The Thunder lost a tight one to the Nets last night, and it couldn't have gone down in a more brutal fashion. But I'm not here to talk about the negatives, because we're all sick of hearing it. Instead, I'm here to present some good news. Last night, during a six minute stretch of the second quarter (from 8:00 to 1:55), the Thunder were able to mount six steals.
What happened during that six minute stretch? Early on, the steals were able to trigger a 7-0 run that gave the Thunder an 8 point lead. The Nets responded by re-inserting Lopez, Johnson, and Williams into the lineup. The trio was able to help the Nets score a bit, but the Thunder continued to force turnovers and disrupt the Nets' momentum. When halftime rolled around, the Thunder were still holding onto their lead.
But how did the Thunder get these steals? Enough of my yakking. Let's break these plays down and figure out the secret to this team's success....
Steal 1: My Lamb sense is tingling
This one's pretty simple. Jarrett Jack was running up the court and thought he saw someone to pass to. Jeremy Lamb sensed where the ball was going, and was able to quickly jump out for the steal.
Steal 2: Morrow blasts through a screen
Alan Anderson runs around the screen to receive the ball on the wing. Assumedly, Anderson could dump it down to Jerome Jordan or work on his two man game once he recieved the ball. The most important thing here is Jordan's screen. Morrow, Anderson's man, ran right through it.
This allows Morrow to meet Anderson as Anderson meets the ball. Anderson thus bobbles the pass from KG.
The ball flies up in the air, and Morrow stands his ground.
Using his superior positioning, Morrow easily grabs the ball.
Steal 3: Morrow blasts through another screen
Rinse, lather, repeat. This time Anderson is receiving a baseline cut to the wing, where he can assumedly work on Morrow in the post. Morrow senses Jordan's screen and bursts through.
From there, Morrow simply uses his footspeed to grab the ball. Collison's positioning wasn't bad either.
Steal 4: The Morrow-Collison Double Team
The Nets are running the exact same set again, except with Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez on the floor. Lopez is successful in screening Morrow, forcing Collison off his man.
Morrow knows he can't do much against Lopez in the post, so he chooses to double-team Johnson on the perimeter with Collison. Meanwhile, Lopez cuts to the basket.
The double-team bothers Johnson, who can only hook an off-balance lob to Brook Lopez. Ibaka moves to disrupt the play, but he may be a couple of steps too late.
The ball ends up getting passed so weirdly that it bounces off of Lopez' hand. Ibaka's presence creates additional disruption, and Reggie ends up eventually collecting the tipped ball.
Steal 5: Reggie stays with the play
This play started off with Deron Williams trying to bust a few moves, and he failed miserably. In fact, Reggie was able to tip the ball away momentarily.
Reggie, knowing D-Will is a three point threat, goes around the screen. Serge Ibaka should be hedging, but he's a bit slow and allows Williams an open lane. I believe this was intentional though. Ibaka knew that Williams wasn't much of an inside scorer, and that Garnett is a big pick and pop threat.
Ibaka denies the pass, as Steven Adams slides over to meet Deron Williams at the rim.
Reggie Jackson sniffs out the impending bounce pass from way across the court and grabs the steal.
Steal 6: Adams brings the heat
Brook Lopez receives a pass from Joe Johnson, but is being manned up by Steven Adams. This shocks him into missing the ball and letting it hit his chest.
Lopez can't control it, and gets into an impressive scrum with Adams. Adams eventually grabs the ball and emerges victorious.
Pressure and length will get you really far in today's NBA. Aside from Ibaka's clever cover of Garnett, there weren't very many tactically sound decisions that caused the steals above. Rather, it was just defenders hustling their brains out, doing all they could to aggravate their man.
Still, I feel like extra pressure is a very sound strategy against this Nets team. Brooklyn moves the ball very little on offense, and rank in the league's bottom five statistically in terms of assists. Additionally, the Nets are middle of the pack when it comes to turnovers. So the Thunder definitely came out and tried to get opposing players out of their comfort zones, forcing Brooklyn to pass the ball. For a while, at least, the strategy worked.
The Thunder did eventually lose, mostly because of Deron Williams deciding that he can do whatever he wants with an overzealous Reggie Jackson. But I really feel like this team is playing way better right now than they were in Utah and Denver. If you just compare the difference in effort between these clips and those in my Jazz breakdown, it's like looking at completely different teams.
At the end of the day, this team's offense in crunch time and shortages at certain positions aren't going to matter come May. It's the Thunder's ability to get the most out of every player, especially defensively. They're going to need to instill good principles now, especially after messing around with zone defenses so often over the past few weeks.