All postseason the Thunder has been playing from behind. In games they have found themselves down big late, trying to claw their way back, often coming up short. In the opening round against Memphis, OKC trailed the series two different times, eventually winning games six and seven to advance on to the Western Conference Semifinals.
In game one against the Clippers the Thunder continued their trend, losing big and falling behind in the series. Heading in to game two, OKC was in a must win situation. Feeding off of the energy from Kevin Durant’s MVP speech the Thunder stepped up in a big way. From the tip they were clicking on all cylinders and they were in control of the game throughout. From offensive execution to defensive intensity, Scott Brooks’ squad played arguably their most complete game of the playoffs.
Heading in to game two the Thunder is in position to take a 2-1 lead and put themselves in the driver’s seat in the series. They have an opportunity to not only play from ahead in a series but also swing home court advantage back in to their favor. It won’t however, be an easy task for Oklahoma City. The Clippers were 34-7 at home this season and have been playing with an added intensity at the Staples Center in the wake of the Donald Sterling situation.
Here are some keys to tonight’s game that will be crucial to Thunder’s chances.
Similar to the energy the Thunder came out with in game two following the MVP ceremony, the Clippers will likely come out hot in game three. It will be their first game at home in this series, after playing very well at the Staples Center late in the opening round against Golden State. It will be very important for the Thunder to stay disciplined defensively. After improved defensive intensity in game two, that shouldn’t be an issue on Friday night. The problem is that intensity can also be a bad thing. If the crowd is as loud as expected and the Clippers come out strong, the Thunder could get caught up in the moment and lose discipline early. Things will most likely settle down as the game progresses but it will be pivotal that OKC is able to weather the storm in the first quarter.
KD and Russell Westbrook
Everyone knows that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will carry the scoring load for the Thunder on most nights. However, when the Thunder are at their best, these two also set the tone by distributing the ball. Because Scott Brooks’ offense doesn’t rely heavily on designed sets, they often resort to one on matchups, allowing their stars overmatch opponents with their talent alone. This can be effective at times, but if the Thunder want to go far in the playoffs they will have to rely more on ball movement and flow. When Durant and Westbrook are doing a good job of moving the ball, not only doesit lead to baskets for their teammates, but it opens things up for them to be more efficient scorers. They did a terrific of thisin game two as they combined for 19 assists, but they have been unable to play like this consistently so far in the postseason. A good indicatorin game three will be the number of field goal attempts for SergeIbaka. If the Thunder power forward takes at least ten shots, it should mean that Durant and Westbrook are doing their by job moving the ball and OKC will likely be successful.
Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler
If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are moving the ball and the offense is flowing it will undoubtedly help the Thunder, but that is only one part of the equation. They can move the ball all they want but it is up to their teammates to make the shots. In game two Thabo Sefolosha stepped up in a big way scoring 14 points on 9 shots. Although Sefolosha has done this in the past he is known for his defense, not offense, and this cannot be expected every game. Outside of Serge Ibaka, OKC’s best options are Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler. Both players have had a rough start to the series combining to shoot 5-25 from the field through two games. Although their numbers have been disappointing, there are some signs that things could turn around. Both have been able to get pretty good looks, but just haven’t been able to convert them. If the Thunder continue to move the ball effectively and put these players in position to score, the shots will eventually start falling.
Yes, it seems simpleand it really is. In game two the Thunder out rebounded the Clippers 52-36 and it directly translated to a win. The Clippers rely heavily on rebounding as a key to their success in multiple ways. Because they are so successful when they play at a fast pace, it is important for them to do well on the defensive glass so they can turn Thunder misses in to fast break opportunities. Russell Westbrook could help OKC with this. He had 6 offensive rebounds in game two and will look to continue to help the Thunder get second chance points in game three.
The Clippers also rely heavily on offensive rebounding. They have two of the best offensive rebounders in the entire league in DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. If the OKC bigs are able to box them out effectively it will play a huge roll in a potential Thunder victory.
The Thunder has an opportunity to take control of the series tonight in LA. It is critical to their success to build off their strong performance in game two and keep the momentum on their side. If they are able to swing home court advantage back in to their favor it will put them in the driver’s seat and take them one step closer to a potential NBA finals run.