Thunder Knows 48 Minutes of Concentration Key in Playoffs
The mental test the NBA Playoffs present will show itself at some point on Saturday night, when the shot clock winds down to five seconds and the Thunder has spent an entire defensive possession chasing players around screens, fronting the post and denying driving lanes to the ball-handler. In those moments, the Thunder’s ability to stay fully focused will be crucial in order to give itself a chance to defeat the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in the opening game of Round One.
When the postseason rolls around, it is essential for teams to execute and make the right play on offense while staying true to its defensive principles on the other end of the floor. While even young players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden each have four postseason series under their belts, there’s no better person to ask about the NBA Playoffs than veteran Thunder guard Derek Fisher.
“That is the difference in the playoffs,” Fisher said of being able to concentrate on the minute details of the game for a full 48 minutes. “One minute makes a difference in a playoff game. No matter what the rotations are, how many minutes guys are playing, you really have to develop an ability to be focused every time you step on the floor. Realizing you’re going to make some mistakes, there are going to be ups and downs, but mentally you have to be stronger than your opponent and that’s a big step that we’re going to have to take and I think we can take in this postseason.”
Fisher, who won five NBA Championships in his career as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, has expert knowledge of what it takes to be successful in the postseason and is helping the rest of the Thunder in its quest to gain that same perspective. Earning a playoff berth for is a special achievement in its own right, and one that is not guaranteed and as a result, the Thunder is taking its first round matchup with the Mavericks with the utmost sincerity. During the course of NBA Playoff basketball there will be ups and downs, but Durant knows that coming in with the right mentality and playing with both physical and mental energy will be keys.
“We’re playing against a veteran team that is very tough mentally,” Durant said. “For us, we just have to know that it’s not going to go well for us every minute of the game, every game this whole series. We know we’re going to have to fight through some adversity and some tough times, but if we stick together, we can last through those. It’s just all about playing hard though on the defensive end and playing together on the offensive end. If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Because it is facing a Dallas team that likes to play zone defense, it will be important for the Thunder to find a balance between pushing tempo like it wants to with patiently passing the ball and finding holes in the zone to get a high-percentage look.
On defense, the concentration level must be just as high, as each player on the Thunder roster must be tied on a string with one another so that the help side rotations hold true. After getting a chance to go over the game plan in practice, Head Coach Scott Brooks echoed Durant and Fisher’s sentiments about the importance of paying attention to detail all series long against the Mavericks.
“You have to lock in and zone in every possession,” Brooks said. “You can’t get bored with the game plan or with the process of competing on every possession. Dallas does a great job of passing the ball, moving the ball… They pass the ball as well as anybody with six seconds or less left on the shot clock. We have to be patient and disciplined and you have to play with focus every time down court on both ends of the floor.”
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