By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Boy this series with the Spurs has really been something hasn’t it?
Twists and turns and unexpected developments.
And two of the MOST unexpected are (1) the Thunder have a chance to closeout the 5-time NBA Champion Spurs tonight in Game 6 even though the hometown guys were blown out and embarrassed in Game 1 and (2) NBA rookie head coach Billy Donovan and his staff appear to be outcoaching the legendary Gregg Popovich and his staff.
Going into the series you could have probably counted the people who would have thought that on one hand…might not have even needed the hand come to think of it.
But Donovan and his coaches have so thoroughly prepared the Thunder they seem to know what plays the Spurs will be running even before the Spurs do.
Spurs shooting guard Danny Green first brought this to light during his postgame news conference after OKC’s come from behind win in Game 5.
“I think they’re doing a great job scouting us,” he said. “They’re taking away what we’re looking for, they know what plays are coming, you can hear ‘em yelling from the bench.”
Most of the yellers are Thunder coaches but some are whichever players are sitting on the bench watching the upcoming play develop.
It is a huge credit to Donovan and the coaches he retained from Scott Brooks’ staff and the ones he added himself.
“One of my beliefs, coaching staff-wise is every coach is always preaching to their team that they want chemistry, they want cohesiveness, they want unselfishness, they want sacrifice and I really believe that you can’t expect your team to do that unless your coaching staff models it first.”
So all the coaches have made it a point to spend a lot of time together and to learn to depend on each other.
“We spend a lot more time with each other off the court than we do on the court,” Donovan said. “And I think as much as you want your team to bond, you want your coaches to be able to bond too.”
Why is that so important to Donovan?
“Because we can’t, in my opinion, come out here every single day and talk about working together and helping each other when we’re not even doing it. I think players see those things.”
They certainly see the work the coaches put in and how much time they spend preparing the team for any and all situations that might come into play against a certain opponent.
“Coach is doing a hell of a job,” said Dion Waiters.
“All those coaches do it together, just like all the players do it together on the floor and we all come together as one and try to figure things out,” said Kevin Durant.
Durant has praised Donovan several times this season and that endorsement has been important seeing as Durant and Brooks were and still are close and have great respect for each other.
But it is clear now that KD really likes what he’s been hearing and seeing from Billy D.
“Most times when you win someone has to get the credit and when you lose someone has to get the blame but he’s not like that we are all doing this together,” Durant explained and then went into detail.
“Whoever scores the points they score the points, whoever calls the plays if Coach needs help from Mo Cheeks or from Mark Bryant or Vinny Bahvnani, (Donovan) doesn’t really want the credit for none of it or he doesn’t really care. We just all do it together.”
And many times during the season Donovan has praised Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, as the veteran team leaders for being open to changes and ideas that Donovan has admitted “can be a little crazy and out of the box.”
Like say playing big men Steven Adams and Enes Kanter together to close out the last two games against the Spurs.
The “Stache Brothers” played together a handful of times during the regular season but most of the work was happening in practice and after practice with Bryant, the Thunder’s big man coach.
At the beginning of the season Kanter was believed to be such a defensive liability he’d never be able to get on the floor in the playoffs much less at critical times coming down the stretch. Adams wasn’t as poor on offense as Kanter was on defense but Kid Kiwi wasn’t exactly being mistaken for Hakeem Olajuwon either.
Now though, after helping each other through their own strengths and weaknesses, each is a much better all-around player and much more able to put the information scouts and coaches give them to good use.
Our dudes do such a good job of scouting them on everything,” Adams said. “Our scout book is like this thick,” he added holding his hands wide enough apart so that huge, hardback, best-seller could fit inside the gap.
“Pretty much like a Harry Potter book really.”
Donovan isn’t exactly a wizard yet but it certainly appears he’s starting to cast a magic spell over his players.
“He’s done such a great job of keeping us poised and relaxed,” Durant said. “We just try to be an extension of him on the floor. All of us do.”