Two nights ago the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Phoenix Suns 115-104. The Thunder trailed early and then started to comeback. One of the things Phoenix did to try and trip up the Thunder comeback was a zone defense.
This may or may not be common knowledge but I’m here to tell you know that the Oklahoma City Thunder may have the best zone offense in the NBA.
Keys to beating a zone include: good perimeter shooting, ability to penetrate, good ball movement and hitting the offensive glass. The Thunder demonstrated the ability to do all of these against the Suns.
Kevin Durant and James Harden took care of the three-point shooting, Russell Westbrook slashed and dashed through the Suns zone and Serge Ibaka pulled down nine offensive rebounds.
Here are some of the best possessions Oklahoma City had against Phoenix’s zone.
Early in the third quarter the Suns come out in a matchup 2-3 zone. Westbrook advances into the front court then swings it to Daequan Cook on the left wing with Durant in the left corner.
Durant comes up to get the ball at the wing and Ibaka comes over to set a screen on Jared Dudley. Durant uses it and Steve Nash comes over to help and Durant kicks out to Westbrook on the wing. Grant Hill then has to decide now to run out to Westbrook and leave Cook open in the corner.
Hill jabs at Westbrook then retreats and Westbrook immediately penetrates at Marcin Gortat. This is usually where we’d see Westbrook try and take on Gortat and draw a foul and finish at the rim. Westbrook collectedly gets into the paint and sees Ibaka now rolling to the rim.
Westbrook dumps it off to Ibaka who gets a pretty easy dunk. The Thunder made all of the right reads here and moved the ball quickly and efficiently to get the easy dunk.
The next play is at the end of the third quarter with Phoenix again in a 2-3 zone. The Thunder try a set play here with Westbrook bringing it up on the right wing and Durant is looking to set a back pick on the opposite guard for Harden to get a three on the left wing.
Harden catches on the wing but doesn’t have the shot as Dudley helps up for Nash. The Suns zone is already in trouble here and way out of position.
Harden quickly hits Durant at the foul line as Nash and Dudley converge on him. All of the focus then goes to Durant who now has the ball in the middle of the paint.
Durant makes a great read here seeing Ibaka diving on the left block with no one on him. Ibaka finishes quickly and strongly with another dunk.
The final play comes with 4:00 minutes left in the game. Oklahoma City has gone small to close the game and is using Durant around the free throw line to beat the zone. Phoenix is again in 2-3.
Durant comes up to set a pick for Westbrook then flattens out to the right wing. Nash goes with Durant and Westbrook sees the slight opening in the middle of zone and drives hard at Dudley.
Once Westbrook gets into the paint like that it’s all but over for the Suns’ zone. All of the attention goes to him and he makes the easy pass kicking out to Harden in the corner for the three which he drills.
The Thunder, like the Miami Heat, may see a lot of zone once the playoffs start because a lot of teams can’t really match up with them man-to-man. But the Thunder are better put together to beat the zone than the Heat are.
The Thunder’s zone offense may prove to be an integral weapon to their road to the NBA Finals this season.