HOUSTON — Thirty-one second chance points allowed to the Houston Rockets, including 21 in the first half, is a completely unsustainable number for the Thunder, as are the 62 points in the paint Houston racked up. All season long, Head Coach Billy Donovan and his staff have been generating a style of play that could be repeatable come the postseason. Now, down 1-0 in its Round 1 series, tapping into those principles will be vitally important.
The raw numbers mean something, but not without an understanding of why they happened. That’s what the Thunder analyzed on Monday and the answer wasn’t necessarily just poor box outs and a lack of contests at the rim. Some of that was there for sure, but what happened on those plays in the build up to those buckets. When Thunder bigs and guards were out of position to start, they had a hard time recovering back to be in position to rebound and prevent easy put-backs.
Part of it, is simply playing with more toughness, tenacity and energy at the point of the screening action when players like James Harden put the ball on the deck.
Watch: Practice Report
“They had a lot of second chance points and offensive rebounds,” guard Andre Roberson said. “We have to be more physical. We have to be the ones to hit first and be the grittier team scrapping for loose balls.”
“It’s simple sometimes, but you have to get your mind right to do it,” veteran forward Taj Gibson added.
In those screening actions, Thunder bigs were at times caught in the middle between helping over on the ball-handler and getting back to the roll man. That extra second of hesitation both allowed Rockets drivers to get all the way to the rim and provided enough space for the rolling bigs to catch lobs at the rim. At a minimum, the Thunder’s guards and bigs have to take away at least one of those options, and preferably both.
Part of the Thunder’s gameplan in Game 1 was to switch a lot of screening actions on the perimeter, forcing Houston’s guards to beat them off the bounce and make plays by just swinging the ball on the perimeter. Maintaining man-to-man defensive integrity, contesting perimeter shots and providing resistance at the rim will all be paramount come Wednesday night.
“They’re going to make switches or mismatches,” Gibson explained. “When they go to the basket, you have to contest. You have to go up with two hands and try to make it rough.”
On Sunday, the Thunder didn’t get enough stops and scores to win, but also needed to make more of the hustle plays to track down loose balls, snare defensive rebounds and get second chances of their own. At times the Thunder showed flashes of that – a hard screen by Steven Adams, Semaj Christon ripping the ball out of Clint Capela’s hands and Victor Oladipo diving on the floor for a loose ball. But on Wednesday, the Thunder will need 48 minutes of that type of effort.
Thunder Talk: Victor Oladipo
“It’s about winning. Miss or make you have to play the next play,” Oladipo said.
“It’s a seven-game series. You have to get the next one,” Gibson added. “Every time it’s a 12-round match. It’s about guys slinging away until the last man’s standing.”
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The Extra Pass: More Notes from Practice
– After looking at the film before Monday’s practice, the Thunder was able to confirm what it saw in the game – its pick-and-roll defense needed to be tighter and executed at a higher level, with more discipline and decisiveness. During the on-court portion of practice, Thunder players said the team was able to address some of those issues to prevent straight-line drives and dump off passes for easy layups.
- “There’s a lot of little things we can control,” Oladipo said. “We did a good job today correcting those things and will do an even better job tomorrow correcting those things to prepare ourselves for Wednesday.”
- “There was too much of them playing downhill,” Donovan noted. “At times we have to make better decisions having a presence there.”
- “We’re going to do a better job in the second game. All we need to do is communicate better,” center Enes Kanter said. “We’re more focused on the little details that we talked about in the film session.”
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan
– After playing for him for two seasons and seeing what he did against three unique teams with three excellent head coaches in last season’s playoff run, the Thunder has great confidence in Donovan’s ability to make adjustments during the course of a series and tap into which players can fill certain roles in specific situations. Team leaders like Russell Westbrook are convinced that the team will be able to make some tweaks that help put players in position to succeed.
- “(Donovan) understands how to win. He’s a championship-caliber coach,” Westbrook said of Donovan. “He knows what it takes and knows the amount of adjustments that need to be made.”
– More than anything, however, Westbrook concluded that a lot of the mistakes the Thunder made can be remedied with effort, energy and intensity. The Thunder will need all of that, for all four quarters, on Wednesday night.
- “Especially on the road, 50-50 basketballs, that comes with offensive rebounding and different things to prepare yourself to win,” Westbrook noted.
Thunder Talk: Russell Westbrook