THUNDER: In all that it means, OKC really is playing faster


AP Photo/Alonzo Adams

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroeder (17) drives to the basket around New York Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina (11) as Thunder center Steven Adams sets a screen during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. Oklahoma City won 128-103.

OKLAHOMA CITY — What was it Thunder general manager Sam Presti said way back on the eve of training camp?

“When people think about playing faster, they think about playing faster offensively, but there’s two sides to the floor, so we need to have speed and tempo defensively and offensively,” he said. “The other thing is people think about speed with respect to just style of play, but in reality, we want to be faster making decisions.”

It’s happening.

The Thunder have won 9 of 10 games, even 4 of 5 without Russell Westbrook.

That thing Presti described can be spotted statistically — 65- and 64-point first halves in OKC’s last two games, the gradual lessening of fouls committed and free-throw attempts allowed, a second-best-in-the-league turnover differential (-3.9) — but it can also be felt intrinsically.

When Thunder center Steven Adams took questions after practice Friday, he wasn’t asked about playing faster or the squad’s identity, and still he began to sound like Presti before the season began.

The questions was, as the Thunder head off to play three road games beginning at Phoenix tonight, what’s the focus?

“It’s maintaining just the high level of concentration,” Adams said. “It’s thinking fast, you know what I mean? It’s stuff that’s very instinctual.”

He kept going.

“That’s where I’d like to see the team go, because once you get to that level and you get some stamina behind you, it’s very good on our end,” Adams said. “We end up scoring easier, we play defense faster, the rhythm goes up and it’s very hard on [opponents], because the windows they have are very, very small.”

It sounds very close to what Presti was describing, and it would seem to be what the Thunder have been doing.

During their 9-of-10 run, they haven’t been winning close games so much as lopsided ones, averaging 114.7 points and allowing 103.5, even with their 111-96 loss to Dallas included.

Though impossible to kick out their first four games — all losses — if you could, OKC’s 11.2-point differential would lead league-leading Milwaukee’s 10.9 number. Even with the losses, the Thunder’s 5.1 figure ranks seventh.

Also, during that 9-of-10 run, the Thunder have scored at least 111 points six times, have allowed 50 percent shooting only twice and shot 50 percent or better four times.

Coach Billy Donovan sees intangibles that are creating tangibles.

“I think our guys have been really concentrating very, very well on both ends of the floor,” he said. “I think the attention to detail has been really good in trying to keep — quote, end quote — the main things [as] the main things: getting the ball out of the net quickly, getting the ball up the floor, getting into offense quickly, how we’re guarding pick and rolls, what we’re doing in coverage and really having all five guys out there having that concentration, that focus, that attention to detail.”

That’s a lot of main things.

Yet, as the Thunder have found their stride, they’ve been puling them off.

It has translated into shooting, too.

Once the league doormat in all three categories — field goals, 3-pointers, free throws — in the last five games, all without Westbrook, OKC has hit 45.2 percent of its shots, a reasonable 34.2 percent of its 3-point attempts and a decent 75.8 percent of its free throws, all drastic improvements from where the season began.

And, on the subject of thinking fast, Donovan added that it’s not even limited to the five players on the floor.

“One thing that’s been encouraging is, on the bench, there’s been really good communication,” he said, “when there are breakdowns and how to solve it.”

It’s going well.

Now they go on the road.

Though the Thunder talk about getting better all the time, just doing what they’e been doing might work very well, indeed.

Game 15

Oklahoma City at Phoenix

Time: 8 p.m.

Place: Talking Stick Resort Arena

Records: Suns 3-11, Thunder 9-5


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