Limiting Turnovers, Staying Locked in on Coverages – OU Medicine Game Day Report: OKC at GSW

OAKLAND – In preparation for a pre-Thanksgiving matchup with the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday, a word was thrown around that often gets used to describe the Thunder.

“The one thing that really kills your transition defense is turnovers,” noted Head Coach Billy Donovan. “Those are easy opportunities for those guys to punish your defense.”

“Whenever you do mistakes with them, they punish you every time,” said guard Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot. “We have to stay on top of our coverages, give 100 percent energy, run the floor and stick to our plan, stick to our thing.”

The 10-6 Thunder is mostly used to punishing opponents this season, particularly with its disruptive defense, high-speed transition attack and offensive firepower in the open floor. With the Warriors, the Thunder will have to be wary of how turnovers, missed defensive assignments and mental mistakes have the chance to impact the game. Against Sacramento, the Thunder coughed it up 7 times in the first quarter, putting it behind the eight ball early. Against this Golden State club, digging a hole and hopping in during the opening minutes isn’t wise.

Even without three of its five perennial All-Stars suiting up the Warriors still have Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala in the rotation, which is plenty to drive any defense crazy. The Thunder believes in its own defensive principles, however, and Donovan knows that even amid the rotation chaos that can occur with players in and out due to injury, illness and personal matters, that the system can rise about the circumstance. The Thunder has proven as much this season, including the last 7 games when it has held foes to just 99.7 points per game, and just 101.4 points per 100 possessions.

On the offensive side of the ball the same holds true. If the team is getting into offense quickly, if it is attacking downhill, putting pressure on the rim and finding open shooters, the chances are that the efficiency statistics are going to look just right by the final buzzer. Between Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Dennis Schröder and Steven Adams, the Thunder has plenty of firepower on its locker room as well. When it plays cohesively, the points can come in droves.

“You can see from the bench if the ball movement is not great or if we’re generating good shots but certainly there’s more of a number at the end of the game that you can look at,” said Donovan.

“Regardless of who it is and what’s being thrown at us, regardless of injuries and rotations and all those kind of things, when you’re focused on your identity and how you want to play that generally creates a better rhythm for everybody,” Donovan added.

After winning 10-of-11, the Thunder dropped a tough one in Sacramento and is back to 4-4 on the year away from Chesapeake Energy Arena. In the hotly contested West, every win makes a difference, particularly within the conference. Getting a victory in Golden State will be no easy task, but the Thunder knows that with the requisite level of tenacity and focus, it can start a new streak going that Oklahomans will be thankful for on Thursday.

“It’s being aware and being mindful of where the ball is at all times,” said George. “We know what we need to do. We know what level we need to play at.”

Shootaround Notes

- Alex Abrines (illness) did not go through shootaround on Wednesday, but Nerlens Noel (illness) and Jerami Grant (ankle) did participate. All three players will be evaluated as the afternoon unfolds to determine their status for the game.

- Terrance Ferguson arrived from Oklahoma City midway through the Thunder’s shootaround after the birth of his baby girl, Lylah Rose. The second-year guard actually came back to join the team in Sacramento after missing the game in Phoenix, but before shootaround on Monday even started he hopped on a plane to return to Oklahoma City to be there in time for the birth. While Donovan said that Ferguson will be available, it remains to be seen whether he’ll start or be in the rotation, but since he’s been with the Thunder, coaches have commended the young guard on his ability to retain information and go apply it.

  • “It’s the best feeling in the world,” Ferguson smiled. “Right now I’m doing pretty good. Sleepy, obviously… Everything’s exciting. It’s a relief. We’re just blessed to have her here.”
  • “I watched film with (assistant coach) Bob (Beyer). We went over personnel and plays. I know what we need to do. I know what my team needs,” said Ferguson. “I just need to hear it one time, see it one time and then I know what to do... If there’s a job that needs to get done I’m going to get it done, or try my best to get it done.”

- The Warriors come into this game ranked fourth in the NBA in fast break points per game (17.4) but the Thunder leads the NBA in second chance points at 17.3 per contest. As a result, it’s going to be a dynamic battle between the two squads with regard to the Thunder’s transition defense mixed with its ability to pound the offensive glass and get extra chances.

  • “Steven is going to be around the basket. He’s the one guy that probably should get in there,” said Donovan. “Our corners need to get back. We need to get back. We’ve been really good defensively when we set our defense.”

News & Notes

-        Despite the uncertainty and adversity of having players mixed in and out of the rotation due to injury, illness and personal matters, Donovan is pushing for perseverance and resilience.

  • “Can we, with all those situations, still play to our identity of how we’ve been trying to play?” Donovan asked aloud. “Faster on misses and makes, focused on the things defensively that have made us a really good defensive team. When you do that, regardless of who is out there playing, you can create a rhythm because you’re playing to an identity.”
  • “It’s an everyday thing,” Donovan continued. “Just because you do it for a couple games doesn’t mean it’s going to happen the next game. You just have to keep trying to play to that.”

-        One player who stepped up big time against the Kings in the midst of Ferguson being away from the team was rookie Hamidou Diallo. Despite having a rough first few minutes on both ends of the floor and being substituted out, Diallo came back with a sharp mindset and an ability to adjust. By game’s end he had shot 7-for-7 from the field, the most makes for a Thunder rookie without a miss in Oklahoma City history, for a career-high 18 points. On defense he played tighter coverage and helped give the Thunder a chance on the road.

  • “When he got back in there he made a great impact and helped us get back into the game,” said Donovan. “The shots he took last night were good shots, open shots… There’s things he’s gotta do inside of our offense better.”

“(Diallo) is competitive, he’s learning,” added Donovan. “The more situations he gets thrown into the better he’s going to be. But I’ve really been impressed with the way he’s responded to different things that have been thrown at him.”