Kevin Durant has some advice for Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
“One thing Scotty needs to do is just shut up,” Durant said.
About the team’s turnovers, that is.
So far this postseason, Brooks’ silence has been golden.
According to guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder was terrible at taking care of the ball when its coach harped on it during the regular season. But when Brooks piped down in the playoffs, Oklahoma City immediately enjoyed better ball security.
Which explains why Durant playfully suggested for his coach to put a sock in it.
“We’ll probably be a better team,” Durant joked.
Brooks is on board with his two All-Stars.
“Usually, I don’t agree with either of those guys much, but they’re telling the truth. I haven’t mentioned the turnovers at all,” Brooks said. “But I haven’t mentioned it because we haven’t turned it over. Trust me, if we’re turning it over 25 times I’m on ’em and showing every clip and why we’re turning it over because of bad spacing and so forth.”
Brooks hasn’t had to play bad cop because the Thunder has had a turnover turnaround.
After leading the league with 16.3 turnovers during the regular season, the Thunder now heads into the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio averaging a postseason-low 10.7 turnovers.
“We’re doing a great job of keeping it simple,” Brooks said. “The spacing is good, we’re making shots so the defense has to honor our players, and the bigs are doing a great job of setting screens. With all that being said, we have to continue to do that because I thought that was a big part of the reason why we’ve won the last two series because we’ve controlled the basketball throughout each game.”
The Thunder averaged 12.8 turnovers in four games against Dallas and was even better in five games against the Lakers, giving it up just nine times on average.
Cynics could attempt to discredit the Thunder’s improvement by pointing to the Lakers ranking last in the league in forcing turnovers in the regular season. But the Thunder was so effective at not turning it over that even that detail is made moot.
In four of the Thunder’s nine playoff games, the team turned it over less than 10 times, including a franchise-low four turnovers in Game 1 against L.A. In the other instances, the Thunder had just seven, eight and nine turnovers, respectively.
“We’re just making the right play,” Durant said. “We try not to make the home-run pass and be stronger with the ball knowing that every possession is important. During the season, sometimes we were lackadaisical with the ball and just throwing the pass just to throw it. Now we have to really be focused and locked in on where the pass is going and how we can make a good pass to a good shot. I think we’ve been locked in in that area. Hopefully, we keep it up.”
It will be vital against the Spurs, who have transformed into a more up-tempo team that now thrives off quick scores. During the regular season, San Antonio ranked 10th in fast-break points at 13.9 per game, 0.2 points more than the heralded Miami Heat. And that figure perhaps still doesn’t tell the full story considering the Spurs regularly blew out teams this season, with a league-best scoring margin of plus-7.9 points.
“We can’t turn the ball over against great teams,” Westbrook said. “They capitalize on it every single time. My job is to make sure that we take care of the ball and we find a good shot.”
Westbrook certainly has done his part. He turned it over only four times in the entire series against the Lakers and is averaging just 1.6 turnovers thus far this postseason. Last year in the playoffs, Westbrook averaged a whopping 4.6.
“Just playing at my own pace,” Westbrook explained. “Not speeding up and just trying to find a spot where I’m comfortable.”
Durant also cut down on his turnovers in the semifinals, going from 3.8 against Dallas to 2.8 against the Lakers.
The Thunder’s sustained success seemingly is largely dependent on Durant’s and Westbrook’s continued improvement. They finished two and three, respectively, in total turnovers in the regular season.
But as long as they’re taking care of the basketball, Brooks will keep quiet.
“He’s just let us play,” Durant said of Brooks. “He knows we’re going to make mistakes, but he’s been really good at if we make mistakes just don’t harp on it and move on to the next play and we’ve been getting better.”