Energy, Identity and Physicality: Thunder Lessons From Boston and the Focus for Philly

By Paris Lawson | Digital Content Reporter |

It was a strange feeling for the Thunder running out for a game with no fans. The team stormed the court on Friday to the tune of a hushed arena in its scrimmage against Boston. However, the Thunder’s strength all this season has been its ability to generate its own energy regardless of the circumstances. To the tune of a 98-84 victory on Friday afternoon, the Thunder proved that even in the most unprecedented of scenarios, energy will not be an issue.

“I love our spirit as a team. I love our togetherness as a team, and I think that's a big part of this when you haven’t played for four months and everybody's coming back together. So that part is pretty great,” said Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan after the scrimmage on Friday.

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When it comes to tactical X’s and O’s for the Thunder, these scrimmages offer a barometer to the coaching staff of where their team stands in terms of execution after four months without an NBA game. Even more so, it’s an opportunity to see what impact the new environment in Orlando will have on game play and group performances. In an arena with no fans, the Thunder and its opponent learned just how vocal and valuable Chris Paul’s leadership is throughout any given game.

His voice could be heard at every corner of the gym for the duration of the entire game. Directing traffic, calling out plays and of course shouting out words of encouragement to his fellow teammates. This leadership and energy will be vital to the Thunder

“I think it's critical and we talk about it all the time about communication, communication, communication out there on the court,” said Donovan. “That’s one of (Paul’s) greatest strengths is he's an incredible communicator, he's an incredible defender, and he's got a lot of years’ experience under his belt. The fact that he continues to talk I think it gives our other guys confidence to continue to talk too in this kind of venue where there's not going to be necessarily a lot of crowd noise, communication is really, really critical.”

His voice was so prevalent that Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens thought his team’s greatest lesson from the night was Paul’s example of vocal leadership.

“The best thing we took away from this was we all heard Chris Paul dominate the game with his voice and that’s it,” said Stevens.

Each team the Thunder faces presents a unique challenge and serves as a litmus test of sorts for Coach Donovan of how his team reacts to the various challenges that they will face throughout its 8-game seeding schedule and areas to focus on in practice.

Against Boston, the Thunder faced one of the best defensive teams in the league with a bevy of versatility on the perimeter. The Celtics’ ability to switch at nearly every position disrupted the Thunder’s offense and forced 18 turnovers. However, for Coach Donovan, the encouraging sight was his squad’s ability to remain grounded in its principles that they have established all season long and have been dusting off in training camp.

“We really...tried to play to an identity and tried to play how we'd like to play. We turned it over too much which probably really impacted our offensive rating, but I thought we shared the ball, played with good pace, played with good tempo,” said Donovan.

Philadelphia, however, presents a different challenge for the Thunder with its enormous size at nearly every position. With players like Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford, the Thunder will get a chance to test its smaller lineups against the physicality of a larger perimeter presence.

“It’s good because we were going to see different styles and different talent levels at different positions, and that will present different challenges for us that we can learn, get better and grow from,” said Donovan.

While the coaching staff will continue to keep an eye on analytics and game plans, the true value of these three scrimmages will be in the intangibles – staying connected, working together, bringing energy every single night and communicating at a high level.

“I think if we can keep the mentality that we have, this group will continue to get better,” said Donovan.

News & Notes:

In the Thunder’s game against Boston on Friday, Thunder guard Abdel Nader sustained a concussion and will not play in the Thunder’s scrimmage against Philadelphia on Sunday. He has now entered into the NBA’s concussion protocol with no predetermined timetable to return.

Both Thunder center Nerlens Noel and guard Andre Roberson will be available to play on Sunday against Philadelphia. After sitting out of the Thunder’s scrimmage against Boston to ensure a fully healthy ankle, Noel was able to participate in the Thunder’s practice on Saturday. Similarly, Andre Roberson who played in his first game in 909 days, will be available to return to the hardwood again in the Thunder’s matchup on Sunday.

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