Nets Snap Thunder’s Home Winning Streak

Brooklyn Nets – 110, Oklahoma City Thunder – 93

The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered its third home loss of the season at the hands of the revitalized Brooklyn Nets Wednesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Nets jumped out to an early first quarter advantage and eventually saw their lead grow to 23 points late in the first half. However, the Thunder battled back in the third quarter and tied the game off a Kevin Martin three with 7:11 left in the contest.

Brooklyn didn’t let up and went on a 24-6 run to close out their 17th win of the season.

GAME NOTES

  • The Nets shot nearly 70% from the floor in the first period with Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson combining for 22 of their first 33 points. Johnson torched Oklahoma City going 5-6 in the period including 2-3 from long range. The Thunder looked lackadaisical defensively and at times in the period it seemed Thabo Sefolosha was playing defense by himself.
  • Brook Lopez had his way with Thunder frontcourt. He scored 10 of his 25 points in the first quarter, setting the tone for the entire game. The Nets outscored the Thunder in the paint 42-36 and outrebounded them 38-34. Lopez proved to be a tough matchup for Kendrick Perkins with his ability to knock down the mid-range jumper and play outside the paint.
  • The Nets lost to San Antonio Monday thanks to an atrocious third quarter in which they were outscore 30-5. It was more of the same against Oklahoma City. The Thunder cut Brooklyn’s 16-point, halftime lead to four going into the final 12 minutes. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 20 points in the third and the Thunder outscored the Nets 27-15. Brooklyn came out of the locker room and mirrored Oklahoma City’s lethargic first quarter play.
  • Johnson continued to carry the Nets down the stretch with 13 of his game-high 33 points coming in the second half. A lot has been made of Johnson’s contract and he’s been called a paper-giant on more than one occasion. However, Johnson proved he could play up to his salary against the Thunder. He was easily the MVP of the game.
  • Deron Williams and Westbrook consistently went after each other throughout the game. Williams has been criticized for his perimeter defense, but he gave Westbrook everything he wanted. Westbrook finished with 26 points and 10 assists, but turned it over six times. It wasn’t until the third period that he finally got into a groove and Williams proved to be his biggest problem.
  • The Thunder resorted to isolation offense down the stretch. It was partly out of frustration and partly due to Brooklyn’s feisty defense. The frustration mounted to the point Durant couldn’t take it anymore and fell victim to a double-technical ejection, the first of his career. Durant had choice words for referee Danny Crawford as he walked off the court after a Perkins offensive foul.

PLAYER OF THE NIGHT

  • Joe Johnson: 33 POINTS / 11-19 (5-10 3PT) / 5 REBOUNDS

STAT OF THE NIGHT

  • OKC: 19 TURNOVERS (30 POINTS)

OBSERVATIONS

  • It’s hard to see why Brooklyn is just two games over .500 after thumping Oklahoma City. They have a nice mix of talent and a true point guard in Deron Williams. They also have great size with Brook Lopez and a decent bench led by Kris Humphries. Plus, Joe Johnson has the ability to go for 30 on any given night.
  • They are now 3-1 under Carlisimo who doesn’t seem nearly as laid back as former coach Avery Johnson. He could be the right guy for the job at the moment, even though two of their wins came against Charlotte and Cleveland in Brooklyn. I could see them righting the ship and becoming a dangerous team in the East, but they can’t hang with Miami. They could make a deep run in the playoffs if they get hot at the right time, but at the end of the day, there’s no competing with LeBron and the gang.

 

QUOTES

  • “We just played two of the best three offensive teams in the league. We didn’t play any defense against one and we defended this team about as well as you can defend them.” -P.J. Carlesimo
  • “I wasn’t worried about the third quarter. I was worried whether we could keep guys fresh enough. The guys off the bench did a great job for us.” -P.J. Carlesimo
  • “Gerald Wallace is a monster. You want to talk about something that wasn’t in San Antonio? Gerald Wallace.” -P.J. Carlesimo
  • “There is no need to panic. I think every time we lose around here everybody wants to go bananas.” Russell Westbrook
  • “We had 20 turnovers and gave up 30 points off of those 20 turnovers. It’s tough to win when you play a very good team that’s hot and give them extra possessions.” -Scott Brooks

 

Thunder Earns 11th Straight Victory

The Oklahoma City Thunder evened its series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 107-93 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena Monday. Serge Ibaka led all scorers with 25 and led all rebounders with 17.

GAME NOTES

-Serge Ibaka scored 25 points and pulled down 17 boards. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook didn’t have their best scoring performances. Instead, OKC relied on Ibaka who took three more shots than Durant.

-OKC’s defense stepped up in the third period. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan combined for just 11 points in the second half and Parker had just one assist.

-Serge Ibaka was asked after the game if he played better because he was motivated by Stephen Jackson’s tweets earlier this month. His response: “I respect your job, but I don’t want to talk about it.”

-Russell Westbrook was asked the same question about Ibaka. Westbrook’s response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

-Gregg Popovich sat his starters in the fourth quarter after OKC opened an 18-point lead. Manu Ginobili didn’t play either due to a left quad contusion.

-The Thunder moved to a league-best 20-4 while San Antonio dropped to 19-7. The two teams are heading in opposite directions as OKC has won 11-straight and the Spurs have dropped four of their last six.

 

QUOTES

-“It’s hard,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “I tell people this all the time, I couldn’t do what he’s (Ibaka) done-go to this country and produce like he’s producing here. It’s a credit to him and the organization.”

-“He’s (Ibaka) gifted,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “You have a four-man who can spread the court and shoot it like that, it makes it tougher on everybody. That’s why there’s so many shooting four’s in the league.”

-“I didn’t want to play him (Stephen Jackson) that many minutes, but he’s a hard guy to get off the floor,” Popovich said. “He likes to be out there, but we finally convinced him to get off the floor. After all this time off, 18 was plenty, probably a little too much.”

 

STATS

-Serge Ibaka: 25 points / 17 rebounds / 3 blocks

-Kevin Martin: 20 points (7-10 shooting)

-Thunder: 49 rebounds, Spurs: 37 rebounds

-Thunder starters: 77 points, Spurs starters: 49 points

 

Why the Spurs Lost:

-It might have had something to do with the absence of Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard, but the main reason they lost is because they stopped scoring in the third quarter. They only scored 16 in the third while Oklahoma City poured in 29.

Why the Thunder Won:

-Serge Ibaka. If it weren’t for Ibaka, the Thunder could’ve very easily lost to San Antonio for the second time this season. Durant and Westbrook didn’t have it going, but Ibaka stepped up and carried the team. He led the way the entire game and was the most intense player on the court during his 38 minutes.

Thunder Cruise To 45-point Win

REACTION: OKC: 114 / BOBCATS: 69

Box Score

-The Thunder handed Charlotte a 45-point loss at the Chesapeake Arena Monday in Oklahoma City. OKC led by 54 at one point in the second half thanks to six players scoring in double-digits including a combined 32 points from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

GAME NOTES:

-Charlotte opened with Jeff Taylor guarding Durant. It didn’t work out too well. Durant scored six points on 3-4 shooting with Taylor guarding him the majority of the quarter. Durant might’ve scored more early had he not been shocked by Mike Dunlap’s decision.

-Thabo Sefolosha nailed two three’s early in the first quarter when it seemed like OKC was still asleep. He actually jacked up six of OKC’s eight three’s in the first 12 minutes. Let’s just say Charlotte’s team defense was a little lackluster because all eight shots were completely uncontested.

-Let’s face it, OKC’s starters could’ve taken the night off and the team still might’ve pulled out a win, but it was nice to see Durant and Sefolosha’s activity on defense early in the game. Thabo made a great defensive play when he picked a driving Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s pocket as the rookie tried to drive on him. Durant moved well on defense early as well and finished the first period with two blocks.

-Durant played with the second team early in the second quarter and they had success passing the ball. It was one of those unfamiliar occasions when the ball hardly bounced off the Chesapeake Arena floor. It was open shot after open shot with KD, Eric Maynor, Kevin Martin, Collison and Thabeet sharing the rock better than the team has all season.

-Maynor and Thabeet scored eight of OKC’s 13 bench points in the second quarter. Each player would probably start for Charlotte. OK, Kemba Walker might keep Maynor on the bench, but Thabeet seriously might be better than Brendan Haywood. Haywood scored two points and pulled down six rebounds in the period while Thabeet scored four and pulled down four boards in half the time.

-Westbrook threw down a massive slam at the end of the second quarter that gave OKC a 40-point lead going into halftime.  Check it out. 

-It started to get ugly in the third quarter. Eventually, OKC extended their lead to 54 points and had the Bobcats on pace to break the record for least amount of points in a game (49: 1999 Chicago Bulls). Scott Brooks pulled the starters with nearly seven minutes left in the quarter and finished the game with a rotation of Thabeet, Maynor, Martin, Reggie Jackson, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb.

-There’s not much to say about the rest of the game. Let’s call it what it really was: garbage time. The Thunder will go on its way and the Bobcats will go on their’s as well. Plus, we all know what Wednesday brings. The return of the beard.

 

REPORT CARD

-OFFENSE: A : Can’t argue with shooting over 50% and a +15 turnover/assist ratio.

-DEFENSE: A+ : Charlotte shot 29% and OKC pulled down 45 defensive rebounds.

-STARTERS: A+ : That +198 statistic is a little describing.

-BENCH: A : The bench played well, especially when Durant was with them in the rotation.

-FANS: B : The fans were loud at points in the game, but who can blame them after that game.

 

STATISTIC-ULAR FORTITUDE

-The Thunder’s 45-point win is the largest win since moving to Oklahoma City.

-OKC’s starters were a combined +198 in the +/-

-Charlotte shot 29.1% (23-79) from the floor including 27.3% (6-22) from three-point range.

-Kemba Walker: 0-6 FG, 0-2 3PT, 0-2 FT, 2 TO, -31

 

PLAYER OF THE GAME: THABO SEFOLOSHA 

-Sefolosha finished with 14 points and went 4-8 from long range. His +/- was a game-high +45 in just over 21 minutes. He also pulled down four rebounds, dished out three assists and had one steal.

PLAYED A TERRIBLE GAME: KEMBA WALKER

-See Statistic-ular Fortitude above. 

ROOKIE WATCH: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

-I really wasn’t impressed with Kidd-Gilchrist, but then again, there wasn’t anything to be impressed with the Bobcats anyway. He finished the game with just eight points in 22 minutes and pulled down three boards. He got Serge Ibaka off his feet with a great head-fake on one play early, but other than that he was average offensively. He wasn’t allowed to guard KD in the first quarter, which tells me Mike Dunlap doesn’t have much faith in his defense yet. He has only played 12 games, but his first trip to OKC was still well below average. GRADE: D

 

SCOTT BROOKS QUOTES

-Open: “They had a bad night. Let’s face it, this team has been playing good basketball to start the season. We will all go through a game like this. It happens.”

-On Thabeet’s development: “When we signed him over the summer we had to work on a few things in order for him to have success. One was conditioning and getting in better shape. He’s done that. It’s a credit to our staff.”

-On mixed rotations: “I’m looking for lineups that get steps and also match-ups. Certain guys play better against certain players and I have a luxury with Kevin (Durant) because I can put him at the two, three or four.

 

NEXT GAME: Wednesday vs. Houston Rockets (6-7) 7:00 PM CT

 

Grizzlies Handle Thunder 107-97

THUNDER REACTION

GAME 9 vs. Memphis Grizzlies:  L (107-97)

The Grizzlies became the first team to hang 100 points on the Thunder while handing them their third loss of the season Wednesday at the Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City.

 

1st QUARTER GAME NOTES

The Thunder looked like they were in cruise control once again after the first quarter. They jumped out to a 10-point lead with Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha droppin eight apiece in the first 12 minutes. Memphis got off to a horrible start offensively and shot 32% to start the game including 2-9 from Tony Allen and Mark Gasol.

 

2nd QUARTER GAME NOTES

Memphis turned the game around in the second period, outscoring the Thunder 36-15. The difference ended up coming down to bench play. The Grizzlies’ bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 18-6 in the second period while Quincy Pondexter knocked down three three’s. Jarryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington combined for seven points as well.

 

3rd QUARTER GAME NOTES

OKC did its best to climb back into it after the half; however, Memphis continued to play well offensively. Rudy Gay scored nine of his 18 second half-points in the third quarter and Zach Randolph got going with eight. OKC shot over 56% from the field, but couldn’t stop anybody defensively. Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka combined to hit every shot for OKC in the third period.

 

4th QUARTER GAME NOTES

Once again the Thunder played well in the fourth period, but once again the Grizzlies played well also and held off OKC to earn their sixth victory of the year. Rudy Gay caught fire in the third and continued his hot shooting in the fourth. He scored nine points and scored on three straight possessions with Durant in his face. Bayless turned in nine points in the fourth as well with Randolph and Gasol combining for four.

 

SCOTT BROOKS ON: What went wrong in the 2nd quarter.

“Ellington came in and hit three tough shots and they picked the intensity up. We gave them a lot of looks around the basket, but 21 points on us, I don’t think that will happen again all season.”

 

SCOTT BROOKS ON: Kevin Martin’s first game in single digits.

“It’s something that we definitely need to look at because we need his offense. For whatever reason, four shots is not good enough. It was a combination of the team, myself and Kevin (Marin). I didn’t do a good job and he didn’t do a good job, but we will figure that out.”

 

 

MY RANDOM NOTES

 

  • This was a very physical and intense game. It had a playoff feel to it and you could tell the players felt the same way when Randolph and Kendrick Perkins got ejected in the fourth quarter. I thought the Clippers/Grizzlies rivalry was brewing, but the Thunder/Grizzlies is boiling as well.

 

  • When Westbrook gets off to a slow start, he usually has a terrible offensive game. Not tonight. He had his worst shooting game of the season, but had his best facilitating game of the season (13 assists). He always finds a way to make you shake your head, but this is a growing step. He’s still so young and has a so much to learn. Sometimes it’s nice to see the learning process in action.

 

  • Kevin Martin only took four shots and OKC lost. Something tells me that the team needs him to take control more or they won’t win very many games. He had a tough time against Memphis’ strong defense and sort of zoned out. I hope this isn’t a sign of what’s to come for Martin against good defensive teams.

 

  • The Grizzlies’ bench could be the best in the league. Quincy Pondexter, Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington make up a solid core for their second team. Memphis scares me if I’m a Thunder fan. They have size, the can score from anywhere on the court and they dominate defensively. Could Memphis eliminate OKC if they meet in the playoffs? I think they can.

 

  • I’ve heard some other guys talking about the crowds OKC has had this season. They’ve said the noise level hasn’t come close to what it was last year and after tonight, I agree. It’s almost as if the fans are bored with the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and others. If it’s not the Heat or Lakers, it’s going to be an average crowd. Let’s all hope that mentality doesn’t catch on.

 

PLAYERS OF THE NIGHT

-Kevin Durant: 34 Points / 10 Rebounds / 5 Assists

-Russell Westbrook: 17 Points / 13 Assists / 6 Rebounds

-Serge Ibaka: 17 Points / 8 Rebounds / 4 Blocks

 

-Rudy Gay: 28 Points / 6 Rebounds / 5 Assists (POG)

-Zach Randolph: 20 Points / 11 Rebounds / 2 Steals

-Marc Gasol: 14 Points / 6 Rebounds / 2 Blocks

 

NEXT GAME: Nov. 16 at New Orleans (3-3)

Durant and Westbrook Carry Thunder Past the Cavs

THUNDER REACTION

GAME 7 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers:  W (106-91)

The Oklahoma City Thunder earned their fourth straight victory with a 106-91 win over the Cleveland Cavs at the Chesapeake Arena Sunday. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 53 points while Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin scored in double figures as well.

1st QUARTER GAME NOTES

The Cavs jumped out to a quick start hitting eight of their first 10 shots. However, Oklahoma City’s defense stiffened and the Thunder went on a 20-4 run to end the period with a 27-21 lead. Russell Westbrook led OKC with seven points, but turned the ball over three times. Deion Waiters and Kyrie Irving combined for 13 points for Cleveland.

2nd QUARTER GAME NOTES

OKC extended their lead in the second quarter thanks mostly to Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kevin Martin. The “big 3” combined for 16 points in the second, Westbrook leading the way with six. OKC’s defense held Waiters and Irving to just five after they scored 13 in the opening period.

3rd QUARTER GAME NOTES

Cleveland pulled to within six points after the third quarter thanks to Kyrie Irving’s 10 points and two assists. KD and Westbrook combined for 16 points including a half-court, buzzer beating three from Westbrook. OKC ended the quarter shooting 55% from the field for the first 36 minutes.

4th QUARTER GAME NOTES

Westbrook opened the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run after hitting a buzzer-beater three at the end of the third quarter. Westbrook, Martin and Durant combined for 19 points in the period as they put the Cavs away. Cleveland never stood a chance with Irving on the bench to start the fourth. The Thunder ran away down the stretch and earned its fifth victory while handing the Cavs their fifth loss.

 

SCOTT BROOKS ON: What other things think about defense.

“I don’t know what other teams are focusing on, but I know that we’re playing our best basketball when we’re thinking defensive thoughts.”

SCOTT BROOKS ON: Getting to know Kevin Martin.

“His last two teams were rebuilding teams and he was their scorer. The rest of the league looks at players like that and think that they don’t play defense. He’s come in and played defense. I think it’s solid. He’s making players work and he gets his hands on a lot of basketballs. His defense is much better than his reputation.”

SCOTT BROOKS ON: Perkins playing better.

“He didn’t play any basketball this summer. He had two surgeries that prevented him from playing and he played just occasionally during training camp. A lot of it was non-contact and by himself. He’s still getting the feel, but it’s not about stats with him. We need his toughness.”

 

MY RANDOM NOTES

 

  • I feel like Westbrook is trying this season to be more of a facilitator. He is making better passes and running the offense better, but he’s still turning the ball over too much. If he could ever figure out the turnover issue there’s no telling what he could do to this league.  

 

  • K-Mart is a straight scorer. Byron Scott said before the game that he helps OKC because he’s a better scorer than James Harden, who he (Scott) claims to be a better “overall” player. I think Martin is perfect for the Thunder. He creates offense off the ball, which is huge because Westbrook and KD have to have the ball in their hands for the offense to work.

 

  • I’m noticing a ton of head fakes from OKC this year, especially Thabo Sefolosha. He’s gotten more and more confident in his shot over the last few seasons, but he’s still smart enough to know a little pump-fake can lead to better shot-selection.

 

  • Scott Brooks has favored the small lineups so far this season. Against Cleveland, KD ran the four with Collison at the five and Perk at the five. Brooks’ first substitution of the second half came when K-Mart entered the game for Serge with about four minutes left in the third.

 

  • Kyrie Irving is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in the league. He can score with any point guard in the league including Westbrook. He’s quietly becoming one of the NBA’s youngest superstars after winning Rookie of the Year last season and once Cleveland builds around him, they will be a force in the East.

 

  • I still can’t figure out where Deion Waiters went after the first quarter. He scored seven points in the first seven minutes, but was stranded for the rest of the game. Cleveland has a bright future with their young backcourt, but it is obvious Waiters still has a thing or two to learn.

 

PLAYERS OF THE NIGHT

-RUSEELL WESTBROOK: 27 Points / 10 Assists / 6 Rebounds (POG)

-KEVIN DURANT: 26 Points / 8 Rebounds / 2 Assists

-KEVIN MARTIN: 16 Points / 5 Rebounds / 6-9 Shooting

 

-KYRIE IRVING: 20 Points / 5 Assists / 4 Rebounds

-ALONZO GEE: 18 Points / 2 Steals

-DANIEL GIBSON: 16 Points / 5 Rebounds / 1 Steal

NEXT GAME: Nov. 12 at DETROIT (0-7) 

Martin Filling Shoes Harden Left Behind

Filling the shoes of James Harden in Oklahoma City is no easy task. However, through two games, Kevin Martin has proved that he’s up to the challenge.

The biggest concern for the Thunder coming into the first week of the season was how long it would take Martin to mesh with his new team and his new role. Since the opening tip against San Antonio, Martin has been nothing short of consistent.

“When K-Mart comes in he just makes things happen,” Scott Brooks said after the Thunder’s win over Portland Friday. “It’s his ability to move without the ball. He’s not a one-dimensional scorer at all. He can score, he can get to the line and he can shoot three’s. He sets up his man as well as anybody on our team.”

Martin scored 15 points in Oklahoma City’s loss to the Spurs on Thursday and dropped 19 in their win over Portland Friday. Over the first two games he shot 6-9 from long range and 9-21 from the field overall. He has seven assists and just one turnover in over 60 minutes and has looked comfortable while playing with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

“We’re very comfortable together,” Martin said. “We have such different skill sets. I can move without the ball and they (Durant and Westbrook) love to have the ball in their hands. That’s when I can come in and find a corner or just read how the defense is playing them. We have a great connection right now.”

It’s one thing to change teams and it’s another to change roles. Martin has been a starter for most of his career and has never had to take on the role of sixth man. He seems to be embracing the challenge for the Thunder and has had to do it while learning on the run.

“We’ve given him a speedy course on how we like to do things and he’s picking it up on the fly,” Brooks said. “He knows how to play and he does a lot of good things that we can use offensively and defensively.”

“When you score for a team that doesn’t have a lot of success, the natural thing to think is that he’s not a good defender,” Brooks said. “But he’s done defensive things that we like and he’s only going to get better with our group.”

Martin has embraced the role of coming off the bench so far this season, but he claims that the team has made the transition from starter to sixth man a smooth change.

“They’re making it easy for me,” Martin said. “You have to have a punch coming off the bench and that’s our biggest strength right now. We’ve got to keep gelling as a group and help get the first group of guys some rest when they come off the court. That’s our role off the bench.”

Martin may not have the skill set that Harden possesses offensively or defensively. However, one thing Martin does have is basketball intelligence and sometimes that can be more important than raw talent.

Aldrich Ready To Step Up For Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City Thunder started their second week of practice on Monday and head coach Scott Brooks is focusing on the void left by Kendrick Perkins’ offseason groin surgery.

Perkins played injured for most of the end of the regular season and the playoffs. After the Thunder lost to the Miami Heat in the Finals, Perkins quickly went under the knife in hopes of returning 100 percent for the opener this season. However, no center has much of a chance of staying in shape post-surgery, which means Cole Aldrich will be asked to play a more meaningful role.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how they perform in the exhibition season,” Brooks said after practice Monday. “It’s an important role for us. Our big guys are the defensive anchors, they create ball movement and they set screens. That’s what we’re asking Cole and the others to do right now.”

The Thunder traded for Aldrich’s draft rights after the New Orleans Hornets drafted him 11th overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Since then, Aldrich has spent most of his time on the D-League roster and at the end of Oklahoma City’s bench. He made his playoff debut last year and now looks to take on a more prominent role for the regular season.

“I don’t feel any pressure myself,” Aldrich said after Monday’s practice. “I come in every day and work hard and I’ve gotten a lot better. That’s all you can do.”

The Thunder let go of Nazr Mohammed in the offseason, leaving a spot open at the backup center position. Aldrich is expected to fill the minutes Mohammed left behind, but with most of his experience coming in garbage time, he still has a lot to learn.

“The biggest thing defensively is the pick-and-roll,” Aldrich explained. “Everybody runs them and about 70 percent of all possessions has a pick-and-roll. If you can master that you’re going to be a lot more effective.”

Aldrich said that defending players like Russell Westbrook in practice makes his job in games much easier. Defending the pick-and-roll is pivotal in the NBA. Last season Oklahoma City figured out a way to defend the offense against San Antonio and it ultimately led to their trip to the Finals. Aldrich will be asked to learn the position and the defense quickly, something his teammates aren’t worried about.

“Cole’s been very aggressive,” Daequan Cook said. “His main role is to set screens, roll, rebound and run the floor and he’s been doing a great job and he continues to get better every day. It’s not my spot to say, but I’m ready to see what happens.”

Oklahoma City Advances To NBA Finals

Kevin Durant scored 20 of his game-high 34 points in the second half and played all 48 minutes as the Thunder stormed back from an 18-point, first half deficit to capture the Western Conference Championship Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

In just their fourth season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder reached the NBA Finals after overcoming a first half surge from Tony Parker and the San Antonio Spurs. Parker played a near perfect first quarter with 17 points (7-10), five assists and no turnovers.

The Spurs outscored the Thunder 34-20 in the opening period and shot 60% from the field, including 4-6 from beyond the arc.

Oklahoma City bounced back offensively in the second quarter with 28 points including five threes. Durant scored 10 in the period and pulled down five rebounds as well. James Harden knocked down two threes off the bench, but the Thunder still had trouble stopping the Spurs on defense.

Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal combined for 15 points in the second period to lead the Spurs. All 15 of their points came from beyond the arc. Duncan chipped in seven points as well to help San Antonio enter the half with a 15-point advantage.

Durant and Russell Westbrook exploded in the third quarter. The Thunder’s two superstars combined for 22 points on 8-12 shooting while Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha scored five apiece.

Oklahoma City’s defense exploded in the period as well. They held San Antonio to 18 points on 31% shooting and forced four turnovers while cutting the Spurs’ lead to just one before the final period.

Sefolosha’s defense on Parker proved to be a huge factor to Oklahoma City’s second half resurgence. Parker scored eight points in the second half and couldn’t get anything going after his huge first half performance.

The Thunder kept the foot on the pedal in the fourth quarter. Led by eight points from James Harden and 10 from Durant and Westbrook, Oklahoma City outscored the Spurs 27-18 and eliminated them from the postseason.

This group of guys has been resilient all season,” Westbrook said after the game. “We started off a little slow, but we stayed in it and after Kevin’s shot to end the first half, we took it and ran with it.

“We picked up our intensity defensively in second half and that’s Thunder basketball. That’s what got us the win tonight.”

The Thunder, in just its fourth year in Oklahoma City, has reached the NBA Finals after relocating from Seattle and starting from the ground up.

“As a group and as an organization we saw the light and saw that one day we would be at this moment,” Westbrook said. “Guys stay committed each year and every summer and now it has paid off.”

The Thunder now awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Boston Celtics lead the Miami Heat 3-2 going into tonight’s Game 6 in Boston. The Finals go from a 2-2-1-1-1 format to a 2-3-2 and will begin Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

Durant May Be The Best Closer In The NBA

Kevin Durant scored 18 points in the final seven minutes, Serge Ibaka chipped in a career-high 26 and the Oklahoma City Thunder evened the Western Conference Finals after their 109-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Spurs found themselves with a 15-point deficit in the third quarter, but managed to climb to within four with 6:54 left before Durant went into closer mode.

The NBA scoring champion scored 18 of the Thunder’s final 23 points and scored 16 straight in a span of five minutes to wipe away San Antonio’s chances of returning home with a 3-1 series lead.

“Going into this game, we knew how important it was,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “It was terrific that Kevin (Durant) did a great job of closing it out. Kevin’s about winning. He’s not about scoring 16 in a row. He’s about making the right plays and he’s happy with that. He’s a team player and he’s only going to get better.”

“I’d like that,” Durant responded when asked if he feels like he’s the team’s closer. “I just want to be calm and composed in those situations. There’s times when I need to pass to my teammates and there’s times when I need to score. I just want to try to take over and make good basketball plays. I want to be clutch defensively as well.”

Durant and Russell Westbrook struggled out of the gate for Oklahoma City, but nine first quarter points from Kendrick Perkins gave the Thunder the boost they needed to keep up with Spurs early. Perkins finished the game with a team-high nine rebounds as well.

San Antonio scored 26 points in the first quarter with seven players combining to shoot 52.4% from the field. Kawahi Leonard, who has played gritty defense on Durant all series, started the game with five points while Tim Duncan, Danny Green, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili scored four apiece.

Serge Ibaka took over in the second quarter helping Oklahoma City jump out to a 12-point lead before halftime.

Ibaka scored 12 of his 26 points in the second quarter while six other Thunder players combined for 17. Oklahoma City entered halftime with a 55-43 advantage and their top two scorers had just 12 points.

San Antonio started to crawl back into the game during the third quarter. Oklahoma City watched a 15-point lead wilt to four before the final period.

Once again, a bevy of scorers inched San Antonio back within striking distance. Duncan and Boris Diaw combined for 10 points in the third quarter while Ginobili poured in seven.

The Spurs did all they could in the first part of the fourth quarter. They played the Thunder dead even until the 6:33-mark. Leanord and Duncan combined for 17 points down the stretch, but it wasn’t enough. Durant’s fourth quarter surge willed Oklahoma City to victory and evened the series at two games apiece.

Oklahoma City’s front-line, Ibaka (26), Perkins (15) and Nick Collison (8), combined for 49 points while Durant (36), Harden (11) and Westbrook (7) combined for 54.

“Tonight our bigs did a good job of defending and scoring,” Brooks said. “Like Kevin, Russell (Westbrook) and James (Harden) will do, they were finding open shots for Serge (Ibaka) and open drop passes for Perk. That’s what we’ve been doing and I give our guys a lot of credit for executing it tonight.”

The series now transitions to a best-of-five contest beginning in San Antonio Monday. Game 6 will be played in Oklahoma City Wednesday and a deciding Game 7, if necessary, will swing back to San Antonio Friday.

Sefolosha Stepped Up For Oklahoma City

The Oklahoma City Thunder ended the San Antonio Spurs’ 20-game win streak and handed them their first playoff loss with a 102-82 win Thursday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

On a night when the Thunders’ backs were against the wall, they enjoyed the majority of their contribution from the unlikeliest of stars: Thabo Sefolosha.

Sefolosha helped the Thunder climb back into the series on both the offensive and defensive ends by setting playoff career highs in points (19) and steals (six). He also had six rebounds and finished 4-10 from beyond the arc in over 36 minutes.

“We all know that Thabo (Sefolosha) is one of the best defenders in the game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “We’ve had him on point guards before and he did a great job of staying active and pursuing.”

Brooks changed defensive strategies after coming away empty in the first two games in San Antonio. He started the game with Sefolosha guarding Tony Parker instead of Russell Westbrook.

“It wasn’t anything Russell (Westbrook) did,” Brooks said. “We just thought we needed to play better all around basketball and we did tonight on both ends.”

The Thunder started the game on an 8-0 run thanks to tough defense and poor shooting from the Spurs. San Antonio started the game 0-4 from the field and turned the ball over on four of their first eight possessions.

As bad as the Spurs started, they still were still able to tie the game 12-12 midway through the first and finished the opening period with a 24-22 lead.

Oklahoma City came out firing in the second period, led by NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. Harden scored nine of the Thunder’s first 18 points in the period, however, the Thunder’s suffocating defense was the main cause of concern for the Spurs.

The Thunder held San Antonio to 17 points on 6-17 shooting in the second period. The Spurs also turned the ball over six times and didn’t score a single transition basket.

Oklahoma City continued to give San Antonio problems in the third period. The Spurs again failed to score 20 points in the quarter and were held to 16-41 shooting from the field in the second half.

Sefolosha scored nine of his 19 points in the third and knocked down two three’s that ultimately sealed the game.

“He was phenomenal tonight,” Kevin Durant said after the game. “He got some easy points in transition and got hot shooting the three-ball. He stepped up for us tonight and it sparked us to a great win.”

Spurs coach Greg Popovich limited his starters’ time in the second half and didn’t allow four of his starters to step foot on the floor in the fourth quarter. Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson each finished with 16 points and Tim Duncan fished with 11.

Kevin Durant finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-17 shooting for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook didn’t have his best scoring night, but played efficiently with 10 points, nine assists and just two turnovers.

The Thunder still has work to do after cutting their series deficit to 2-1. They will look to even things up in Game 4 Saturday night in Oklahoma City before heading back to San Antonio for a pivotal Game 5.

Fisher’s Biggest Impact Not In A Box Score

Leadership, heart and courage are just a few words used to describe Derek Fisher by his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates, however, experience is what they claim to be the most important.

“He’s a great leader by example and with his voice,” Royal Ivey said. “He’s very calm and his demeanor is out of this world. That helps. He brings this kind of calmness to the team.”

Ivey went on to explain that Fisher’s knowledge on how to connect with every player in the locker room has been key in his ability to click with the team on such short notice.

Fisher joined the Thunder on Mar. 21 after playing and starting 43 games with the Los Angeles Lakers, the franchise for which he earned five NBA championships. The Lakers traded Fisher to the Houston Rockets. Houston bought out his contract and a few days later, he signed with Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City was in need of a backup point guard due to Eric Maynor’s ACL injury suffered in January. Rookie Reggie Jackson filled in for Maynor, but his lack of experience forced the Thunder’s hand in signing Fisher.

“Being a veteran in this league and being at the pinnacle of winning championships really says a lot,” Ivey said. “Getting his wisdom, experience and competitiveness when he came on board was a plus.”

Fisher’s role took a dramatic change when he signed with Oklahoma City. For much of his career, he had been the starting point guard for the NBA’s  premier franchise. When he signed with the Thunder, he became the backup for the league’s youngest and arguably most talented team. He’s had success working with players like Westbrook, Ivey Kevin Durant and James Harden and has helped shine a light on winning in the Thunder locker room.

“Derek is a natural born leader,” Westbrook said. “He knows what it takes to win. He understands the things that you need to do to get better. He communicates to us what it takes to get to the next level and it’s really helped me, Kevin and James a lot.”

The practice court is no different for Fisher. His teammates claim that he still communicates like the starting point guard and provides advice when need be. In a short period of time, he’s become a valuable extension of head coach Scott Brooks.

“He does a great job of staying on guys,” Ivey said. “As a player and as a coach he’s a great leader. He’s a great teacher. He sees things that maybe Russell (Westbrook) or I don’t see and he does a great job of walking through and showing us. He’s just a great communicator.”

Fisher’s experience has shown so far in the playoffs. He’s averaging six points per game and is shooting over 53% from beyond the three-point line. He is also playing good defense at age 37. In the Lakers series he was asked to guard Kobe Bryant and had success on numerous possessions.

Going into their Western Conference Finals matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder will look to Fisher for strong execution on both the offensive and defensive end in a limited amount of minutes.

Fisher doesn’t get the same playing time that he got in L.A., but he still contributes.

“What Derek (Fisher) brings to the team can’t be measured,” Brooks said. “His ability to connect in the locker room in such a short period of time has been huge for our young guys like Kevin, Russell and James. You can’t find that on a box score.”

Thunder Capitalize On Gift-Wrapped Victory

With 2:08 left on the clock, Game 2 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers was all but over.

That is until Kobe Bryant giftwrapped the game and handed it to the Thunder.

The Lakers owned a 75-68 lead and the Thunder were in the midst of one of the most miserable halves of their season. Kevin Durant wasn’t shooting enough, Serge Ibaka shot too much and Kobe started to turn on the Kobe.

It was over and the Thunder had all but handed the Lakers their first win of the series. Then, Bryant turned around and gave Oklahoma City the best thing they could have ever asked for: a chance.

With 1:48 remaining and the game all but sewed up, Bryant looked to pass the ball into the post. Durant, Thunder coach Scott Brook’s defensive secret weapon at the end of games, reached up with every inch of his nine-foot wingspan and plucked his pass straight out of the air, drove to the basket and cut the Lakers’ lead to three.

“He’s (Durant) guarding the best player in basketball,” Brooks said after the game. “It takes a team to stop him (Bryant). There was a moment when I thought Kobe was really starting to feel it and I thought Kevin’s length could bother him.”

“It was a great play,” Bryant said. “He just jumped the passing lane and got a good steal. Other than that, I was just too far away from the basket.”

The Lakers kept the Thunder from scoring after another turnover, but with 1:01 left on the clock, Bryant, so used to the late game drama, missed a fade-away that would have ultimately sealed the deal and sent the Lakers home with a huge win. Instead, Kendrick Perkins grabbed the rebound, Harden drove to the basket and with 56 seconds left, the Thunder was down by one.

Los Angeles still had the lead. With under a minute, they were still in the driver’s seat. All they had to do was milk the clock and get to the basket for a layup or a foul.

Easier said than done, even with Bryant.

Bryant had already helped get Oklahoma City back in the game with his turnover two possessions prior and wasn’t exactly feeling it after missing a fade-away. So, after draining the clock with the lead in hand, what did he do? He launched a three that clanked and landed in the hands of Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook got the ball to Durant and with 18.6 seconds left, the NBA’s leading scorer put the Thunder up by one with a seven-foot floater reminiscent of his game winner against Dallas in Game 1 of the first round.

Los Angeles tried to respond with a flare out to Bryant, but Metta World Peace instead passed to Steve Blake who launched a desperation-three, missed and gave Oklahoma City a 2-0 series advantage.

“I got open,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what Metta (World Peace) saw, but he kicked it to Steve (Blake) and I got in position for the rebound. I couldn’t pull it down.”

The Lakers will now head home disappointed. They can’t be disappointed that they lost two games in one of the loudest arenas in the league, but in the fact that their star player couldn’t lockup the game like he’s so used to doing.

Bryant is one of the game’s greatest players of all time, as professed by Brooks after Game 1 Monday night. However, in the clutch Wednesday, he looked more like an aging veteran than the assassin he has been over 16 years.

Kobe just wasn’t Kobe.

Give all the credit in the world to Oklahoma City. They got the job done. Their superstar (Durant) came up big in the clutch and L.A.’s star didn’t. For 46 minutes it was the Lakers’ game to win, but in the final minutes the Thunder capitalized on costly Laker mistakes and ultimately stole the victory.

“This is what the series is going to be about,” Brooks said after the game. “Each game is going to be a one or two possession game going forward. Each game is going to be physical, but we feel we can win that way.”

Instead of taking the game from the Thunder, Kobe gave it to them. It’s a mistake he has so rarely surrendered over the course of his career, but it could end up being the demise of this year’s Lakers.

It could also be a boost for Oklahoma City, a boost that could lead them to the Western Conference Finals and ultimately an NBA championship.