By Randy Renner
It was a very somber Thunder shoot-around this morning. Just the sounds of basketballs bouncing and sneakers squeaking on the court. No yelling, no laughing. Players and coaches just trying to get their work in and take some time to get lost in their thoughts.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant wanted to speak to reporters about assistant coach Monty Williams and his wife Ingrid but he barely began when he had to stop.
"Tried to think about what I was gonna say, but I just love Coach Monty so much," he said as he became choked with emotion and tears started to flow again. "I feel for him man, somebody we all love, I just don't know what to say man, I'm sorry."
And KD had to walk away.
Thunder shooting guard Anthony Morrow, who played for Williams in New Orleans, managed to get through a brief session with reporters and so did head coach Billy Donovan but both were clearly having a difficult time coming to grips with Tuesday's tragedy.
The Oklahoma City Police Department says three of the Williams' children were in the SUV with Mrs. Williams when the vehicle was struck head-on by a speeding car on Western Avenue in south Oklahoma City. The driver of that car died at the scene. Mrs. Williams and all three children were hospitalized Tuesday night with serious to critical injuries. Mrs. Williams died Wednesday. One of the children has been released from the hospital, the other two are still being treated for non-life threatening injuries.
The Thunder will hold a moment of silence before tonight's game against, ironically, the team Williams used to coach. Fans are being encouraged to drop off flowers and cards at the west side main entrance to Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans have a lot on their minds right now and very little of it has to do with basketball.
Most of you know by now of the tragedy both teams are dealing with. Ingrid Williams, the wife of formerPelicans head coach and current Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams died yesterday from injuries sustained Tuesday evening in a head-on crash in south Oklahoma City.
"The Thunder organization has heavy hearts tonight with the news of Ingrid's passing," the Thunder said in a statement released Wednesday evening. "Words cannot adequately describe how deep our sorrow is for the loss of Monty's wife. Our thoughts and prayers are with Monty and his family, and we will support him in every way possible.
"We know the entire community of Oklahoma City has them in their prayers."
The same could be said of the Pelicans, who expressed their condolences following Wednesday's 100-96 win over Utah.
"It's just really, really tough when you know a guy like Monty and what he's all about," coach Alvin Gentry said. "Then you realize that it's just a basketball game. That's all it is."
Pelicans star Anthony Davis became close with Williams and his family during his first three NBA seasons and commented on Twitter:
"Completely devastated. Ingrid Williams was like a 2nd mother to me when I got to NOLA. My thoughts & prayers are with Monty & the family."
And so that’s the backdrop for this game tonight, both teams last before the All-Star break.
After practice yesterday and before most members of the media knew what was going on with the Williams’ family, Thunder forward Nick Collison was asked about the continuing troubles the Thunder have had on defense and Collison admitted most of the issues seem to be rooted in a lack of focus.
“We’re not as focused as we need to be and without the focus it will lead to a bunch of different kinds of mistakes,” he said. “If we’re not at our absolute best it’s hard to stop NBA teams consistently.”
Head coach Billy Donovan agrees for the most part about that lack of constant focus.
“The challenging part for our guys is when we get into some of what I call gray areas, where a guy runs into a screen and he slips out, you know communicating and working through that. Or sometimes in pick and roll coverage you gotta switch late and sometimes maybe we don’t switch late, that’s the kind of stuff we have trouble with.”
Still the Thunder have managed to win 13 of their last 15 games and are averaging 112.4 points over that stretch, with Kevin Durant averaging 30.5 points over those 15 games. The superstar forward is scoring 36.3 per game over the last three after going for 32 on 11-for-21 shooting in OKC’s 122-106 Monday night win in Phoenix.
Durant's 27.8 season average is third in the league. He's averaged 30.5 points in his last 11 home meetings with New Orleans, but a strained left hamstring forced him to miss the Thunder’s 110-103 win over the Pels back in November. Davis didn’t play that night either and the Pelicans were also missing point guard Jrue Holiday.
Russell Westbrook took over the scoring load that night for the Thunder with 43 points while also grabbing nine rebounds and dishing eight assists in another near triple-double. He's had some of the best games of his career recently against the Pelicans, scoring at least 40 in each of the past three meetings while averaging and absurd 45.3 points on 56.0 percent shooting.
The Pelicans are maybe getting their act together again by winning two in a row after dropping four straight. Davis has totaled 46 points in those victories, hitting a running left-handed hook and a 3-pointer in the final minute to key Wednesday's win over Utah.
"I feel like as a leader of the team that's my responsibility," Davis said. "At some point in time, you've got to take over a game." The Thunder remember last season when Davis hit a miracle 3-ball over the outstretched arms of Durant to give the Pelicans a win that would ultimately lead to New Orleans making the playoffs instead of the Thunder.
Holiday had 21 points and nine assists against the Jazz, two days after getting 27 and nine in a 116-102 win at Minnesota.
The veteran guard shared his thoughts on the Williams' tragedy.
"The players that were here with Monty and their family definitely felt it," said Holiday, who spent two seasons under Williams. "Obviously we're all blessed to play the game of basketball but family comes before that. And I know most of the guys were thinking about our families, thinking about his family."
And so you have to wonder with as much trouble as the Thunder have had with their focus in recent games, how in the world are they going to be able to clear their heads and zero in on this game tonight?
It is after all, like Coach Gentry said last night, ‘just a game.’
And both the Thunder and the Pelicans are caught up in thinking about and dealing with a real life tragedy on a personal level.
Our thoughts and prayers are with them all.