast Information

  • Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. CT
  • Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
  • Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

The Thunder is trying to get out of its current gear and shift up a level, and it had better do just that on Wednesday night against the defending NBA champions.

The Golden State Warriors come to town for a pre-Thanksgiving showdown between a pair of Western Conference teams that have a combined eight players with All-Star appearances on their rosters. Regardless of whether Kevin Durant suits up or sits out with an ankle sprain, the Warriors are a very difficult matchup for the opposition due to their shooting, playmaking and collective team defense. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club is going to have to play at a high level, consistently, for all four quarters without letting up on the gas.

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“There’s a lot of terrific teams in the league and Golden State is at the top of the list,” Donovan said. “To be able to play against high-level, elite teams, you’re gonna have to play for 48 minutes.”

One area of focus in this game for the Thunder is preventing Golden State from attacking the middle of the paint. Stephen Curry in particular is a master at manipulating pick-and-rolls to get into the teeth of the defense. The drive-and-dish three-pointers and secondary attacks to the rim can be devastating to opponents. So it’s not just up to the Thunder’s guards or center Steven Adams in pick and roll coverages. It’s a full-team effort to be there for one another and to have total trust in the strategy the coaching staff has set forth.

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“It’s not one-on-one, man-on-man all the time. When you’re dealing with an elite offensively team, you’re just not gonna be able to stop one guy with one guy,” Donovan explained. “So, you’re gonna have to rely on a lot of multiple efforts. You’re gonna have to rely on giving help and giving back to where you were. If there’s a drive, you gotta be ready to give help. You gotta play with five guys.”

“It’s just that awareness and how quick you are getting over and helping that person,” center Steven Adams added. “But once that person helps, the next person’s got to rotate. So now it’s just a scramble mode, where everyone’s on a string.”

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In order for the defense to be effective, as it has for most of the season thus far, the Thunder has to make the Warriors take tough two-point shots, even deep into the shot clock. Bailing them out by fouling in the midrange, or by missing a rotation only gives Golden State two likely extra points, plus puts more pressure on the defense in terms of the five-foul limit per quarter.

“There’s situations where the ball is in certain areas of the floor, in particular inside the 3-point line, and not around the rim, those are the fouls we gotta eliminate,” Donovan noted. Those ones either lead to two free throws or get them close to the bonus.”

“With this team, you just got to stay disciplined,” Adams added. “If you try and do anything, kind of gamble at all, that’s when they really come out and hurt you.”

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Nick’s Notebook:

- Breakdowns on the defensive end are inevitable throughout the course of NBA games. If they weren’t, scores would never reach the 100s. That being said, the Thunder makes sure to hone in on the ones that happen repeatedly. Through film work and time on the court, the staff ensures that players are aware of and held accountable for slippages.

  • “We’re going to point those things out of things they have to do better and put it out there,” Donovan said. “Because I always say this. It happened. The film doesn’t lie. These are areas that we have to get better at.”

- There is, however, a level of understanding from the coaching staff about those mistakes. There’s a human element involved in them. Last week, Adams explained why there’s sometimes a perception difference between what players think they’re doing on the floor versus what it looks like on film. In general, while in the heat of the battle players often think they’re in the right spot when in fact they are in fact out of position.

  • “That happens all the time where sometimes a player just in general thinks that they’re doing one thing and then all the sudden it comes back on the film and they’re kind of like, ‘wow, I didn’t realize that,’” Donovan explained. “When you’re caught up playing in the game in the heat of the moment like that as you’re playing, sometimes the things that you think you’re doing may not be as clearly done at the level you think they’re doing until you see film the next day.”

- Film study is just a small part of the physical and mental preparation necessary to get ready for a game, and the Thunder recognizes that because of the difficulty of the competition in the NBA if just one player on the floor doesn’t come ready to play, it can impact the whole group. That’s why Russell Westbrook takes on ownership in being responsible for his teammates’ preparedness. The Thunder point guard has stood as a leader for years in Oklahoma City, and knows that he can have a huge influence in getting the team to take a step forward.

  • “A lot of guys prepare differently for games and you’ve gotta figure out how we can all be on the same page. You’ve got to work with new guys we didn’t have before,” Westbrook explained. “You’ve just gotta get on the same page, especially with preparation, making sure we’re all on the same page when we get on the floor.”