A Tale Of Two Halfs: OKC Falls To Golden State

By A. suave Francisco 

The highly anticipated matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors couldn't have been better...in the first half. The outcome looked promising for OKC after going into halftime, but the Warriors came out in the second looking like a completely different team en route to a 121-100 victory. 

Oklahoma City honestly played well and more so, inspired in the first half of this contest, with three players in double-figures, but Kevin Durant's barrage of three-pointers in the third quarter essentially took OKC out of the game. Not to mention, OKC's unforced errors. 

In the first half, Oklahoma City played spectacularly well with Victor Oladipo scoring 15 points, along with 14 points and 5 rebounds by Enes Kanter off the bench. Those two players complimented Russell Westbrook's 16 points, 6 assists, and 7 rebounds nicely while keeping Golden State relatively cool. 

After a controversial flagrant foul by Zaza Pachulia on Westbrook right before halftime, I thought the Thunder would rally in the second half towards an upset. Kevin Durant had different plans as he exploded in this game for a season-high 40 points and 12 rebounds on 13-of-16 shooting, a completely dominant game for Durant over his former team. That, mixed with OKC's unforced errors, plus Oladipo's 2 points in the third quarter and Kanter's slight decline in the second half put the Thunder in a bad position to counter KD's onslaught. 

With that being said, Westbrook had 10 turnovers for only the second time in the season, which didn't help things in the second half either. Through all of that, the Thunder overachieved. With this being the toughest stretch of the season in January, the third game in four days against three teams with a combined (81-35) record, and without their star center, Steven Adams, this game should leave the NBA optimistic regarding Oklahoma City's future. They are literally one solid piece away from being a championship contender. Something that people tend to forget. They are playing tremendously well with the hand they've been dealt. 

Things won't get easier for the Thunder, though, with challenging opponents ramping back up on Monday after a four-day rest. They will start with another Western Conference playoff team in the Utah Jazz on the road, followed by the New Orleans Pelicans, also, on the road. After that, still in the month of January, the Thunder play the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs on the road. They are now (25-19) on the season and tied for sixth in the Western Conference. 

Thunder Clocked By Clips In Adams' Absence

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Missing your defensive anchor and also playing the second night of a road back-to-back is generally not the best recipe for success.

The Thunder were doing both Monday night and the results were about as you’d expect.

Clippers 120, Thunder 98.

But head coach Billy Donovan is not one to just accept things and he was clearly disappointed with how well his team performed.

“We’ve gotta be able to get the ball stopped in our pick and roll coverage,” he said. “Defensively we had made some strides over the last five to seven games but this wasn’t one of our better defensive games.”

The Thunder gave up 62 points in the paint to L.A. on a stunning 70.5 percent shooting. OKC seemed to be totally defenseless down low despite several moves and switches Donovan and coaches tried.

“We tried to do some different things, just in terms of not wanting to be constant. We switched some, tried to get in different coverages. I’m not sure if anything was better than the other it was just that we struggled keeping the ball out of the paint.”

Adams was held out of the game because of a concussion he suffered in Sacramento Sunday night. His status going into Wednesday’s game at Golden State is very much in doubt.

But the Clippers have been dealing with the loss of Blake Griffin over the last several weeks and last night point guard Chris Paul left the game in the first half with a sprained thumb.

They made do…the Thunder did not.

“I think we were certainly capable of doing a better job (in pick and roll coverage) when the ball’s coming down hill and you hold coverage too long, you got two guys on the ball, a guy rolling, then guys falling behind and that’s a recipe for either a dunk or a three and that’s what happened a lot of times when they got going downhill.”

Jerami Grant filled in for Adams in the center spot and at times played well, scoring nine points, pulling down eight rebounds and blocking three shots but going up against DeAndre Jordan was also at times a physical mismatch.

Using up a lot of energy the night before to hang on to the win in Sacramento didn’t help the situation but Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook refused to use that as an excuse.

“We just have to be ready to play,” he said. “For the most part we came out a little sluggish, not being the more physical team. They started off with better intensity than we did.”

Westbrook finished with 24 points, five rebounds and four assists falling short of his 21st triple-double.

The Clips scored 23 points off 15 Thunder turnovers and also shot a tick under 55 percent while holding Oklahoma City to just 42.4 percent shooting.

“We had a hard time generating baskets,” Donovan said. “We certainly didn’t make enough shots.”

The Thunder have a day to rest up before taking on former teammate Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors who are coming off a 126-91 beat down of the defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Thunder are not practicing today so an update on Adams’ status is not expected before Wednesday morning’s shootaround.

Despite Adams' Injury Thunder Hold Off Kings For 122-118 Win

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter carried the Thunder through the first half and then Russell Westbrook took over in the last 24 minutes to lead the Thunder to a harder then it should have been 122-118 win over the Kings in Sacramento.

Steven Adams had to leave the game in the 3rd quarter when he got tangled up with Kings center DeMarcus Cousins and crashed to the floor, striking the back of his head on the court.

He has a possible concussion and will be re-evaluated before perhaps going into the NBA’s concussion protocol which would keep him out of tonight’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

The Thunder led by as many as 17 but nearly let the game get away from them late, giving up 39 4th quarter points to Sacramento. The Thunder led 114-102 with 1:23 to play but let that dozen point lead melt all the way down to just three points a minute later.

Oladipo and Alex Abrines hit four free throws in the closing seconds and Westbrook intercepted a Cousins pass and took the ball to the other end for a transition layup that secured the win with under five seconds to play.

“There are just so many things in that last 1:23 that will be incredible and invaluable teaching points to our guys,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “Fortunately enough, we won.”

“Give our guys credit. We stepped up and made free throws, which was really good,” Donovan continued. “But the offensive rebounding, the turnovers and fouling the shooters were things you can’t do closing out games.”

OKC turned the ball over three times during that stretch and of all things fouled Cousins when he was shooting a 3-pointer. He had been 1-for-6 on threes during the game but he made all three of those free throws.

But all’s well that ends well and like Donovan said the Thunder can learn from what happened coming down the stretch but still be happy they had enough in the tank to keep the Kings from winning.

Westbrook’s second half was amazing, scoring 25 points on 8-for-12 shooting (4-for-4 on threes) with seven rebounds and four assists. Adding in his 11-point, 4-rebound, 6-assist first half and he finished with his 20th triple-double of the season.

''Russell's second half was phenomenal. He was really efficient scoring and passing,'' Donovan said.

Kanter came in especially handy after Adams had to leave. He finished with 29 points (a season-high) and 12 rebounds. He was also 9-for-11 at the free throw line.

“He’s the best guy in the league coming off the bench and I appreciate and believe that because he does so many different things at a high level, rebound the basketball, scoring, defending well. He’s been doing that since I’ve been here and all season long,” Westbrook said. He continues to believe Kanter should be the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

“He was great tonight,” Donovan said of Kanter. “He did a really good job defensively. Cousins is a hard guy to defend when he’s coming at you like that and with his ability to shoot the ball. Enes played an exceptional game on both ends of the floor. I was pleased with the way he stepped up.”

Oladipo added 23 and Abrines finished with 13 points and was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc.

Still though, Donovan kept going back to the nightmare last couple of minutes of what had already been a bad 4th quarter, at least defensively.

''We allowed 39 points in the fourth quarter. We were fortunate we won. The things we did at the end of the game will get you beat.''

But this time on this night, the Thunder managed to win instead and hopefully carry some momentum into tonight’s game in Los Angeles against the Clippers.

 

 

 

 

Halfway Through, OKC Should Be Grateful

By A. Suave Francisco

The Oklahoma City Thunder have improved immensely over the span of 41 games. Right at the halfway point of the season, the Thunder have overachieved by many people's standards, and right where they should be according to others. After a tough loss Friday night to the Minnesota Timberwolves, they have a (24-17) record on the season. 

With that record, they are looking at 46-50 wins on the season, 46 on the low side, 50 on the high side. With consideration of the players OKC lost this summer, you have no choice but to be optimistic after the first half of the season. There are problems, but that's something we all knew would happen. Russell Westbrook has played out of his mind thus far, OKC's bench is much improved, and the Stache Bros. are playing on another level. 

The country is on notice, Russell Westbrook has had a historic season. Averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists, Westbrook may just be the best player in the NBA. His 19 triple-doubles in one season breaks the record for the most since the NBA/ABA merger, with 41 games to go. 

In addition to that, Russell continuously brings the best out of his teammates. He's making them all better and that's been the universal example of a great player. For example, let's mention Andre Roberson, a player that's never been and probably never will be a legitimate threat on the offensive end of the court. Well, he's averaging a career-high in points (6.9), rebounds (4.6), assists (1.0), and also blocks (1.0). He's also improved his already defensively stout play by ingraining his name into the NBA All-Defensive Team talk. 

The bench has played well individually but at the start of the season, you couldn't say that. When Westbrook leaves the game there's bound to be a slight let down, but as of late, it has only been slight. On a few occasions, they even made a comeback without Westbrook on the court. Enes Kanter has averaged All-Star numbers since the new year, including 14.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game this season, off the bench. 

Alex Abrines finally found his rhythm within the past month and has yet to look back. The problem early on in the season was the quickness and physicality of the game. That doesn't seem like a problem for this rookie, as he's already making an impact just 3 months into his NBA career. 

We've already addressed Kanter's play, but Steven Adams has been great as of late. After he signed that big $100 million contract, many questioned his work ethic during games due to some bad performances, but within the past month, Adams has played at an All-Star caliber level just like Kanter has. He's rebounded well and now averages 12.2 points (five points more than his career average), 7.6 rebounds, and the most impressive stat may be his free throw shooting which is at a career high 71.4 percent. 

The Thunder are seventh in the Western Conference but only one game out of fifth place. Even after a loss on the road to the struggling Timberwolves, it still feels like this team is trending in the right direction. There's an obvious test afoot, with five-of-six upcoming games on the road, featuring some pretty tough Western Conference opponents. 

Poor Second Half Sinks Thunder At Minnesota

By Randy Renner, Senior Writer

The problem that’s plagued the Thunder off and on all season hit them smack in the face again last night leading to a disappointing 96-86 loss at Minnesota.

Inconsistency is what we’re talking about.

Sometimes it’s a game to game problem, look good one game and then everything falls apart the next. Last night it was half to half.

In the first half the Thunder scored 50 points on 44 percent shooting. Russell Westbrook had 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting plus seven rebounds and seven assists.

In the second half though, the Thunder managed just 36 points on 32.4 percent shooting overall and 8.3 percent (1-for-12) on threes. Westbrook managed just five points on 1-for-13 shooting (0-for-7 on threes).

Minnesota broke loose with a 16-4 run midway through the 3rd quarter and then a knockout 13-0 run into the 4th quarter for 51 points on 47.6 percent shooting in the second half to secure the win. The T-Wolves also took advantage of 11 Thunder turnovers scoring 25 points off those givebacks in the 2nd half.

“We had an opportunity. It went back and forth there for a few minutes and the score was tied,” head coach Billy Donovan noted after the game. “They kind of broke it open there midway through the third and then going into the fourth.”

Westbrook finished with his 19th triple-double of the season (the most in a season since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976) with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. It’s just the fourth time this season the Thunder have lost when Westbrook records a triple-double.

Russ’ biggest problem was he actually had a quadruple-double because he also turned the ball over 10 times.

“They were just some miscues. They were my fault on my passes,” Westbrook admitted. “Some were open, some weren’t. It happens, I can take it.”

Say what you will about the Thunder superstar point guard but he’s never had a problem admitting when he hasn’t played as well as he should have and those turnovers certainly contributed to the loss and so did his shooting woes in the second half.

The trouble is, with this team, the Thunder pretty much need to have Westbrook play at an All-Star level all the time.

In the second half when he wasn’t at his best no one else stepped up to take over on the offensive end.

“The difference in the game for us offensively was on put backs, transition points at the rim and shots in the deep paint,” Donovan explained. “We left way too many points out there. That stuff comes back to concentration and focus and if you do miss them, being able to put those behind you and move to the next thing that is in front of you.”

Instead the offensive struggles lingered and began to impact the defense too.

“Over a period of time our offensive struggles started to wane into our defense a little bit,” Donovan said. “But for the most part I thought we defended pretty well.”

This was just the first of six straight road games for OKC. The Thunder head out west to play Sacramento, the Clippers and Golden State before returning home for a few days for practice then going back on the road to Utah and New Orleans before hosting Dallas on the 26th.