Physicality and Length the Key Against Warriors – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC vs. GSW

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There’s nothing like playoff basketball. Just so happens that the Thunder is getting a taste of it about two weeks early. Not only is the Thunder fighting for its playoff lives and positioning, but Tuesday night’s clash against the Golden State Warriors will be the fourth installment of one of the NBA’s most intense rivalries, regardless of the win-loss records or stakes for either side.

Thunder-Warriors games are always intense, with a competitive streak that isn’t often found during a 1-of-82 regular season environment. When those games are in Chesapeake Energy Arena, they raise to another level. 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony had the chance to experience that setting for the first time all the way back in November, when the Thunder won 108-91 and is excited to experience it again, especially with the Thunder sitting at 45-33 and jostling with Western Conference foes between the 4th and 10th spots.

Thunder Talk: Carmelo Anthony

“It was one hell of an atmosphere. It was a fun game to be a part of,” Anthony said.

“You will never forget those types of games, the atmosphere that those games bring,” Anthony continued, “with the playoffs right around the corner and both teams gearing up for that run. I’m pretty sure it’ll be ecstatic in there.”

In the midst of all of that noise, the communication on the Thunder’s side, and the discipline to be intentional about getting a particular shot attempt on each trip down the floor, will be critical. On Sunday against New Orleans, in the midst of a 9-0 Thunder run, Anthony, Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook all got together briefly after a Pelicans dead ball turnover and then immediately executed a beautiful play to get Adams an and-one layup. Being judicious about offensive opportunities and then talking through the defense will be vital against a highly talented Warriors team.

“Those are kind of the game within the game and communicating with one another, talking about what we see out there, what we just saw before that and what we can try to manipulate as far as getting the best shot or getting somebody a shot,” Anthony explained. “So, the more times we can have those conversations, that dialog, the better for us as a team.”

Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan

The thoughts and words that occur during a game obviously help set everything in motion, but the Thunder has to actually be able to execute those plans, and that’s where the physical side of the ball comes in. Against a physical front line of Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia, Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and David West, having a bruising center like Adams is a major bonus for the Thunder.

Being able to win the rebounding battle, particularly getting offensive boards at a high rate, can be demoralizing to the opposition. An added benefit is that Adams, the league’s leading offensive rebounder, commands double and sometimes triple team box outs, which gives the other four Thunder players a chance to get back in transition defense.

“His timing. His consistency. His size. His consistency to get the ball. His effort,” Westbrook listed, when asked why Adams is such a good offensive rebounder. “There’s a lot of things that go into it, and he does it over and over again because you always have to pay attention to him.”

“It gives us the opportunity to get back. We let Steve do what he do best, which is attack the offensive glass. So, we know that and we kinda structure what we’re gonna do defensively, transition defense around that. As long as we’re back, and they got two, three guys on them, then our defense is set in the halfcourt and in transition.”

Thunder Talk: Russell Westbrook

Adams himself is a perfect example of the advantages the Thunder has most nights in the NBA. As a team, with length, quickness and height across the board in Westbrook, Paul George, Corey Brewer, Jerami Grant and others, the Thunder has the physical abilities to give even a star-studded team like Golden State some challenges offensively. Tracking Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant on the perimeter and limiting their easy baskets is no easy task, but the Thunder knows that in order to win this game, and the season series, it must make things as difficult as possible on the Warriors’ All-Stars.

“Just got to go out and compete, take care of business,” Westbrook stated.

Thunder Minute: April 2

Nick's Notebook

- After going 0-for-9 from three-point range against Miami and Portland, Carmelo Anthony has shot 12-for-21 from three-point range in the three games since then. That stretch includes a 4-for-8 mark in the Thunder’s win over New Orleans on Sunday, which wouldn’t have been possible if Anthony had let go of the rope, or lost confidence in his jumper due to those previous misses.

  • “The most important thing is just not allowing yourself to get discouraged when you miss shots knowing that the majority of the shots that you take are the same type of shots, might be the same shots from the same spot on the court day in and day out,” Anthony said.
  • “When we share the ball and move the ball and everybody feels a part of the actual game, the rhythm comes, the flow of the game comes,” Anthony described.

- On Saturday, Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor that Head Coach Billy Donovan as well as Westbrook gushed about over the past two days. On Monday, Cheeks spoke at length about his playing and coaching career, and how humbled he feels to be recognized for his contributions to the game, particularly considering where he’s come from and his journey through life.

  • “The reason why I played the game was playing it for my teammates, trying to win and hopefully people can recognize that, which they have,” said the NBA Champion and 4-time All-Star. “There are a lot of players who do different things that have an impact on the game, and I was probably one of those guys.”
  • “I’ve been very blessed to be in this game as long as I’ve been in it and I’ve been very blessed to be around the type of people I’ve been,” Cheeks continued. “I don’t take that for granted. I don’t take that lightly at all.”

Thunder Talk: Mo Cheeks