Thunder D? It’s More Like Thunder D.O.A.

Thunder D? It’s More Like Thunder D.O.A.

I had to let some time pass before I wrote this one. I was heated when the Thunder dropped their 3rd straight game for the first time since their inaugural season in OKC. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

Spencer Hawes posts up against Serge Ibaka. Ibaka posted a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Hawes dropped 19 points for the Cavs.

Spencer Hawes posts up against Serge Ibaka. Ibaka posted a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Hawes dropped 19 points for the Cavs.

This was the 22-36 Cavaliers on the road to “The ‘Peake” against one of the NBA’s scariest teams to be forced to visit. This was the beginning of the ramp-up in schedule that was supposed to shake off the remaining court rust, and see a return to form. In short, this was supposed to be the Thunder’s “bounceback game”.

Tristan Thompson drives against Perry Jones. Thompson ended his night with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double.

Tristan Thompson drives against Perry Jones. Thompson ended his night with an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double.

Instead, what we saw was the Thunder’s love for jump shooting turn a 7-point lead in the opening seconds of the 4th into a 10-point loss (114-104) that gives the Cavs their 23rd win of the season, while dropping the Thunder to 43-15.

Russell Westbrook pops one over Thompson. Westbrook finished with 24 points.

Russell Westbrook pops one over Thompson. Westbrook finished with 24 points.

Their love for jump shooting wasn’t even the real killer. What ended their chances at a win on Wednesday night was another lackluster defensive performance that saw the Thunder’s opponent eclipse the 100-point mark for the 3rd straight game, which not coincidentally have all resulted in losses. And the defense was actually doing rather well until the 4th quarter. That last quarter saw the Thunder give up 42 points in a less-than-12-minute span. And this was against a team that not only has found the approach to 25 wins vastly difficult, but was forced to play Wednesday night’s game without 3 of their top performers.

Luol Deng with the lay-in attempt. Deng finished with 13 points for the evening.

Luol Deng with the lay-in attempt. Deng finished with 13 points for the evening.

Anderson Varejao understandably didn’t want to run the risk of further damaging his already sore back, C.J. Miles was nursing a left ankle sprain, and Dion Waiters was obviously going to miss some serious time after hyperextending his left knee. Although, to be fair, the Thunder were missing Kendrick Perkins, who suffered a left groin strain during the game against the Clippers. (Believe me when I say even a strain sucks when it comes to the groin. Any injury that’s to the groin will render the task of walking rather difficult.) Now a lot of Thunder fans hear “Perkins” and go, “Well, that’s not a big deal. He’s probably the one starter that we could actually afford to lose, so big rookie Steven Adams can get some experience.” I was of the same school of thought until a very interesting statistic from the game notes caught my eye.

Ibaka shoots over Hawes.

Ibaka shoots over Hawes.

The Thunder have played 4 games this season without Perkins in the lineup. They are officially winless in those 4 games. That stat, if anything, should prove the value of Perkins on the defensive end of the court. He’ll always be an offensive liability, as he is just a clumsy shooter. The thing is, Thunder fans tend to underrate Perkins’ value at the defensive end. He’s a lot like Nick Collison in the fact that he doesn’t do a lot of stuff that shows up on stat sheets, but he provides a big body in the paint that tends to be a very physical and disruptive force to opposing offenses. But unlike Collison, he also brings a trash-taking, you-are-my-sworn-enemy style of psychological defense that can really throw opposing big men off of their game when it’s at its most effective. Winning without Perkins is a puzzle the Thunder have not been able to successfully solve even once this season. They’re going to be forced to figure it out now if they don’t want the slide to continue, seeing as Perkins is more than likely going to remain sidelined for the foreseeable future.

Kevin Durant over Deng. Durant ended the night with a 28-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Kevin Durant over Deng. Durant ended the night with a 28-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Offensively, the Thunder are doing what they normally do, and even better in some areas. Kevin Durant posted a 28-point, 10-rebound double-double that was a mere 1 assist shy of being a triple-double. Serge Ibaka had a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double of his own, and Russell Westbrook added 24 points while being a mere 1 assist shy of a double-double himself. The problem for the Thunder was that they didn’t really get much outside of their big three, as not one bench player was able to manage double digits in any stat category.

Kyrie Irving lays it in as Ibaka trails. Irving's 31-points led all scorers to take the floor.

Kyrie Irving lays it in as Ibaka trails. Irving’s 31-points led all scorers to take the floor.

The Cavs didn’t get much from their bench either. The thing is, when all 5 starters hit double digits in points, the bench production can be rendered unnecessary. Tristan Thompson only managed 11 points, but pulled off a double-double due to his 11 rebounds. Kyrie Irving led all scorers to take the floor with his 31 points, while being yet another player to end his night one assist shy of a double-double. Jarrett Jack contributed 21 points himself, while Spencer Hawes dropped 19. Luol Deng rounded out their starters’ productive night with 13 points.

Thabo Sefolosha attempts to shoot over Jarrett Jack. Jack finished the game with 21 points.

Thabo Sefolosha attempts to shoot over Jarrett Jack. Jack finished the game with 21 points.

The Thunder need to figure out how to play defense without Perkins. This is the second straight game that saw the Thunder give up a 40+-point quarter defensively. I don’t see how they expect to win any games if the defense is going to continue to go AWOL for such long stretches.

Hawes tries the floater over Reggie Jackson.

Hawes tries the floater over Reggie Jackson.

They will officially welcome the Grizzlies to town tonight, as they start the back-end of a 6-game home stretch that could really use a Thunder victory at this point. We’ve seen a back-and-forth season series between these two teams thus far. The Dec. 11th matchup saw the Thunder win 116-100 as they took advantage of Marc Gasol’s absence. The Jan. 14th contest saw the Grizzlies take advantage of a returning Gasol and an absent Westbrook as they took it 90-87. The Feb. 3rd affair saw the Thunder overcome the absence of Westbrook as they pulled off an 86-77 victory that gives them the current 2-1 season-series lead. The Grizzlies will be looking to end this series in a 2-2 split, while the Thunder hope to take the series outright by a 3-1 margin. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

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Thunder Play Well, Yet Still Outplayed By Red-Hot Clippers.

Thunder Play Well, Yet Still Outplayed By Red-Hot Clippers.

I’ve never seen a scoreboard explode like that. Crazy amounts of buckets were being racked up by both squads, and it was a fun one to watch. Although the Clippers were missing 3-point specialist J.J. Redick due to a bulging disk in his lower back, it quickly became obvious that his scoring ability would not be needed in this contest.

JJ. Redick during a media day for the Clippers. He did not dress yesterday due to a bulging disc in his lower back.

JJ. Redick during a media day for the Clippers. He did not dress yesterday due to a bulging disc in his lower back.

The Clippers opened the game on a 12-2 run, then the Thunder immediately responded with a 5-0 run of their own to close the Clipper lead to 5 (12-7) with 7:14 to play in the 1st.  The Clipper lead was at 7 (17-10) with 6:27 left in the quarter when the Thunder opened up another run (this one an 11-2 run) to take their first lead of the game (21-19) with 4:45 remaining in the opening period. The Clippers had reestablished a 3-point lead (28-25) with 2:09 to go in the opening quarter, when the Thunder sparked yet another run that extended into the 2nd period. The Thunder run was still active at 7-0 when the 1st expired, closing out the quarter with a 4-point Thunder lead (32-28).

Thabo Sefolosha talks with Russell Westbrook as  Serge Ibaka rests in the background. Ibaka was good for 20 points yesterday, as Sefolosha added 10 of his own. Westbrook finshed his second game back in nearly two months with 13 points.

Thabo Sefolosha talks with Russell Westbrook as Serge Ibaka rests in the background. Ibaka was good for 20 points yesterday, as Sefolosha added 10 of his own. Westbrook finished his second game back in nearly two months with 13 points.

The Thunder run finally ended at 13-2, pushing the Thunder lead to what would be, unbeknownst to them at the time, their largest of the game at 8 (38-30) with 10:28 remaining in the first half. 40-32 at the 9:28 mark was the last 8-point Thunder advantage, as the Clippers proceeded to open up an impressive 11-0 run of their own to reclaim a 3-point advantage (43-40) with 6:57 to go until halftime. The Clippers were barely clutching a 1-point lead (46-45) halfway through the 2nd quarter, when the Thunder created another run. The 11-3 run they were able to generate swung the lead back in the Thunder’s favor (56-49) with 4:22 to play in the half. As if they were cued to do so, the Clippers responded with a 5-0 run to pull within 2 (56-54), while taking less than a full minute off of the clock (3:25 left on the game clock). The Thunder tried their best to hold the Clippers off, still clutching a 2-point advantage (61-59) with 2:11 left until halftime. I guess the Clippers were just destined to end the first half on an insane flurry, as they sparked a red-hot 12-3 run to claim an 8-point advantage of their own (72-64) with a mere 9.8 seconds remaining on the game clock. Kevin Durant was able to cut the Clipper lead to 6 before the half with a jumper, but the damage was done, as the Clippers went into halftime with a 72-66 advantage. This quarter had every bit of the feel of an evenly contested quarter, featuring not only 3 ties and 3 lead changes, but also featuring a maximum lead of 8 for both teams. In hindsight, however, this was the quarter that did the damage to the Thunder. Despite scoring 34 points as a team, they were outscored a full 10 by the Clippers. This means they allowed 44 points from the Clippers in this one 12-minute period.

Chris Paul takes the ball upcourt. Paul posted an 18-point, 12-assist double-double yesterday.

Chris Paul takes the ball upcourt. Paul posted an 18-point, 12-assist double-double yesterday.

The 3rd quarter began with the Thunder closing a 6-0 scoring run started off by the Durant jumper that closed the first half, pulling them within 2 (72-70) with 11:02 to play in the 3rd. The Thunder were still within one possession at the 8:50 mark (80-77), when the Clippers opened up their largest run of the game; a 15-3 run that also gave the Clippers what would be their largest lead of the game at 15 (95-80) with a mere 2:14 left in the 3rd quarter. The Thunder had no intentions of going away quietly, however, as they ended the quarter on an active 13-4 run that saw them trailing 99-93 heading into the final quarter.

Matt Barnes tries to take the charge from Kevin Durant as Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan look on. Durant finished with a 42-point, 10-assist double-double, while Jordan posted an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double of his own. Barnes chipped in 24 points, and Griffin added 20 for the Clippers.

Matt Barnes tries to take the charge from Kevin Durant as Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan look on. Durant finished with a 42-point, 10-assist double-double, while Jordan posted an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double of his own. Barnes chipped in 24 points, and Griffin added 20 for the Clippers.

The 4th quarter was not lacking in drama either, as the Thunder run completed at 18-4, pulling them within 1 (99-98) with 9:52 to play. Then a tense back-and-forth ensued all the way up to the 4:29 mark, with the Clippers still clinging to a 3-point advantage (112-109). That’s when the Thunder hit what would be their final run of the game. This was a 6-0 run that gave the Thunder a 3-point lead, and a chance to close the game with a victory. That victory was not to be for the Thunder, as two untimely misses by Durant at the free throw line were the true symbols of the kind of day the Thunder were set to experience. Despite playing a pretty solid game all-around, the Clippers were just red-hot to close it out, ending the game on a 16-5 run that gave them a 125-117 victory once the final buzzer sounded. This win improves the Clippers to 38-20, while dropping the Thunder to 43-14. This win also gives the Clippers a 2-1 season-series edge.

Durant beats Jordan to the rim.

Durant beats Jordan to the rim.

Durant had a solid 42-point, 10 assist double double. This 40+-point performance marks his 9th of the season. Serge Ibaka had 20 points, although he was held scoreless in the 4th. Russell Westbrook dropped 13 points in his second game back since Christmas Day, and Thabo Sefolosha added 10 points of his own. Even Derek Fisher logged 15 points off of the Thunder bench, going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. I mean, the Thunder totalled 117 points as a unit. Normally when they have that kind of production, they’re winning by 15 or more. Yesterday just wasn’t in the cards for them, especially when the Clippers had Jamal Crawford hitting shots despite having zero space and hands all in his face.

Jamal Crawford goes one-on-one with Derek Fisher. Crawford's 36 points led the Clippers, as Fisher dropped 15 from the Thunder bench.

Jamal Crawford goes one-on-one with Derek Fisher. Crawford’s 36 points led the Clippers, as Fisher dropped 15 from the Thunder bench.

Crawford’s 36 points easily led the Clippers, but not to be lost in all of the red-hot offense emerged two impressive double-double performances. One was posted by the usual suspect, as Chris Paul ended his night with 18 points and 12 assists. The other really didn’t come as much of a shock either, as DeAndre Jordan finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Matt Barnes’ 24 points, and Blake Griffin’s 20 points ensured that every Clipper starter’s presence was felt. I would say the bench’s presence was completely unnecessary, but if you take away every one of the Clippers’ bench points, this game turns into a 1-point Thunder victory. Therefore, the 9 bench points scored by the Clippers actually spelled the difference between victory and defeat. If that isn’t proof that every made bucket is vital to improving your chances of victory, then I’m not sure if said proof is possible to obtain at all.

Jordan with the easy bucket.

Jordan with the easy bucket.

The Thunder get a couple of days to lick their wounds after dropping their second-straight at home for only the second time this season. Although I’m not really all that shocked that they’re taking a minute to get back into the swing of things. Quite frankly, no one else should be either. They went from a stretch where they played 18 games in a 31-day span, to a stretch of only 2 games in a 12-day span. Not only that, but they’ve been trying to rework Westbrook into the rotation over those two games in question. I have no doubts that the Thunder will settle down, and get things figured out as the schedule ramps up heading into March. The ramp-up begins Wednesday evening, as the Thunder welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers to OKC for the first match-up of the season between these two teams. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm CST, and the game will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Heat Scorch Thunder As James Leaves Game Due To Probable Broken Nose

Heat Scorch Thunder As James Leaves Game Due To Probable Broken Nose

In terms of the game itself, there isn’t much to talk about. While there should be, seeing as last night marked the return of Russell Westbrook, the Heat pretty much dominated from start to finish. The Thunder started with a 4-0 advantage that would be the last one they’d see. Once the Heat took over, it was a done deal.

Chris Bosh celebrates via high-five. Bosh finished with 24 points.

Chris Bosh celebrates via high-five. Bosh finished with 24 points.

The game result was a 103-81 smackdown that drops the Thunder’s record to 43-13, while improving the Heat to 39-14. This also ends the season series in a 1-1 split.

Russell Westbrook with the emphatic dunk. Westbrook dropped 16 points in his return.

Russell Westbrook with the emphatic dunk. Westbrook dropped 16 points in his return.

The big story of the night was supposed to be the return of Russell Westbrook, but the story ended up being just how out of sync the Thunder looked all night. They finished 2-for-20 from beyond the arc, and didn’t even seem like they could get much going when they attacked the basket. In a way, I’m not really surprised. Not only was Westbrook returning to the court for the first time in nearly two months, the Thunder were taking the court as a unit for the first time in an entire week. Court rust and lack of chemistry were simply to be expected. The most telling stat? The Thunder had a 30-point 2nd quarter, but failed to score 20 points in any of the other three.

Serge Ibaka with the rim-rocker. Ibaka finished the game with 14 points.

Serge Ibaka with the rim-rocker. Ibaka finished the game with 14 points.

Although we did see an interesting (although a bit gruesome) development when LeBron James finished a dunk against Serge Ibaka, then hit the floor writhing in pain. I, like most Thunder fans, thought he was simply trying to sell another foul. Then when he lifted his head up, and you could see the blood dripping profusely from his nose, you knew it wasn’t a simple flop on LeBron’s part. The injury is being referred to as a “nosebleed”, and that James will be further evaluated back in Miami. I’m sorry, but a simple “nosebleed” doesn’t just pour out of someone’s face like that. It looked very similar to the type of bleeding you see from UFC fighters who have had their bells rung. I’ve been in boxing for a long time. I know broken noses when I see them, and I just don’t see how this could be anything else. James must have been riding a huge wave of adrenaline to finish that dunk.

LeBron James with one of his several dunks on the evening. James' 33 points led all scorers.

LeBron James with one of his several dunks on the evening. James’ 33 points led all scorers.

I suppose you could always take a look for yourself, and draw your own conclusion.

Kevin Durant’s 28 points led the Thunder, followed by Westbrook’s 16, and Ibaka’s 14. Other than that, no real Thunder offense of which to speak.

Kevin Durant shoots over Chris Anderson. Durant had a rough night, but still managed 28 points.

Kevin Durant shoots over Chris Anderson. Durant had a rough night, but still managed 28 points.

James’ 33 points led all scorers, despite the injury. Chris Bosh dropped 24 points, and Dwayne Wade’s 24 points also came with 10 assists. The 8-man rotation has been working very well for the Heat as of late.

Dwayne Wade skys. Wade posted the only double-double of the night with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Dwayne Wade skys. Wade posted the only double-double of the night with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

This game was the start of a 6-game home stretch, so at least the Thunder can figure out how to get back into the groove of things in friendly territory. Their next matchup will see another Sunday “High Noon Showdown”, this one against the Clippers. Their season series is currently deadlocked at 1 game apiece, as the Clippers claimed a 111-103 victory at Staples Center back on Nov. 13th, only to lose 105-91 a mere eight days later at “The ‘Peake”. This Noon matchup will be the opening game in ABC’s double-header, or you can catch the national broadcast via ESPN Radio. You can also catch the local broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal.

4th Quarter Lakers Collapse Allows Thunder To Avoid Major Upset

4th Quarter Lakers Collapse Allows Thunder To Avoid Major Upset

To be honest, it was perfectly understandable why the Thunder looked sluggish and a bit off for the first 3 quarters. You’re talking about a team with the NBA’s best record taking on a team with the NBA’s 5th worst record. (And whoever thought the Lakers would be considered a “bad team”?) It’s just hard to get yourself geared up for games you’re expected to dominate.

Derek Fisher squares off with Kendall Marshall. Marshall finished with an impressive 14-point, 17-assist double-double, as Fisher ended his night with 12  points off of the Thunder bench.

Former Laker, Derek Fisher squares off with Kendall Marshall. Marshall finished with an impressive 14-point, 17-assist double-double, as Fisher ended his night with 12 points off of the Thunder bench.

It’s weird how, at one point, Thunder-Lakers became a huge rivalry that everyone in OKC really began to focus on, mainly due to the opening round Game 6 heartbreaker that finished the Thunder’s first-ever postseason run of the OKC era. OKC fans really held a grudge on that one, as the “[expletive deleted] the Lakers!” t-shirts and banners appeared in full force the following season.

Kevin Durant drives past Wesley Johnson. Durant's 41 points led all scorers, as he also pulled in 12 boards. Johnson's 19 points tied for leading scorer with Chris Kaman.

Kevin Durant drives past Wesley Johnson. Durant’s 41 points led all scorers, as he also pulled in 12 boards. Johnson’s 19 points tied for leading scorer with Chris Kaman.

What’s even weirder is how this season has unfolded thus far. The Lakers are now so injury-riddled that they had a grand total of two guards available for last night’s game. One of them, Steve Blake, was even playing with essentially one arm due to an elbow injury. It’s actually gotten to the point where a lot of Thunder fans’ animosity towards the Lakers is beginning to turn into pure pity for their situation.

Steve Blake shoots, as Thabo Sefolosha gets to the perimeter too late. Blake finished with 13 points.

Steve Blake shoots, as Thabo Sefolosha gets to the perimeter too late. Blake finished with 13 points.

What’s even weirder is how the Trail Blazers have stepped up their game to the point where Thunder-Blazers is starting to look like the more enticing rivalry. Before the season started, the Thunder had beaten the Blazers in 8 consecutive games. This year’s season-series ended in a 2-2 split. And yet, the most surprising stat to take out of that series is how every team that won had to battle back from a double-digit deficit to claim the victory. If these two teams lock horns again in the playoffs, it could end up being the NBA Playoffs’ most competitive series.

Serge Ibaka narrowly misses blocking Johnson's shot from behind. Ibaka posted 10 points in last night's contest.

Serge Ibaka narrowly misses blocking Johnson’s shot from behind. Ibaka posted 10 points in last night’s contest.

You could tell the Thunder just weren’t really charged up for this one. The Lakers started the game on a 9-2 run, then the Thunder scored 6 unanswered points to pull within 1 (9-8) with 6:51 remaining in the 1st. Then the Lakers hit another run of 13-5 that brought their lead to 9 (22-13) with 2:51 to play in the 1st. The score was a mere 24-17 for the Lakers after 1. Yes, the Thunder managed 17 total points in the 1st quarter.

Shawne Williams pops one over Durant. illiams finished the game with 15 points.

Shawne Williams pops one over Durant. Williams finished the game with 15 points.

The Thunder had managed to pull within 4 (28-24) with 9:27 to play in the half, when the Lakers started yet another run, this one a 9-1 run that established a 12-point Laker lead (37-25) with 7:10 left on the clock. The Thunder then opened up a 14-7 run to pull within 5 (44-39) with 2:34 to go until halftime. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Lakers were able to bring their lead back to 9 (54-45) at the break.

Kaman over Ibaka as Regie Jackson loks on. Jackson was good for 16 points last night.

Kaman over Ibaka as Reggie Jackson looks on. Kaman posted a 19-point, 12-rebound performance, while Jackson was good for 16 points last night.

It looked like the Thunder were starting to get their act together in the 3rd, with both teams trading buckets throughout the vast majority of it. The Laker lead was still 10 (77-67), when the Blazers pulled off a mini-run of 5-0 to establish what would be their largest lead of the game (82-67) with less than a minute to play in the 3rd. It was around this point that Perry Jones was forced back to the locker room with a limp. He did not return. As promising a scorer as he is from the 5 position, most NBA analysts don’t expect his knees to hold up any longer than 4 years tops. Last night’s injury (which is still unspecified at this point) didn’t help that perception. The Thunder then pulled off their largest run yet, starting as a 5-0 run to end the 3rd, and pulling back within 10 (82-72) to start the 4th quarter.

Ibaka returns the favor on Kaman.

Ibaka answers back on Kaman.

The Lakers opened the 4th with a 3-pointer, and then subsequently disappeared, as the Thunder run that started at the end of the 3rd turned into a 25-5 run that established the Thunder’s first (and largest) lead of the game (92-87) with 5:45 to go in the 4th. The Lakers did not plan on going away quietly, however, as they used a 5-0 run to tie the game at 92-all with 4:53 to play. The Thunder had managed to pull their lead back to 5 (103-98) with 1:33 left in the game. Chris Kaman scored the next 4 points to bring the Lakers to within 1 (103-102). He was even fouled on his last made bucket where he shook Serge Ibaka straight out of his shoes, so he had a chance to hit the “and 1” to tie the game. Now, I’ve never known Scott Brooks to be an Xs and Os guy, but it is definitely beginning to look like where he likes to focus his strategy is on lineup tinkering, and mind games. As Kaman went to the line, Brooks basically pulled the NBA equivalent of “icing the kicker”, initiating a last-minute substitution to give Kaman extra time to think about his potential game-tying free throw. Kaman paced to half-court, and on his way back to the line was looking a bit irked when the substitution was taking longer than he expected. By the time Kaman finally took the free throw, the frustration had clearly taken its toll, as an over-adrenalized Kaman put too much on it, and bounced it off of the back of the rim and out. That forced the Lakers to foul, allowing a former Laker by the name of Derek Fisher 2 free throws to extend the lead to 3 (105-102). Blake was then forced to the line, and subsequently missed his first attempt. Although it looked as though he were intentionally trying to miss the second shot, it dropped, cutting the Thunder lead to 2 (105-103). When another intentional foul resulted in 2 made Kevin Durant free throws, the door on the Lakers’ comeback chances was finally slammed shut with 11.6 on the game clock, and the resulting 107-103 score would end up as the final. This win puts the Thunder at an NBA-best 43-12 for the season, while dropping the Lakers to an incredibly dismal 18-35. This marks the Lakers’ 7th consecutive home loss, which sets a new franchise record.

Durant looking like one of the slam dunk contestants.

Durant looking like one of the slam dunk contestants.

Durant had a 43-point, 12-rebound double-double last night, marking the 8th game this year he’s dropped 40+. That currently leads the NBA. He also now leads 2nd place Carmelo Anthony in terms of points scored by 361 points, marking the first time the leading scorer outpaced #2 by 350 or more in the past 41 seasons. To put that in perspective, the Sonics earned their lone NBA Championship within that span. Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points last night, as Ibaka dropped 10 of his own. Fisher and Jeremy Lamb combined for 23 points off of the Thunder bench (Fisher: 12, Lamb: 11).

Jeremy Lamb lays one over Jordan Hill. Lamb finished with 11 points from the Thunder bench, as Hill ended his night with 10 off of the Laker bench.

Jeremy Lamb lays one over Jordan Hill. Lamb finished with 11 points from the Thunder bench, as Hill ended his night with 10 off of the Lakers bench.

All but two of the dressed players for the Lakers finished in double digits, seeing as there was no one to really sub in. Kaman had a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double, as Wesley Matthews chipped in 19 points of his own. Kendall Marshall played serious facilitator last night with his 17-assist, 14-point double double. Shawne Williams added 15 points, while Blake was able to manage 13 points with mostly one arm. Jordan Hill contributed 10 points off of the Lakers bench.

Fisher going for that celebratory high-five.

Fisher going for that celebratory high-five.

Now we head into NBA All-Star Weekend, and there isn’t another Thunder game on the schedule until they play host to the Heat on Feb. 20th. The first Thunder-Heat contest was one of the more odd ones this season, as the Heat jumped out to an insane 22-4 lead early, only to wind up losing by a score of 112-95. If the Heat can’t get it done in OKC, they’ll wind up losing the season series outright, as this is the final game of the season between these two squads. And the good news is that Russell Westbrook looks like he should be ready to go by tip-off, which is scheduled for 7pm CST. This game will actually be on the front-end of the TNT double-header for a change, and also will be nationally broadcast via ESPN Radio. Local radio coverage will be provided by WWLS The Sports Animal.

Aldridge’s Second-Half Cool-Off Dooms The Trail Blazers As 13-Point Lead Slips Away

Aldridge’s Second-Half Cool-Off Dooms The Trail Blazers As 13-Point Lead Slips Away

I’m not sure what it is with these Blazer games, but I get this feeling that, despite last night’s win, the Blazers are a team the Thunder may want to avoid outright in the playoffs. This is the one team I’ve seen repeatedly this season that the Thunder just can not blow open a double-digit lead against.

This pic has nearly every significant contributor on both teams in frame. Brook Lopez gets a piece of Reggie Jackson's shot as (from left to right) Jeremy Lamb, Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nick Collison, Nicolas Batum, Kevin Durant, and Damien Lillard watch. Durant poted a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double, as Jackson finished with 17 points. Lamb's 19 from the bench made him the game's second-leading scorer behind Durant. Lopez was good for a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double, as Aldridge claimed a 12-point 12-rebound double-double of his own. Batum's 18 points led the Blazers, as Lilliard chipped in 16, and Matthews contributed 11.

This pic has nearly every significant contributor on both teams in frame. Robin Lopez gets a piece of Reggie Jackson’s shot as (from left to right) Jeremy Lamb, Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nick Collison, Nicolas Batum, Kevin Durant, and Damian Lillard watch. Durant posted a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double, as Jackson finished with 17 points. Lamb’s 19 from the bench made him the game’s second-leading scorer behind Durant. Lopez was good for a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double, as Aldridge claimed a 12-point, 12-rebound double-double of his own. Batum’s 18 points led the Blazers, as Lillard chipped in 16, and Matthews contributed 11.

At the 9:19 mark of the 1st quarter, it was 4-all. That’s when a 15-2 run for the Blazers established a 13-point lead (19-6) with 4:03 to play in the 1st. With the Thunder still down 11 (22-11) and 2:06 left in the 1st the Thunder established an 10-3 run that went into the second quarter. The score at the end of 1 was 25-19.

Aldridge pops one over Serge Ibaka. Ibaka claimed 11 boards last night.

Aldridge pops one over Serge Ibaka. Ibaka claimed 11 boards last night.

The run ended with 11:32 to play in the half, bringing the Thunder to within 4 (25-21). With 7:27 on the game clock, and the Blazer lead at 5 (39-34), the Thunder sparked another run, this one a 7-0 run to give them their first lead of the game (41-39) with an even 5:00 until halftime. The Thunder lead was 43-41 with 3:44 in the half, when the Blazers ended the 2nd on a 14-2 run that reestablished a 10-point halftime lead for the Blazers (55-45).

Aldridge with the tough shot over Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

Aldridge with the tough shot over Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.

Oddly enough, there were really no large runs in the 3rd by either team. The 3rd just featured the Thunder slowly, but surely chipping away at the Blazer lead, until it was completely eliminated heading into the 4th quarter (80-all).

Lamb with the drive to the hoop.

Lamb with the drive to the hoop.

The 4th quarter was a pretty tight one the whole way. With the score 84-80 in the Blazers favor, and 7:46 to play, the Thunder spark a 7-0 run to give them what was at the time their largest lead of the game (87-84). Then the Blazers subsequently pull off a 5-0 run to take back the lead (89-87) with 5:45 left in the game. The rest of the game was pure “grind-it-out” basketball. Every time the Blazers scored, the Thunder would immediately answer at the other end. And the Thunder’s last answer sealed the deal for them, as a Jeremy Lamb 3-pointer claimed a 1-point Thunder lead (96-95) with 1:38 left. The only other points came off of two Reggie Jackson free throws, and the win was academic. This puts the Thunder at 42-12 for the season, while dropping the Blazers to 36-16. This win also ends the season series in a 2-2 split.

Jackson serves Batum.

Jackson serves Batum.

Kevin Durant does it again with a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double. Jackson added 17 points himself. And although Serge Ibaka didn’t double in points, he claimed 11 boards. Lamb’s 19 points off of the bench was actually good for second-leading scorer to take the floor, which is very impressive for a bench player.

Durant shoots over Batum.

Durant shoots over Batum.

All five Blazers starters hit double-figures in scoring, and two even double-doubled. LaMarcus Aldridge is almost always good for a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds), but he ended his night on 5-for-22 shooting, including a dismal 0-for-9 in the second half. Robin Lopez had a better night with his 17 points and 14 rebounds. Nicolas Batum’s 18 points led the team, while Damian Lillard dropped 16 points, and Wesley Matthews added 11. Even CJ McCollum was good for 15 points off of the Blazer bench.

Collison defends Lillard, but look closely, and you'll see CJ McCollum in the background. He was good for 15 points off of the Blazer bench.

Collison defends Lillard. But look closely, and you’ll see CJ McCollum in the background. He was good for 15 points off of the Blazer bench.

Next the Thunder travel to the famed Staples Center in Los Angeles to square off against the Lakers. The Thunder took the last meeting in OKC by a score of 122-97. This poor Lakers squad has been riddled with injuries all season long, and it’s quite honestly hard for me to see them beating the Thunder when they’re so short-handed. They currently have seven players on the injured list (roughly half of the entire squad): Kobe Bryant (fractured left knee), Pau Gasol (strained right groin), Jordan Farmar (hamstring soreness), Xavier Henry (right knee bone bruise),  Nick Young (left knee fracture and bone bruise), Jodie Meeks (sprained right ankle),  although Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) is currently listed as probable. The game will be featured as the back-end of TNT’s double-header, with expected tip-off at 9:30 CST. Not near a TV, or on the road? No problem. WWLS The Sports Animal has your game action covered.

Durant Dominates In Match-Up Between Two Leading Scorers

Durant Dominates In Match-Up Between Two Leading Scorers

The last time these teams faced off on Christmas Day, Russell Westbrook became the 5th player in NBA history to post a Christmas Day triple-double, as the Thunder dominated 123-94. Following that game, Westbrook’s knee swelled to the point that he became very concerned. He was subsequently diagnosed with knee effusion (water on the knee), and opted for surgery to correct the issue. The surgery went off without a hitch, but Westbrook was told he needed to rest, and that he would be reevaluated once the NBA All-Star break came around.

Is that Scott Brooks on the whiteboard? Maybe he is getting the hang of the Xs and Os to this game.

Is that Scott Brooks on the whiteboard? Maybe he is getting the hang of the Xs and Os to this game.

Carmelo Anthony was out of the Christmas Day game with a sprained left ankle. He would, however, be suiting up for yesterday’s affair. Hence, the storyline was pretty well set in stone: The NBA’s top two scorers were going head-to-head. And this time, the Thunder were going to have to get it done without Westbrook.

This picture pretty much shows the story of the game. Carmelo Anthony struggled, posting only 15 points. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was 1 assist shy of a triple-double (41 points, 10 boards, 9 assists), and Kendrick Perkins pulled down 11 rebounds of his own.

This picture pretty much shows the story of the game. Carmelo Anthony struggled, posting only 15 points. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant was 1 assist shy of a triple-double (41 points, 10 boards, 9 assists), and Kendrick Perkins pulled down 11 rebounds of his own.

The game itself was actually very tight throughout the first half. The 1st quarter brought us 1 tie and 5 lead changes, with the largest lead being 3 for the Thunder, and 5 for the Knicks. The lead at the end of the quarter belonged to the Thunder by 1, 29-28.

Amar'e Stoudemire tries to put one through as Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka ump to meet him. Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson and Raymond Felton look on. Stoudemire, Felton, and Ibaka all finished with 16 points apiece, while Jackson's 19 outscored them all.

Amar’e Stoudemire tries to put one through as Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka jump to meet him. Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson and Raymond Felton look on. Stoudemire, Felton, and Ibaka all finished with 16 points apiece, while Jackson’s 19 outscored them all.

I would say the pull-away started in the 2nd, with the Knicks largest (and final) lead only being 1 (35-34) at the 9:26 mark. Yet, the Thunder were only able to open up a maximum lead of 6 points (46-40 at the 5:32 mark) throughout the entirety of the 2nd. The Thunder did maintain a 5-point lead to take into halftime (58-53).

Jeremy Tyler shoots over Steven Adams. Tyler finished with 10 points from the Knicks bench.

Jeremy Tyler shoots over Steven Adams. Tyler finished with 10 points from the Knicks bench.

The 3rd is where the real separation started. The Knicks were able to pull within 1 (61-60) with 9:39 to play in the 3rd. At this point,  the Thunder decided they’d had enough, and opened up a 15-4 run that extended the Thunder lead to 12 (76-64) with 5:54 remaining in the 3rd. The Knicks tried as hard as they could to cut into the lead, but it was still at 8 (86-78) when the 3rd expired.

Jackson drives around Iman Shumpert. Shumpert ended his night with 12 points.

Jackson drives around Iman Shumpert. Shumpert ended his night with 12 points.

A little bit of back-and-forth started the 4th quarter, and the Knicks even closed the lead to 6 (92-86) with 8:29 to play. Then a Thunder run of 13-4 effectively closed the door on the Knicks’ chances, as the Thunder lead was extended to 15 (105-90) with a mere 2:48 to play. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Thunder claimed a 112-100 victory that puts their record at 41-12, while dropping the Knicks to 20-31. This win also completed the season series sweep for the Thunder.

Ibaka with the block on Tyson Chandler. Chandler had 12 points on the evening.

Ibaka with the block on Tyson Chandler. Chandler had 12 points on the evening.

Kevin Durant was actually just 1 assist shy of a triple-double (41 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists). But, the fact that he earned 9 assists means other players were getting the job done as well. Every Thunder starter managed to double in at least one category, with Reggie Jackson dropping 19 points, Serge Ibaka hitting 16, and Thabo Sefolosha adding 12. Even Kendrick Perkins pulled down 11 boards, and Derek Fisher was able to drop 10 points off of the Thunder bench.

Thabo Sefolosha takes 3 of his 12 points total for the game.

Thabo Sefolosha takes 3 of his 12 points total for the game.

‘Melo obviously had an off night, scoring a mere 15 points off of 5-for-19 shooting. Raymond Felton’s 16 was enough to outscore him, as Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert dropped 12 points apiece. Amar’e Stoudemire’s 16 points off of the bench even outscored ‘Melo, and Jeremy Tyler added 10 more bench points for the Knicks.

Derek Fisher was good for 10 points off of the Thunder bench.

Derek Fisher was good for 10 points off of the Thunder bench.

Now the Thunder take to the road before the All-Star break, heading to Moda Center in Portland for a final showdown with the Trail Blazers. This has probably been one of the most interesting Northwest Division matchups, as the Blazers took the first two games of the series: The first being a 111-104 heartbreaker at Moda Center back on Dec. 4th, and the second being a 105-97 loss on Dec. 31st at “The ‘Peake” that marked their first New Year’s Eve loss of the OKC era. The Thunder have since claimed a 105-97 victory at “The ‘Peake” on Jan. 21st, but need one more to keep the Blazers from taking the season series outright. Tip-off is scheduled for 9pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Thunder Squander Another 17-Point Lead Due To “Magical” Dunk

Thunder Squander Another 17-Point Lead Due To “Magical” Dunk

I think Aaron Afflalo described it better than anyone: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dunk game-winner with no time on the clock. That’s kind of hard to do even if you try to set it up.”

Aaron Afflalo shoots over Kevin Durant's defense. Durant's 29 points led all scorers, as Afflalo contributed 16 points to the Magic's final score.

Aaron Afflalo shoots over Kevin Durant’s defense. Durant’s 29 points led all scorers, as Afflalo contributed 16 points to the Magic’s final score.

I can’t knock Jeremy Lamb too much here. He was the lone defender on a 3-on-1 fast break. He can’t be expected to hold off Tobias Harris, Victor Oladipo, and Maurice Harkless all by himself. That’s simply asking too much. Heck, Reggie Jackson and Thabo Sefolosha tried to get back as well, they just started back too late to catch up to the fast break, and Tobias was too far ahead of Jackson to be stopped by the time Jackson jumped to meet him.

Tobias Harris shoots over Serge Ibaka as Nikola Vucevic and Reggie Jackson look on. Harris' 18 points led the Magic, while Vucevic added 10. Serge's 26 points made him the second leading scorer overall, whie Jackson finished with 12 points of his own.

Tobias Harris shoots over Serge Ibaka as Nikola Vucevic and Reggie Jackson look on. Harris’ 18 points led the Magic, while Vucevic added 10. Serge’s 26 points made him the second leading scorer overall, while Jackson finished with 12 points of his own.

I don’t know how they blew this game after a 15-2 Thunder run to end the 1st quarter had the Thunder up by 13 after 1 (36-23).

Durant throws it down "nasty-style".

Durant throws it down “nasty-style”.

Then another Thunder run of 8-2 at the top of the 2nd opened the Thunder lead to 17 (47-30) with 9:00 to play in the first half. With the Thunder lead still at 17 (49-32) at the 7:14 mark, the Magic opened up an 8-2 run of their own to pull within 11 (51-40) with an even 5:00 left on the game clock. Despite that, the Thunder were still able to extend their lead to 14 (65-51) at the half.

Air Ibaka.

Air Ibaka.

A Serge Ibaka dunk started the scoring in the 3rd, extending the Thunder lead to 16 (67-51) with 11:12 to play in the 3rd. Then, almost on cue, the Magic open up a 13-5 run to pull within 8 (72-64) with 6:25 left in the period. As a matter of fact, 8 was the Thunder lead heading into the final quarter (88-80).

Reggie rebounds.

Reggie rebounds.

I think here is where it starts getting obvious how the Thunder managed to blow this game. They simply let the Magic hang around too long instead of going for the kill early. I can’t stand watching the Thunder when they hit a big lead sometimes, because they seem to have a tendency to start treating the game like nothing more than a shootaround. They just start jacking up jumper after jumper. The thing is, when they stop falling, the other team gets an opportunity to cut into the lead you’ve built. The second they realize their shootarounds are letting the other team back in the game, they need to take the ball to the rack for an easy bucket, and hold the opponent at bay.

Detriot Tigers pitcher, Justin Verlander and his girlfriend, Kate Upton, were in attendance at last night's contest.

Detroit Tigers pitcher, Justin Verlander and his girlfriend, Kate Upton, were in attendance at last night’s contest.

I’ll put it like this: If Kevin Durant had driven to the bucket on his final play, instead of trying a jumper, the Magic never would have had an opportunity for the rebound and last-second dunk. Their love for jump shooting has a tendency to do them in at times.

Harris skys for the jam with no one to stop him.

Harris skys for the jam with no one to stop him.

The Magic opened the 4th on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 88-all with 9:13 to play. They even managed to stack up a 4-point lead (97-93) with 6:07 remaining. The Thunder were able to reestablish a 3-point lead (102-99) with 1:56 remaining. And those would be the last Thunder points scored, as the Magic scored the game’s last 4 points to win by a score of 103-102. This puts the Magic at 15-37 for the season (although they are 12-14 at home), while dropping the Thunder to 40-12. This also means that this season series ends in a 1-1 split.

Glen Davis hugs Harris after "the dunk heard 'round the world", as Durant reflects on his decision to jump shoot instead of drive to the rack.

Glen Davis hugs Harris after “the dunk heard ’round the world”, as Durant reflects on his decision to jump shoot instead of drive to the rack. Davis finished with 14 points.

Durant’s 29 points led all scorers. Heck, even Ibaka’s 26 points were the second highest of any player on the court last night. But when Jackson is the only other significant contributor with 12 points, it becomes obvious why they lost. 5 players off of the Thunder bench managed a total of 23 points, which they can usually get from just one or two of their bench guys.

Victor Oladipo for the lay-in as Steven Adams tries to defend from the back end.

Victor Oladipo for the lay-in as Steven Adams tries to defend from the back end.

The difference for the Magic was that all but one of their starters hit double figures. Harris’ 18 points led the Magic, but Afflalo dropped 16 of his own, flanked by Glen Davis’ 14, and Nikola Vucevic’s 10. Oladipo provided significant bench scoring for the Magic, finishing with 14 points.

Another angle of Davis' celebratory hug.

Another angle of Davis’ celebratory hug.

Shake it off, Thunder. The Knicks are coming to town this Sunday for a “High Noon Showdown”. They can’t overlook this squad, seeing as they’re itching to return the beating the Thunder gave them on Christmas Day, when Carmelo Anthony’s absence contributed to the Knicks’ 29-point slaughter. And as far as I can tell, Melo will be suiting up to play, unlike Russell Westbrook, who torched the Knicks when he became the 5th player in NBA history to log a Christmas Day triple-double. Will the Knicks be able to take advantage of Westbrook’s absence, as the Thunder did Melo’s on Christmas Day, and end the season series in a 1-1 split? You won’t have to wait too long to find out. Tip-off is scheduled for Noon CST, and will be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal, and ABC.

No Love For Timberwolves Translates To Thunder Victory

No Love For Timberwolves Translates To Thunder Victory

Russell Westbrook wasn’t the only inactive player in last night’s contest. Corey Brewer was not with the team last night, but he had a son recently, so he has a good reason to not be there. Also, Nikola Pekovic left the Jan. 27 contest in Chicago against the Bulls in quarter #1 due to bursitis (the swelling and irritation of a bursa. Bursa: a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between muscles, tendons, and joints.) in his right ankle. He’s missed the past four games as a result, and there is no timetable set for his return. Seeing as the Timberwolves were already down two starters, the last-minute decision to sit Kevin Love due to a stiff neck could not have been an easy one.

Reggie Jackson with the lay-in as Dante Cunningham tries to block from the back end. Jackson finished with 20points, while Cunningham dropped 18 filing in for the injured Kevin Love.

Reggie Jackson with the lay-in as Dante Cunningham tries to block from the back end. Jackson finished with 20 points, while Cunningham dropped 18 filing in for the injured Kevin Love.

You have to give the Timberwolves credit, they played just as hard as if all three of their injured starters were dressed to play. Although Scott Brooks saw this coming: “I knew they’d play scrappy with three starters out. A wounded team generally steps up.” And step up is exactly what they did.

Ricky Rubio takes to the air as Serge Ibaka jumps to meet him. Rubio's 19 points led the Timberwolves, and Ibaka ended his night with 14 points.

Ricky Rubio takes to the air as Serge Ibaka jumps to meet him. Rubio’s 19 points led the Timberwolves, and Ibaka ended his night with 14 points.

The 1st was very back-and-forth, with the largest lead for either side being the Thunder’s 7 (22-15 at the 3:19 mark).

Kendrick Perkins looks to score on Ronny Turiaf. Perkins pulled down 12 boards for the Thunder.

Kendrick Perkins looks to score on Ronny Turiaf. Perkins pulled down 12 boards for the Thunder.

The largest lead in the 2nd quarter was the Timberwolves’ 6 (39-33 at the 5:50 mark).

Cunningham goes one-on-one with Ibaka.

Cunningham goes one-on-one with Ibaka.

The 3rd quarter was the closest one, with the largest lead being a mere 4 for the Thunder (The 4-point lead was on numerous occasions in the 3rd, so I can’t pin down just one.). The Timberwolves even had the game tied at 77-all with 8.3 seconds remaining in the 3rd.

Kevin Durant skys for 2 of his 26 points.

Kevin Durant skys for 2 of his 26 points.

It wasn’t until the 4th quarter that the Thunder were able to create some breathing room for themselves. A Derek Fisher 3-pointer as the game clock expired in the 3rd sparked a 16-4 run for the Thunder, and actually pushed their lead to 12 (93-81) with 7:17 to play. Once that run ended, the Timberwolves were out of it. They did manage to pull within 7 at one point (97-90 with 2:27 on the game clock), but that was as close as they could get, as the Thunder were able to keep them at arm’s length until the final buzzer. The 106-97 final score gives the Thunder a 3-1 season series win over the Timberwolves, and jumps their overall record to 40-11, while dropping the Timberwolves to the wrong side of .500 (24-25).

Duirant, Ibaka, Jackson, and Thabo Sefolosha celebrate. Sefolosha was good for 12 points last night.

Durant, Ibaka, Jackson, and Thabo Sefolosha celebrate. Sefolosha was good for 12 points last night.

Kevin Durant’s 26 points led all scorers to take the floor, but he had a ton of help. Serge Ibaka dropped 14 points, Thabo Sefolosha had 12, and Reggie Jackson exploded for 20 points last night. Fisher added 13 from the Thunder bench, and even Kendrick Perkins was in “board beast mode” last night, pulling down 12 rebounds.

Derek Fisher quietly dropped 13 points for the Thunder.

Derek Fisher quietly dropped 13 points for the Thunder.

Ricky Rubio’s 19 points led the Timberwolves, but Dante Cunningham did good as well, adding 18 points filling in for Love. Jose Juan Barea was even good for 11 points off of the Timberwolves bench.

Sefolosha with the hustle as Ibaka trails.

Sefolosha with the hustle as Ibaka trails.

This is the Thunder’s 8th consecutive home victory, and 9th straight against the Timberwolves in OKC. They no longer have to even think about the Timberwolves anymore, as their season series is officially concluded. Now they get ready to travel to the Amway Center in Orlando, FL to lock horns with the Magic. The Thunder will be looking for the sweep as they edged out the Magic for the Dec. 15th victory by a score of 101-98. The Magic, on the other hand, will be looking for the series split, seeing as this is their final matchup of the season. Tip-off is scheduled for Friday, 6pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Grizzlies Crumble In The Face Of Ruthless Thunder Defense

Grizzlies Crumble In The Face Of Ruthless Thunder Defense

We’ve heard Head Coach Scott Brooks say it countless times. If the Thunder plan on being competitive and winning without Russell Westbrook on the court, they need to place major emphasis on their defensive intensity. Surprisingly enough, we weren’t the only ones missing our starting point guard, as Mike Conley was sitting out due to a “grade 2 ankle sprain” (partial ligament tear). The good news for the Grizzlies there is that he’s only expected to miss roughly one week, because a grade 2 ankle sprain isn’t too serious an injury, but it’s one you definitely want to rest up before going balls to the wall again. But as it pertained to last night’s game, the defensive intensity was obviously ratcheted up on both sides.

Serge Ibaka tries to drive past Mark Gasol. Ibaka ended his night with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Gasol finished with 13 points.

Serge Ibaka tries to drive past Mark Gasol. Ibaka ended his night with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Gasol finished with 13 points.

The 1st quarter was serious slopball. The Grizzlies could only manage a 2-point lead, while the Thunder’s was up to 6 at one point. But I refer to it as slopball because the score at the end of the 1st was 20-18. That’s not a lot of 1st quarter points from either squad.

Thabo Sefolosha and Courtney Lee chase the loose ball. Lee finished the game with 11 points.

Thabo Sefolosha and Courtney Lee chase the loose ball. Lee finished the game with 11 points.

The 2nd quarter was the difference maker for the Thunder. The Grizzlies were clinging to a 1-point lead with 6:27 to play in the half. Then the Thunder decided they were done playing around, sparking a 20-1 run that established a 17-point lead (51-34) with :32.5 until halftime. Sure Marc Gasol hit a couple of free throws to end the run just before halftime, but the damage was already done, as the Grizzlies failed to score 20 points for the second straight quarter.

Ibaka jams as Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph look on. Durant's 31 points led all scorers, but Randolph finished with a rather impressive 13-point, 13-rebound double-double.

Ibaka jams as Kevin Durant and Zach Randolph look on. Durant’s 31 points led all scorers, but Randolph finished with a rather impressive 13-point, 13-rebound double-double.

The 3rd quarter began in the midst of a scoring run by the Grizzlies, who had added 2 points before halftime, extending their run to 9-0, and pulling within 8 (51-43) in the first two minutes of the period. The Grizz battled valiantly throughout the 3rd, even closing the Thunder lead to 5 on multiple occasions. Although the Thunder lead was 8 (69-61) by the time the 4th quarter arrived.

Derek Fisher tries to hold off Mike Miller. Miller contributed 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

Derek Fisher tries to hold off Mike Miller. Miller contributed 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

The 4th quarter ended up bringing us even more sloppy play than the 1st. Neither team managed 20 points in the 4th, and both teams remained scoreless through the first two minutes of the 4th. It finally took a Mike Miller lay-up to end the scoring drought. The Grizzlies even tried to make a game of this late. Down 9 (72-63) with 8:49 to play, the Grizzlies spark an 8-2 run to pull within 3 (74-71). The Thunder lead was still a mere 3 (78-75) with 4:54 remaining, when the Thunder felt like they’d had enough, and put down a 8-2 run of their own to end the game with a 86-77 victory that puts the Thunder at 39-11, while dropping the Grizzlies to 26-21.

Durant dunks hard.

Durant dunks hard.

Kevin Durant’s 31 points led all scorers to take the floor last night. Serge Ibaka pulled off an impressive 21-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Reggie Jackson added 12 points of his own.

Reggie Jackson tries to pull off the fadeaway over Gasol. Jackson ended the game with 12 points.

Reggie Jackson tries to pull off the fadeaway over Gasol. Jackson ended the game with 12 points.

Zach Randolph’s 13-point, 13-rebound double-double just wasn’t enough to put the Grizzlies over the top. Gasol posted 13 points himself, while starter Courtney Lee added 11. Miller also added 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

Durant and Ibaka celebrating just how badass they are.

Durant and Ibaka celebrating just how badass they are.

This gives the Thunder a 2-1 season series lead on the Grizzlies, but now they need to focus on closing out the Timberwolves season series. The Thunder currently hold a 2-1 edge in the series, and tomorrow night’s game is the final matchup between them. The first ended in a brutal 100-81 drubbing on Nov. 1st that saw the Timberwolves take full advantage of Westbrook’s absence. The Thunder have since returned the favor on two separate occasions. The first being a tremendous 113-103 beatdown on Dec. 1st that reestablished them as a true championship contender, followed by a much closer Jan. 4th battle that saw 4 consecutive Kevin Love missed free throws cost the Timberwolves the game by a mere 4 points (115-111). The Timberwolves will be looking to end the season series in a split, while the Thunder look to take the series 3-1. The game will emanate from “The ‘Peake”, and tip-off is scheduled for 7pm CST. The game will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

John Wall Changes Shoes At Halftime. Proceeds To Go Off In The Second Half.

John Wall Changes Shoes At Halftime. Proceeds To Go Off In The Second Half.

When they ask, “Is it the shoes?”, it may very well have been in John Wall’s case last night. Only 2 of Wall’s 17 points were in the first half, when he was sporting a pair of red shoes. He decided to switch to white shoes for the second half, and apparently the move made all the difference. 15 points and 7 assists followed after the shoe switch, which kind of goes to show that something as simple as the proper shoes can make all of the difference in your court game.

John Wall goes all George Gervin finger roll with it, as Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson watch helplessly. Wall finished with 17 points and 15 assists following his shoe switch. Meanwhile, Ibaka dropped 14, and Jackson contributed 12 for the Thunder.

John Wall goes all George Gervin finger roll with it, as Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson watch helplessly. Wall finished with 17 points and 15 assists following his shoe switch. Meanwhile, Ibaka dropped 14, and Jackson contributed 12 for the Thunder.

2-0 to start the game was the only lead the Thunder would see however. It may have only been a 4-point game (39-35) at the half, but in the final minute of the 3rd quarter the Thunder were outscored 10-3. That was just in a one-minute span.

Nene throws it down as Kevin Durant looks on. Nene finished with 17 points, while Durant's 26 led all scorers.

Nene throws it down as Kevin Durant looks on. Nene finished with 17 points, while Durant’s 26 led all scorers.

Kendrick Perkins trying to get in Nene’s head wasn’t working either. He quipped back and forth with Nene the whole game, while Nene was dropping 17 points. Perk, on the other hand, went 0-for-3 from the floor, and was held scoreless.

Durant shoots over Marcin Gortat. Gortat ended his night with 14 points.

Durant shoots over Marcin Gortat. Gortat ended his night with 14 points.

Kevin Durant’s 26 points led all scorers, but it wasn’t good enough to secure the win. Although help wasn’t there for Durant last night the way that it normally is. Serge Ibaka managed 14 points total, while Reggie Jackson could only muster 12 points of his own.

Trevor Ariza shoots over Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka. Ariza's 18 points led the Wizards.

Trevor Ariza shoots over Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka. Ariza’s 18 points led the Wizards.

Wall and Nene contributed 17 points apiece, yet were both outscored by Trevor Ariza’s 18. Although, Wall posted a double-double once you count his 15 assists. Marcin Gortat pitched in 14 points, and Martell Webster dropped 10 off of the Wizards bench.

Gortat tries to put one in around Durant.

Gortat tries to put one in around Ibaka.

I do feel like fatigue played a part in last night’s loss, but we were the hottest team in the league at that point. A cool-down was inevitable. Now they need to shake this loss off before welcoming the Grizzlies to town tomorrow night. The season series is currently split, as the Thunder took the Dec. 11th matchup 116-100, but dropped the Jan. 14th matchup 90-87 in a game that saw Marc Gasol’s return to the Grizzlies lineup. Tip-off for round 3 is scheduled for 7pm CST and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.