Two-Way Effort Needed in Road Rematch – INTEGRIS Game Day Report: OKC at WAS
- Tip-off: 6:00 p.m. CT
- Television:Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the Thunder, there’s a symbiotic relationship between its offense and its defense – the level each plays at has an impact on the other. When contending with high-level opposition, there’s an elevated necessity to play as mistake free as possible in order to get both aspects of the game in working order. That was evident against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night, and will certainly be the case again in tonight’s clash with the Washington Wizards.
The Thunder’s run of six straight games against Eastern Conference foes comes to a close tonight in the nation’s capital, in a rematch of last week’s 121-112 Thunder victory over the Wizards at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Since then a lot has changed for Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club with the injury to Andre Roberson, but it didn’t change the mentality or playing style that the team is looking for.
In the second half against the 76ers, the Thunder’s offense got higher percentage looks, played more at the rim and created for one another. This group will have to play that way again in order to avoid scrambling back in transition in an attempt to stop the Wizards’ transition attack.
“We were much better offensively in terms of the way we played stylistically, and to me that was a sustainable style the way we were playing because he was downhill, finding guys, we were more efficient on the break, we made extra passes, and we generated great shots,” Donovan explained.
“Any team that’s running back ends in scramble mode,” center Steven Adams explained. “That’s very difficult to get your stops, your normal stops you’re used to.”
On the flip side, the Thunder can set the tone in this game by scoring off of its defense. Despite the late reports that the Wizards will not have point guard John Wall, Washington is more than capable of hanging over 110 points on anyone, any night. Keeping track of Bradley Beal and Otto Porter on the perimeter is a good place to start for Oklahoma City, and if it can force Washington’s playmakers into difficult positions on the floor, the Thunder can cause deflections and run outs for easy points.
“Defensively is how we change the game,” guard Russell Westbrook said. “Getting hands on loose balls, getting steals, getting out in transition. That’s our advantage and when we do that it’s tough to stop us.”
Making adjustments will be critical as well, particularly at halftime. The Thunder has been focused all season long on how it responds at the start of third quarters, and no matter how the first 24 minutes goes tonight, Donovan will need to have his team prepared for the final two frames. In many cases halftime provides an opportunity to play catchup on what is actually happening out there on the floor.
“It’s mental how fast you think and how fast you can gather information,” Adams noted. “Usually it’s that honestly more so than actual physical fatigue it’s more so just your reads than what you’re doing.”
Fortunately the Thunder has one of the few players who can be a true catalyst on both ends of the floor for the entirety of their time out there. Paul George has stepped up to the plate time and again for the Thunder this season, knocking down the highest percentage of his three-point attempts in his career while at the same time playing lockdown defense. On Sunday, George noted 31 points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals in an All-Star-level showing. His team will need him again tonight on both ends of the floor against a feisty Wizards club.
“He’s one of those guys, he’s silent in his stats. The way he scores and the way he plays, it’s not very loud,” Donovan said. “The one thing about him is he’s so deceptive because a lot of times you think you can throw around him or over him and then when he kind of jumps or reaches out he’s so long.”
“I just try to get lost in it,” George began, “Just get lost in that rectangle out there and just do whatever possible to win.”
- On Sunday, the Thunder started the game with rookie Terrance Ferguson in the starting lineup in Roberson’s absence, but finished the game with Jerami Grant. Donovan has plenty of options to work with based on the matchups, but it’ll be intriguing to watch the chess match the Thunder’s head coach plays each night as the team uses the next few weeks to figure out a path forward after Roberson’s injury. It’ll need to be a collective team effort, not one individual, to make sure the team plays at a high level without Roberson in the picture. That may even include Roberson himself, who was a vital force in Ferguson’s experiences earlier this season. In early January Roberson missed time, but was by the rookie guard’s side to help him through the process.
- “During that time he was like a mentor to me, just talking to me in my ear – every timeout telling me what to do, what I’m doing right, what I’m doing wrong, so he was definitely a huge part for me. So in points of the game, I already knew what he wanted me to do, what I need to do and came out here.”
- “It’s tough. Dre is my boy. I love having him on the floor with me and it’s a tough situation for him. We are just going to continue to lift him up and continue to pray for him, keep our spirits high for him and keep this thing rolling.”