Thunder Quietly Confident Going To Memphis
By Randy Renner
Most of the work is done now. Two solid and long days of practice are finished and the Thunder are bound and determined to get the bad feeling and sour taste of losing out of their systems.
"When you lose you just can't wait to get back on the floor again and try to redeem yourself and that's kinda the vibe around here," Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook told reporters after practice today.
"As a competitor and as a person that wants to win you wanna come out every night and take on the challenge and that's part of my job and I think our guys are ready to take on the challenge as well."
One of the biggest challenges for the Thunder is being aggressive on defense with the Grizzlies and not allow them to get comfortable in their slow down, milk the shot clock offense.
"We’d like to get more hands on the basketball, more deflections, more steals," said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks. "So we have to really lock in with our defense and play the full 24 seconds because they take a lot of shots deep in the shot clock so you have to play the entire shot clock, you cant relax because if you relax they get an easy shot in the paint, a duck in or a back door cut."
That's exactly how Memphis guards Mike Conley, Beno Udrih and Courtney Lee hurt the Thunder the most on Monday night.
"We have to keep their guards in front of us," the coach said. "Even the guys off the bench they can't come in and have major impact. There's gonna be some wild cards that every team will have going into every game but we just can't have it."
Wild cards have been Thunder killers at times this season. Guys like Gerald Green (career high 41 points) in Phoenix and Jodie Meeks (career high 42 points) in Los Angeles and the Grizzlies own Courtney Lee who hit the Thunder for a season-high 24 points in the regular season.
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins pointed out much the same thing after Tuesday's practice.
"You can't have a guy come in and be the X-factor," he said then. "We can't let Beno Udrih have 14 points in 14 minutes and we cant let Courtney Lee have 16 points, we gotta take those guys outta the equation. They can’t be a factor in this series and (Monday) they were so we gotta change that up."
They would also like to be able to free Kevin Durant a little more from the bulldog defense of Tony Allen. It's not really that Allen has shut down KD, he's averaging 34.5 points in these first two games, but Monday night he had to work very hard just to have the hopes of getting some sort of open look.
"We have to do a better job of our setups and a better job of our screens that's the only way we can get the hands off of our guys," Brooks said.
But Allen isn't the easiest guy to pick off. Perkins knows, he and Allen were teammates in Boston.
"He’s fast," Perk pointed out, "he’s much faster than what people think he is and he get real small on screens so you cant really screen him. He do a great job of getting on a guy’s hip and recoverin."
Still that is the Thunder mission or the offense will risk getting stuck.
"If we don't have good setups and good screens that's what it's gonna look like, it's gonna bog down and it's gonna be tough shots at the end of a shot clock," Brooks warned.
But all of that has been gone over and gone over in the film room and on the practice court. The Thunder are now ready to start preaching what's been practiced.
"We're ready to play," Brooks promised. "The only bad thing about the days in between (playoff games) is you get a little antsy and you wanna get out there on the court again and play and play better. So we have a great opportunity (Thursday night) we're excited about it and we're ready, we're ready."
Tipoff is Thursday night at 7:10. TNT has the national telecast and Fox Sports Oklahoma will also have the game.
The Grizzlies have won 14 straight games at FedEx Forum but the Thunder were 1-1 there in the regular season. OKC would certainly love a sweep but the Thunder would probably feel pretty good about another 1-1 split and take their chances with two of the final three games of the series at The Peake.