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Defense has been very good

Mike Baldwin Modified: April 12, 2013 at 5:56 pm •  Published: November 18, 2009

Remember when there was concern the Thunder’s new “shell” defense might have problems defending 3-pointers after the Rockets and Spurs lit Oklahoma City up for a combined 25 3-pointers in back-to-back preseason games?

Three weeks into the season, the Thunder leads the league in 3-point field goal percentage defense.

In case you read over that too quickly, OKC leads the league.

Opponents are shooting 28.2 percent beyond the arc. Combined with being ranked among the league leaders in overall field goal percentage defense (43.7) and scoring defense (91.2), the Thunder’s new and improved defense has been drawing rave reviews from opposing coaches.

“You can tell right away (their defense is much improved),” said Miami coach Eric Spoelstra. “They’ve been playing well all season. Their athleticism is noticeable. They cover a lot of ground. They have a lot of length. They’re getting after it. They compete, are organized and are playing hard.”

Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy, Houston’s Rick Adelman, Lakers’ Phil Jackson and Spurs’ Gregg Popovich have made similar comments the past two weeks.

After Oklahoma City coasted to a 100-87 win Tuesday night over Miami, Spoelstra said the Thunder’s young, athletic, harrassing defense will pose problems for a lot of teams.

“We could never put it together for sustained, long moments of solid play,” Spoelstra said. “They put a heck of a defensive game on us. They played well. Give them credit.”

Led by Thabo Sefolosha, whose defensive reputation continues to grow, the Thunder is living up to coach Scott Brooks’ off-season mantra — improve defensively, share the ball on offense, play for each other and give good energy.

A good example of the defensive improvement was when the Heat went into hurry-up mode in the fourth quarter, trailing by as many as 17 points. On three or four fourth-quarter possessions Miami was trying to get a good shot quickly but settled for what was available when the shot-clock was about to expire.

“They’re a very athletic team, a young team that has improved on both ends of the floor,” said Heat guard Daequan Cook. “They’re a lot more aggressive on the defensive end. They’re getting a lot of stops.”

Sefolosha, assisted by teammates who were told to limit Dwyane Wade’s touches and provide help defense on the league’s reigning scoring champion, suffocated Wade into a 6-for-19 outing.

“Everybody did a very good job playing team defense,” Sefolosha said. “We closed down the paint. We had a whole lot of rebounds. That was the key tonight. You have to be excited going against guys like (Wade). The team did a tremendous job closing down his drives and taking away the easy stuff.”

Coaches bristle when their team is praised for good effort and good defense. Brooks is no excpetion.

“After last season, we felt one area we were going to need to improve was defensive basketball,” Brooks said after the game. “We needed to play with a toughness and we needed to have an identity of playing with defensive thoughts in our mind from the first practice. I thought the guys really bought in.

“They’re doing a great job. We’re not perfect. We’re still understanding what we need to do. But we’re trying to do a really good job of helping each other defend.”

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