- Tip-off: 8:00 p.m. CT
- Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
- Radio: WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
HOUSTON – It all comes together tonight. All the preparation, all the mornings in the weight room, the desserts turned down and late nights back in the gym to get extra shots up. Month after month the Thunder worked and worked, pushing itself to its limits, testing itself as a group in order to be the best possible version heading into the postseason. The first crack at playoff basketball in 2017 comes tonight, in Game One of Round One, against the Houston Rockets.
All season the Thunder has played with intensity, brought focus to practice and been determined to get better in film study. So when Game One preparation began, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s group didn’t have to flip a switch. The Thunder was already ready. The only thing that’s different is the understanding that they’ve earned the right to compete for a championship, just like the other 15 teams in the postseason.
“There’s an excitement for earning the opportunity to play in the playoffs,” Donovan said.
One of the Thunder’s biggest strengths heading into this series with the Rockets is the pure number of guys who are game-ready. 11 different players have seen extended minutes on a regular basis over the past few weeks of the season. In Game One tonight, the Thunder knows it may be faced with trying circumstances. Donovan has multiple options at his disposal, with the ability to adjust style of play, player combinations and rotations to best match up with the Rockets.
“Everybody at different points in time during the season has contributed and helped,” Donovan noted. “How this series unfolds and who is playing and what group of guys give us the best opportunity night-in and night-out, we’ll see how things unfold. For this basketball team, everybody has contributed in different ways.”
For some of those players the Thunder puts out onto the floor, however, this will be their first playoff game. Needless to say, it will be understandable if there are some nerves. But the Thunder has veterans – even players under the age of 25 – who have been through postseason wars.
Russell Westbrook and Nick Collison have been a part of plenty of playoff battles over the years in Oklahoma City. Taj Gibson brings a wealth of experience from his days with the Chicago Bulls, as does Norris Cole, a two-time NBA Champion with the Miami Heat. Even a handful of guys under the age of 25 – Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Andre Roberson – have felt the heat of postseason basketball. They can all help the youngsters who haven’t been here before, but the intensity, the crowd noise and the precious nature of every possession can only be truly experienced first-hand.
“Nothing replicates being out there on the floor,” Roberson explained. “They’re going to get a little taste of it. The first game should be interesting. There are a lot of nerves but we have a great group of core guys to help everybody through it.”
As a group, no matter what happens tonight against Houston, the Thunder will have to keep itself emotionally regulated. These series are long. They can last almost two weeks sometimes. If the Thunder can take Game One on the road, it will get them a quarter of the way towards winning the series. If not, they’ll have another chance on Wednesday night, and will need to have every ounce of focus at the ready, without any lingering thoughts on tonight’s result.
“It’s so important to be able to control your emotions after a game, whether it’s a win or a loss,” Donovan stated. “Momentum in these series can change very quickly.”