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) 

NBA Finals Changed People’s Perceptions

Unlike a few recent NBA Finals match-ups, legacies weren’t going to be cemented depending upon the result of the Heat-Thunder series. Miami’s Big Three will all return next year to defend their title while still in their prime, while young OKC will, ideally, come back tougher, hungrier, more experienced and still just approaching their prime years.

Still, every year, the championship series plays a role in shaping the NBA landscape, either through the crowning of new champions or the re-enforcing of great teams continuing to reign. For the players involved, the Finals write another chapter and continue to develop their over-arching career arc.

Here is what this year’s NBA season meant for some of the key participants in the Finals.

The Main Players

LeBron James
One title doesn’t quite make you a pantheon-level all-time great, regardless of how much you came through for your team. But consider the possible alternative: another Finals loss – to a budding superstar four years his junior, no less – would have been more damaging (and embarassing) than last year’s defeat at the hands of the Mavericks. Now, he not only has his first ring, but has it on his terms as the unquestioned alpha of the Miami Heat. The critics won’t be completely silenced on account of his multi-title promise at the start of his Heat tenure, but that should only serve to keep “the King” motivated.

Dwyane Wade
Wade summarized the meaning of this title nicely to Stuart Scott on the podium last night, pointing out that his ’06 crown came without him learning any real adversity in the league. Now at 30 and having experienced the bitter taste of defeat last season, he probably has a greater appreciation for the accomplishment this time around.

Chris Bosh
Outside of maybe James, no one enjoyed more validation during the playoffs than Bosh. Yes, he won a title as a glorified role player, but he knew that would be the case as soon as he signed on with the Heat. However, his value to the team, which had been questioned at times during his two-year tenure, was made clear through his absence. He somehow became the biggest story of the Eastern Finals with his return from injury up in the air, and then proceeded to help turn his team’s season around from being on the brink against Boston (Miami won six of seven games with Bosh back playing regular minutes).

Kevin Durant
Arriving in a Finals puts everything under a microscope, so we were bound to learn a few things about the unassuming 23-year-old as he made his debut on the league’s biggest stage. Much was positive – he remained a clutch shooter, a savvy play-maker and a surprisingly effective slasher while matching much of LeBron’s contributions (offensively, anyway). We also learned, however, that he isn’t quite there yet. He still needs to get stronger to prevent defenders from locking him up 20 feet from the basket and isn’t quite as defensively sound as his length should dictate. Still, the dude’s 23!

Russell Westbrook
To paraphrase Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons, Westbrook somehow managed to become the most polarizing player in a series that featured the most polarizing player (okay, so Simmons said second-most to Wilt Chamberlain) in NBA history. Yes, it was Westbrook’s explosive play and multi-faceted skill set that helped get the Thunder past the last 13 Western Conference champions and to the show, but can any team afford to have their starting point guard shooting 4-20 in a Finals game? At the same time, one looks at his 43-point Game 4 reveals his value and GM Sam Presti won’t be willing to do anything drastic to alter what is a championship-calibre foundation. His maturation over the coming years will be fascinating to watch.

The Supporting Players

Shane Battier
It can’t be easy gaining almost universal popularity when you’ve won NCAA and NBA titles with, arguably, the most hated team at each level (2001 Duke and 2012 Heat). Credit Battier not only for that, but also for using a stellar playoff performance to ensure that he didn’t win an NBA title on account of simply being along for the ride (sorry, Juwan Howard). Like Bruce Bowen before him, it will be interesting to see how NBA history remembers an all-time great defender and glue guy who was never “the Man” on his team.

Pat Riley
Two years and another title later, Riley still looks like the cat that ate the canary regarding his role in the formation of the Big Three during the summer of 2010. I still can’t shake the feeling that there is an awful lot of knowledge within that well-coiffed head of his.

James Harden / Serge Ibaka / Scott Brooks
While neither Harden nor Ibaka exactly had a playoff performance for the ages, their value to the club was made plainly clear throughout the season. The Thunder will soon have to put a price tag on that value, with both young talents slated for free agency after next season. With both Durant and Westbrook signed to big deals and Harden and Ibaka set to hit paydirt, Presti will have to do some serious roster massaging for any shot at keeping his entire core together while not being cap-strung for years to come. Even more pressing, though, is the status of Brooks, whose contract expires at the end of the month.