HOUSTON — The Thunder has been continually maintained and constructed for moments exactly like this one. By being able to go deep into a bench filled with unique, versatile and flexible players, Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan has plenty of options.
In Game 1 against the Houston Rockets, the Thunder played it pretty much straight up, sticking with their normal starting lineup and rotations, playing nine different players at least 14 minutes. In Game 2, however, it’s possible that the Thunder might go in a completely different direction. It remains to be seen what Donovan and his staff will decide, but whether it’s going smaller to match Houston or doubling down on the size advantage it has, Donovan has choices.
“We have versatility. We can go with different lineups and do different things. A lot of it depends on matchups,” Donovan said.
“Anytime you’re going against a good quality team, you can go defense and then have a difficulty scoring,” Donovan continued. “Then you can go with more scoring and have a difficult time getting stops. It’s a mixture and balance of being efficient on both ends of the floor.”
Thunder Talk: Coach Donovan
Whether it’s extra time for Norris Cole, more of Jerami Grant, more of Taj Gibson, the use of wings like Kyle Singler, Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott or maybe a combo of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the floor together, Donovan will be trying to maximize his team’s advantages while minimizing what they’re giving up.
– Over the past two days the Thunder has spent their afternoons over at the University of Houston’s practice gym, working through its analysis of the film and then walking through coverages and offensive schemes on the floor before working up a sweat with some individual drills. What Houston does isn’t a complicated, orchestrated production, but rather a sequence of random movements that puts teams in binds. On Tuesday the Thunder continued to enforce its defensive game plan while accounting for what the Rockets are trying to generate.
- “They play random basketball which is lot harder and they really try and manipulate you with pick and roll coverages so you over-help so they can find open threes,” center Steven Adams explained.
- “We can’t give them threes or transition points,” Adams added. “The emphasis is still there.”
– One of the most important aspects of the defense will be how Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and the Thunder’s bigs work in unison with Andre Roberson, Victor Oladipo and Russell Westbrook in stopping penetration from the Rockets’ guards. Adams explained the past two days have provided clarity on his reads, specifically when and how he needs to decisively commit to either the ball or the roll man in those pick-and-roll actions.
- “Looking at video it’s just down to positioning and getting those reads on when to go,” Adams said. “You can’t be premature about it otherwise they do what they do. We cleaned it up a lot more, bigs and guards. We have to make sure we come out more aggressive, with more physicality, forcing them to do stuff instead of letting them do stuff.”
– On Sunday night, Adams was highly critical of the job he did on defense, calling his own defensive reads “trash”. On Wednesday, the Thunder’s leader Westbrook was quick to defend his big man, saying that Adams has done a great job for the team all season long. Westbrook seemed ultra-confident that Adams will bounce back, but also noted that Adams’ self-criticism may be more of a motivational tactic than a fair assessment of what happened on the court.
- “(Adams) is putting pressure on himself to do better,” Westbrook said. “He’ll do better.”
– Another player who Westbrook came out in support of on Tuesday was Victor Oladipo, who will look to shake off a tough shooting night from his playoff debut. Oladipo scored just six points while shooting 1-for-12 from the field and 0-for-6 from the three-point line, but he was able to chip in by doing other things – he racked up four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. It’ll be those type of energy plays that the Thunder needs from their fourth-year guard.
- “(Oladipo) has to be himself, regardless of whether he makes or misses shots,” Westbrook said.
Thunder Talk: Russell Westbrook