All season long, and truly since the organization arrived in Oklahoma City four years ago, the Thunder has defined its own value through the work that it puts in on the practice court.
Finding itself in the NBA Finals just three years after winning only 23 games due to the work ethic it showed, the Thunder hasn’t wavered from its focus on continual and daily improvement. As a result, the Thunder have utilized practice sessions like the one on Wednesday and shootarounds like the one on Thursday morning before Game 2 of its Finals matchup against the Miami Heat as ways of getting better. Head Coach Scott Brooks discussed the methods the Thunder used over the last few days in order to prepare for its Game 2 challenge.
“We had a film session just to clean up some things that we feel that we need to do going into tomorrow night’s game and we looked at some of the things that we did well,” Brooks said. “We looked at what they did. It’s always been our philosophy is just coming in, doing your work, trying to get better little by little and we still have a chance to do that, even in a Playoff series. We can do that, we did that all Playoffs long and we still want to keep working on things, the adjustments that we have to do.”
Guard Russell Westbrook, one of the young leaders of this Thunder squad is one of the most aggressive in attacking the practice floor every day with vigor. The fact that throughout the season the Thunder has had such lively practices that the coaching staff has to simmer it down is the result of a highly competitive and motivated locker room. With those two qualities driving the team, the Thunder’s practices have been instrumental, particularly in the postseason.
“They’ve done a lot,” Westbrook said. “It has helped us mature as players, as leaders of this organization. It’s helped us win a lot of games this year and it’s helping us win games now. Hopefully we can continue to do that.”
On Wednesday at practice, the Thunder worked on multiple different variations on offense of attacking the pick and roll. Whether it was swinging the ball on drive-and-dishes, hitting the roller after a defensive switch or making the extra pass between bigs, the Thunder found multiple variations for its offense to be successful. It was fascinating to see the club work tirelessly on aspects of the game that will surely be useful come tip off tonight at 8:00pm Central. In Game 1, Kevin Durant and Westbrook hit their frontcourt teammates for easy buckets throughout the night by driving and dumping off passes out of the pick-and-roll. Those plays were very reminiscent of the ones the Thunder worked on in practice.
“Our bigs have to do a good job of finding areas because they sent two guys on the ball, and I think Nick (Collison) is one of the best,” Brooks said. “We call them dunker spots on the baseline and he’s always been there, always finding, always ready to catch with big steps and a finish. Guys did a good job of finding him. Our guys are great playmakers and as this Playoffs has gone by, you can see even another step in that category, just making plays for your teammates and finding a good shot instead of an average shot.”
In fact, those plays where the Thunder got easy looks came at critical junctures of Game 1, as the Thunder perimeter players found Nick Collison in those dunker lanes for buckets to make the score 99-92 and 103-92. Those baskets punctuated a 6-0 run that turned a five-point margin with 1:38 remaining into an 11-point lead with 29.3 seconds left in the game. Whether it was Durant finding Collison on a pocket bounce pass after getting into the lane or Westbrook unselfishly tipping a ball back to Collison near the hoop, the Thunder used sharply executed ball movement to get high percentage buckets.
"We work on that all the time,” Collison said. “My job is to make my defender make a decision whether he is going to step up and help or stay behind and guard me. When they make a decision to help, our guards and wings have done a great job at reacting to the defense and finding me for easy baskets."
The ability to incorporate members of the offense outside of the main three scoring threats of Durant, Westbrook and James Harden has been building over the past three years that the trio has been together. Leaders like Durant realize that if the Thunder plays as one, cohesive unit on both the offensive and defensive ends, continually looking to make the right basketball play, the results on the court will only continue to improve.
“That’s something that we’ve been preaching for a while, always staying together,” Durant said. “Teams win, individuals don’t win basketball games. You may win a few here and there, but you don’t get where you want to go by just one guy. So we have to do it together, and we know that. We don’t care who takes the shots, we don’t care who gets the rebounds or assists, as long as we do it together. We just believe in each other, we trust in each other. We have to keep building that if we want to get to where we want to get to. We just have to keep doing it.”