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.