For nearly a week, the Thunder was chasing a victory against the Houston Rockets. After two losses, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s squad captured a vital win in Game 3 on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Now, the last thing the Thunder can do is exhale.
The playoffs are all about making tweaks and adjustments that can change the game, but the Thunder cannot lose sight of the aspects of the game that got them to this point: sealing off the glass with defensive rebounds, getting back in transition to prevent fast break points and generating quality possessions without turning the ball over. If the Thunder doesn’t do those things this afternoon, it will be difficult to win, and must stay focused on those crucial parts of the 48 minutes.
“Coming into this game there will be different things to have to deal with for both things, but on the core of what you’re doing, transition defense is important, defensive rebounding is important, trying to defend without fouling is important and having quality offensive possessions without turning the ball over is important,” Donovan explained.
“The core of what both teams are going to do is going to stay the same,” Donovan continued. “It’s just maybe the tweaks and changes of how to go about doing it.”
An additional part of what the Thunder wants to do at a high level again today is the way they defended Houston in the half court. The Rockets registered just 10 assists compared to 16 turnovers in Game 3, and while that trend likely won’t continue in Game 4, it’s the style of play that the Thunder can try to replicate. With the way the Thunder stayed with its traditional big men in the starting lineup, went small to match Houston and then specifically paired up players in certain matchups, it forced Rockets players into going one-on-one instead of getting that drive-kick-swing-swing action it typically utilizes.
“We did a good job of making them play iso ball and taking away their shooters,” McDermott explained. “They don’t like taking those non-rim two’s. That’s what we’re trying to give up.”
“We’re going to live with those,” McDermott continued. “They’re going to make tough shots, but as long as we’re doing our job, running them off the line and taking away layups, we’ll be in good shape.”
Once it gets into those situations when isolated on Houston’s talented playmakers, the Thunder has to simply play with intensity, passion and tenacity. When Donovan’s club can utilize the shot clock as the sixth defender and force Houston into taking tough shots as time runs out, it will have to be on its toes, make sure it keeps its hands clear to prevent from fouling and then seal off those possessions to complete stops.
“There are going to be possessions for both teams where you get up against the clock,” Donovan noted. “When the clock gets inside six or seven seconds, those are moments in time where you have to do a great job.”
If it can rack up enough of those types of possessions, the Thunder could be well on its way to tying this series at 2-2, and ensuring a Game 6 back in Chesapeake Energy Arena.