Getting You Ready For Game Night
We’ve seen it before. In all sports and at all levels.
Teams rally around unfortunate circumstances.
That’s what the Thunder did over the weekend when it was without Kevin Durant and Jeff Green against Boston and Minnesota. Oklahoma City went on the road and clinched two feel-good wins to bump its winning streak to four games and move its record to 9-4.
But Green and Durant are back for tonight’s game against Minnesota. Now, the challenge for the Thunder is maintaining the same level of inspired play that it took on the road.
“We got to keep it if we want to win,” said reserve guard Eric Maynor. “And that’s what we’re going to try to continue to do with those guys coming back.”
But that’s easier said than done. Although their defensive tenacity from the past two contests shouldn’t change, players like Maynor, Serge Ibaka and James Harden might find it harder to get into a flow offensively with fewer sets being run through them. And the safety net Durant provides can suddenly turn scrappy players sloppy overnight.
“He’s the best scorer in basketball the last two years so there’s always a tendency to rely on what he does,” said Brooks of Durant. “And he does it very well and at a high level. But what makes us good is when we have good balance, and we have to have that going forward.”
The Thunder allowed just 82.5 points per game to Boston and Milwaukee while Durant was out. In the seven games Green has missed, the Thunder went 6-1. The sense of urgency by Thunder players was as palpable as it’s been all year.
“Nothing should change,” said Maynor. “I think those two games that we won on that road trip was (because of) a lot of effort. Playing harder than the other team. If we continue to do that, we’re going to give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
IBAKA’S HEAVY MINUTES WILL CONTINUE
Despite returning to his reserve role with the return of Green in the starting lineup, Serge Ibaka will continue to play a major role, Brooks said. Ibaka has averaged 32 minutes in seven games as a starter against 26 as a reserve.
When asked what he’s learned about Ibaka during his time as a starter, Brooks said nothing.
“I don’t think we learned anything,” Brooks said. “We’ve already known that Serge is a good player and he’s getting better. (Regardless) of who starts or not, Serge is going to be in there. He’s earned his minutes from last year to this year. But right now, our starter is Jeff. He starts. That’s the way we’re going to go going forward. We’re good with both of them. You got to pick one. Or you could always start Serge at a different spot, or you could always start Jeff at a different spot. But I choose to start Jeff, Nenad, Kevin, Thabo and Russell.”
WHAT’S BEEN THE DIFFERENCE DEFENSIVELY?
At a breakfast meeting in Salt Lake City on the morning the Thunder was preparing for the Utah Jazz, Brooks implored his players to focus on defense. At that point, the Thunder was 5-4 and had allowed 105.7 points per game.
“And then Utah scored 108,” Brooks joked.
Since that game against the Jazz on Nov. 15, though, the Thunder has allowed an average of just 93 points in its past four games.
“We were like 27th or 28th in the league defensively. And he told us, ‘We can’t win like this,’” Maynor remembered. “I think we changed it from there. Everybody is just locking down defensively and really locking it. And that’s what we got to continue to do if we want to win.”
In the past two games, the Thunder has slowed the pace, which has helped its defensive numbers. But improved fundamentals like ball containment and closing out have also been evident.
“The defense has improved, and the last three or four games the numbers are much better,” Brooks said. “We didn’t have the start that we would have liked on the defensive end. But we’re finding ways to win…We really focused on being a better team. I think guys re-focused and recommitted to playing defense and doing it for 24 seconds at a time.”
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