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.