Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

Thunder Respond To Being Pushed To The Brink With Best Postseason Performance So Far

I’ve noticed this all through the regular season. It’s the reason the Thunder gave up so many 20+-point leads during the regular season, and is the reason the Thunder experienced a 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. There is so much hype surrounding this current Thunder squad that they have a tendency to buy into it themselves at times. It’s understandable. You hear over and over again how good your team is, how good the individual players making up the squad are, and how the GM is building a solid winner, and you can’t help but let some of it go to your head. Buying into hype isn’t always a bad thing. You have to have a certain level of confidence when you hit the court, or a loss is as good as guaranteed. The problem is that you can buy into the hype too much, and start taking things like NBA Championships as a lock before you actually obtain it. This is why the Thunder don’t always play up to their potential. Sometimes they act as if an NBA Championship is a mere formality, treating it as though it’s a guarantee at season’s end.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant's 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best peformance of the series to this point.

All three major Thunder contributors are pictured here. Russell Westbrook dropped 25 points for the game, Reggie Jackson was good for 16 off of the Thunder bench, and Kevin Durant’s 36-point, 10-rebound double-double marked his best performance of the series to this point.

The thing about the NBA is that, especially in today’s NBA, nothing comes easy. Sure, back in the older days, some things were pretty much a formality. Red Auerbach’s Celtics teams winning NBA Championships throughout the late-50s & mid-60s became a formality. And a few decades later, Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams in the 90s were pretty much a lock for a title, much to the chagrin of legends John Stockton and Karl Malone. But even though the Heat have taken the last two titles, I’m not sure if you can call them a lock this year. One key injury could completely derail that team.

Zach Randoplh tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins' defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Zach Randolph tries to back down Kendrick Perkins. Perkins’ defense was a major contributor in Randolph only scoring 16 for the game.

Last night’s Thunder performance was “night-and-day different” from the last 4 outings. They were spacing the floor much better on offense, there was great ball movement, much better shot selection, and they played like a team with something to prove.  One thing I’ve noticed about this Thunder team is that they sometimes need a good, solid hit to the mouth before they start taking things seriously. It’s a lot like when I did amateur boxing. I was always one of those guys who didn’t really get moving until I took a good one to the chin. Then I was like, “Oh yeah. I’m in a fight right now. I’d better pick it up.”

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

All of the major Grizzlies contributors are in frame here. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points total, while Tony Allen dropped 13 bench points, and James Johnson contributed 15 additional bench points.

And pick it up is exactly what Kevin Durant did in the face of a disparaging headline from The Oklahoman that referred to him as “Mr. Unreliable”. From my standpoint, I don’t see why The Oklahoman issued an apology. As it came to this series, they weren’t wrong. Some people took it as an attack on Durant’s character or entire body of work in the NBA. I actually find it sad that The Oklahoman had to clarify that the headline was only in reference to his performance in the Grizzlies series, which even Durant failed to disagree with, saying:

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn't worth it.

Johnson decides fouling Durant just isn’t worth it.

“That’s what they’re supposed to write. I didn’t come through for the team.”

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

Honestly, I love the looks on their faces. They play better when they have something to prove.

And if the headline is what it took to wake him up, then so be it. I personally think Durant plays better when he has a chip on his shoulder anyway. Most players do. Give fantastic NBA players something to prove, and they’ll more often than not, do just that.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn't afraid of the challenge.

Point Guard vs. Center? You know Westbrook isn’t afraid of the challenge.

Hell, Durant put up a 36-point, 10-rebound double-double playing with that chip on his shoulder. If disparaging headlines gets Durant to play this well, maybe the next headline should read, “KD Pushes Down Little Old Ladies Just Trying To Cross The Street. Is The NBA Stardom Going To His Head?” Heck, he might go off for 50 points after reading that one. The headline wasn’t even about Russell Westbrook, but it seemed to help his play too, as he took a step back in the 1st quarter to let Durant make his case. That ended up netting Durant 14 points in that one 12-minute period. (Interesting note: The Thunder are 5-0 in the postseason when Durant scores 14 or more in the 1st quarter.) But even in taking that step back, Westbrook still finished his night with 25 points. Reggie Jackson’s 16 points off of the bench were a major help as well.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

Beno Udrih tries to run with Jackson.

And in a good coaching move, Scott Brooks opted to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha. In fact, Sefolosha never saw the floor. Yet, the defense was as good as I’ve seen all series long, and Butler’s presence gave this Thunder starting 5 a 4th scoring option. This lineup change alone is most likely how the Thunder were getting such good floor spacing last night, because all three perimeter players were 3-point threats. You can’t pack the paint in that scenario. And speaking of paint performances, hats off to Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams for the way they frustrated the Grizzlies’ paint offense last night. Ibaka’s 4 blocks were actually outnumbered by Adams’ 5 from off of the Thunder bench. You give Adams a couple more years of development, and I think he ends up filling in the missing piece to a Thunder title run.

It wasn't even Steven Adams' house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

It wasn’t even Steven Adams’ house. He told Tony Allen to get that mess out of here anyway.

And the Grizzlies’ offense in the paint found themselves increasingly frustrated at the Ibaka/Adams block party that was taking place last night. Marc Gasol was held to 17 points, while Zach Randolph managed 16. Neither had a double-double to speak of, which is rather unusual when you talk about that big man duo. Tony Allen and James Johnson were able to combine for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench to no avail (Johnson: 15, Allen: 13).

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

Westbrook takes the wide-open shot.

I said in the series preview not to be surprised if this went to 7 games. This series has gone almost exactly as I envisioned it, with the only difference being that I had the winners of Games 5 and 6 switched. Oddly, last night was the first Game 6 loss by the Grizzlies in franchise playoff history (They are now 4-1 all-time.). That’s the most likely reason you heard a few Thunder fans lose faith in the squad’s ability to extend the series. Plus, this 2-game losing streak at the Grindhouse comes off of the heels of a 15-game Grindhouse winning streak. Now, even though the series just turned into a winner-take-all matchup, I feel like it’s the Grizzlies’ back against the wall after they just got handed the most lopsided defeat of the series. Game 7 comes to us from The Peake tomorrow night at 7pm CST. So far, it looks like TNT has acquired the rights to broadcast. I’ll let you know if anything changes TV-wise. One thing that is certain, however, is that the matchup will definitely be broadcast via WWLS The Sports Animal. You know you don’t want to miss this one.

Advertisements

Kevin Durant’s Dismal Shooting Now Has The Thunder’s Collective Back Against A Wall

Kevin Durant’s Dismal Shooting Now Has The Thunder’s Collective Back Against A Wall
The Dynamic Duo has been anything but dynamic in this series.

The Dynamic Duo has been everything but dynamic in this series.

I had stated in a previous article that if Kevin Durant’s shooting numbers didn’t improve, I didn’t see how the Thunder could expect to escape the series. And now, after a 10-for-24 (41.7%) shooting performance, plus some questionable decision-making by Scott Brooks, the Thunder are now a potential bad 48 minutes away from being one of the biggest disappointments of the 2014 NBA postseason.

Kevin Durant being used as a decoy for Reggie Jackson didn't help anything. Jackson managed 6 points to Durant's 26.

Kevin Durant being used as a decoy for Reggie Jackson didn’t help anything. Jackson managed 6 points to Durant’s 26.

It’s not just the fact that Durant was used mainly as a decoy to space the floor for Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson towards the end of the game, it’s also how Westbrook rushed way too many of his shots, and the entire offense looked rushed as a result. Westbrook needs to slow his roll and look for open teammates. If none are available, create a shot. But don’t sit here and rush your shot selection. You have a full 24 seconds to select a shot. Use some of that time! It’s not rocket science!

Russell Westbrook's 30-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double was rendered meaningless due to his tendency to rush the offense.

Russell Westbrook’s 30-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double was rendered meaningless due to his tendency to rush the offense.

Plus, there’s a reason Charles Barkley criticized Brooks’ decision to go for 3 at game’s end instead of driving the lane with 2.6 seconds remaining. A 2-pointer would have won the game. Instead, we got a contested 3-ball, and now the Thunder are 1 loss away from elimination.

Serge Ibaka again shot 60% from the field, and only took 10 total shots.

Serge Ibaka again shot 60% from the field, and only took 10 total shots.

Yes, some will point to Joey Crawford’s inexplicable interruption of Durant’s 2nd free throw, but MVP’s shouldn’t have their game thrown off by little things like that.

Durant knows it's do or die tonight.

Durant knows it’s do or die tonight.

And in a playoff-record 4 straight OT games, the Thunder have amassed a 1-3 record, after going 3-1 against this same team in the regular season.

We should be seeing moreof this, especially when Ibaka posts a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double off of 6-for-10 shooting.

We should be seeing more of this, especially when Ibaka posts a 15-point, 12-rebound double-double off of 6-for-10 shooting.

I don’t even feel like going into numbers. I’m so disappointed with how the Thunder have performed to this point. It’s almost like the team from the regular season isn’t the one that showed up to the playoffs. Tonight’s 7pm CST matchup on TNT may very well be the last time we see them play this season. Although all hope is not lost. Back-to-back victories will move the Thunder to the next round, but they’ve lost all room for error at this point. Can they get it done? We’ll find out later this evening.

Start Playing As A Team, Or Finish The Playoffs From The Comfort Of Your Sofa: What The Thunder Need To Do To Get Back In The Series.

Start Playing As A Team, Or Finish The Playoffs From The Comfort Of Your Sofa: What The Thunder Need To Do To Get Back In The Series.

The Thunder really need to snap out of this current funk they’re in. I really don’t understand their mentality sometimes. They almost act like all they need to do to start getting 3s to fall is keep shooting, and they’ll eventually fall. I blame Scott Brooks for this. They may be a finesse shooting team, but finesse shooting teams generally don’t win championships. And everything seems to be falling apart all at once. What do the Thunder need to do to right the ship and start getting wins against the Grizzlies?

Russell Westbrook drives around Serge Ibaka's pick. Westbrook had a 30-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ibaka finished with 12 points.

Russell Westbrook drives around Serge Ibaka’s pick. Westbrook had a 30-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Ibaka finished with 12 points.

1) Russell Westbrook needs to stop trying to take games over by himself. This is the Thunder, not Westbrook & Co. He is not much of a traditional PG, because half of the time he fails to even look for open teammates. Why is Serge Ibaka only shooting 10 shots when he was shooting 60% for the game? Because of Westbrook’s inability to get him open looks, and Westbrook’s unwillingness to look for him at times.

Kevin Durant also finished with 30 points.

Kevin Durant also finished with 30 points.

2) Kevin Durant needs to be not only more confident, but more assertive. I’ve never seen such a strong scorer with such a meek personality. Durant needs to start scowling more, and playing, walking, and even talking with more swagger. You’re one of the best in the game, KD! But it means nothing if you don’t believe it yourself.

Ibaka shot 60% on 6-for-10 shooting last night.

Ibaka shot 60% on 6-for-10 shooting last night.

3) Serge Ibaka could stand to be a bit more demanding of the ball. Everyone knows about Ibaka’s defense, but his midrange 18-foot jumper drops more often than not. Sadly, his abilities as a scorer are still vastly underrated.

Westbrook shoots over Tony Allen as Zach Randolph loks on.

Westbrook shoots over Tony Allen as Zach Randolph looks on.

4) Where the hell did the bench go for these past 2 games? If they start showing up, it would certainly help matters. 9 total points out of 5 different bench players won’t help anything.

Westbrook looks to squeeze through Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol.

Westbrook looks to squeeze through Courtney Lee and Marc Gasol.

I don’t care that they forced overtime again last night. The fact of the matter is, they still lost. Westbrook’s 30-point, 13-rebound double-double didn’t help anything, because he only dished out 2 assists total.  Durant’s 30 points were meaningless, and Ibaka’s 12 points should have been a lot more. When you only have 13 assists to the Grizzlies’ 21, it’s obvious which squad is playing as a team, and which squad is playing like a bunch of guys who happen to be sharing the same ball court.

Westbrook at the foul line as Durant looks on.

Westbrook at the foul line as Durant looks on.

In contrast, six different Grizzlies ended the game in double figures. Zach Randolph had a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double, while Marc Gasol dropped 14 points, and Courtney Lee dropped 10. Mike Conley’s 20 points led all Grizzlies scorers, but they just get more from their bench. Tony Allen and Beno Udrih combined for 28 points off of the Grizzlies bench (Allen: 16, Udrih: 12).

Durant goes past Gasol for a lay-in attempt.

Durant goes past Gasol for a lay-in attempt.

Another Saturday 8:30 tip-off is coming. Maybe that’s what we need to get on the right track. The last 8:30 CST tip-off on a Saturday saw us take a 25-point lead at one point. It will be broadcast via ESPN and WWLS The Sports Animal. Lose Saturday’s game, and it’s doubtful they escape this series at all. I guess we’ll see what happens.

Andre Drummond’s 6th Foul Kills Chance At Pistons Upset

Andre Drummond’s 6th Foul Kills Chance At Pistons Upset

I noticed we didn’t bother to rest our starters for the finale. I suppose Scott Brooks had the same mindset I did: Better to go into the postseason on a winning note than to play it safe and risk going in on a 3-game losing streak.

1_pistons_lm_140416

Banner celebrating the Thunder’s 4th consecutive Northwest Division Championship.

The 1st quarter was close pretty much the entire way, as the largest lead established for either team was the Thunder’s 6 (17-11 with 6:11 on the game clock). Although the Pistons only led by 3 at most in quarter #1, it ended with the Pistons up 2 (30-28).

3_pistons_lm_140416

Kevin Durant pops one over Andre Drummond as Kyle Singler’s attention is elsewhere. Durant ended the game with 42 points to lead all scorers to take the floor. Drummond had 22 points and 13 rebounds before his 6th foul ended his night. Singler was good for 20 points.

The 2nd quarter was where the Pistons started to take control. The Thunder never led in the 2nd quarter, and the Pistons used a nice run to start pulling away. Up 3 (35-32) with 7:59 to play in the half, the Pistons used an 13-5 run to establish their largest lead of the game (48-37) with 4:57 to go until halftime. Fortunately, the Thunder were able to end the quarter on a 17-7 run to pull within a single point at the break (55-54).

11_pistons_lm_140416

Durant goes one-on-one with Singler.

The 3rd turned into more back-and-forth, as once again, neither team could establish a double-digit lead at any point in the quarter. Despite the Thunder starting the quarter on a 5-2 mini-run to reestablish a Thunder lead (59-57) with 9:17 to play in the 3rd, Greg Monroe scores the next 5 Pistons points, only being interrupted by a pair of Kendrick Perkins free throws to reestablish a Pistons lead (62-61) at the 8:03 mark of the 3rd. And despite a Kevin Durant driving lay up off of a Reggie Jackson assist tying the game at 72-all with 4:24 remaining in the period, the Pistons ended the quarter on a 15-7 run to reestablish an 8-point lead (87-79) heading into the final 12 minutes of the season.

12_pistons_lm_140416

Greg Monroe and Singler challenge Durant at the rim, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope looks on. Monroe was good for 22 points, but Caldwell-Pope had a career night with 30 points of his own.

It wasn’t looking good for the Thunder in the 4th either. The Pistons lead was still 8 (105-97) with a mere 5:40 left in the game. Unfortunately for the Pistons, the Thunder turnaround was sparked by Andre Drummond committing two quick personal fouls on Durant. Those two quick ones added up to 6 fouls for Drummond, forcing Pistons interim head coach John Loyer to sub in Jonas Jerebko. This allowed the Thunder to end the game on a 15-6 run that was just enough to squeeze by the Pistons, earning them a 112-111 final that gives the Thunder a 59-23 record that will officially lock in the #2 seed. At 29-53 (29-52 before the meeting), the Pistons had long been eliminated, simply looking to play spoiler on the final night of the regular season.

18_pistons_rr_140416

Serge Ibaka stuffs Monroe at the rim as Reggie Jackson watches. Ibaka posted a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double, while Jackson was good for 15 points off of the Thunder bench.

Durant ended the game with an astounding 42 points, marking the 14th time Durant has scored 40 or more this season. That stat leads the NBA. Russell Westbrook was good for 22 points, while Serge Ibaka posted a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double. Jackson was good for 15 points off of the Thunder bench.

16_pistons_lm_140416

Russell Westbrook with the aggressive lay-in. Westbrook finished his night with 22 points.

Piston’s rookie Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored a career-high 30 points, while leading all Pistons scorers. Andre Drummond was good for a 22-point, 13-rebound double double, as fellow Twin Tower Monroe was also good for 22 points. Kyle Singler’s 20 points rounds out the scoring. The bad news for the Pistons was that, despite playing a 9-man rotation, all 4 Pistons bench players combined for a grand total of 11 points. That’s bad, because that means one of our bench players outscored their entire bench by himself.

21_pistons_rr_140416

More Westbrook aggression.

With the #2 seed locked, we officially draw the Grizzlies in the 1st round of the playoffs. Tomorrow, I will be posting a special series primer for the 1st round. Stay tuned.

Thunder Cap off Road Trip With A Pair Of Revenge Victories That Were Dutifully Earned

Thunder Cap off Road Trip With A Pair Of Revenge Victories That Were Dutifully Earned

The Cavaliers and Raptors were both enjoying a 1-0 season-series lead over the Thunder before Thursday Night. Then the Thunder evened both series in back-to-back road wins. But that’s not to say they didn’t have to fight hard to secure both wins.

Kevin Durant going one-on-one with Matthew Delavedova. Durant posted a 35-point, 11-rebound double-double against the Cavs, while dropping 51 points and adding 12 rebounds against the Raptors.  Delavedova posted an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double from the Cavs' bench.

Kevin Durant going one-on-one with Matthew Dellavedova. Durant posted a 35-point, 11-rebound double-double against the Cavs, while dropping 51 points and adding 12 rebounds against the Raptors. Dellavedova posted an 11-point, 10-assist double-double from the Cavs bench.

The game in Cleveland was essentially over with the Thunder up 95-71 with 6:34 to play. That’s what Scott Brooks thought as well, allowing both Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka, the only two full-time starters active for that game, to sit. That’s when the Cavs sparked a 16-0 run to pull within 8 (95-87) with 2:17 on the game clock, prompting both men to return to the floor. It was a good move, as Ibaka immediately dunked off of a Durant assist to stop the run. The only other Thunder points scored were 5 free throws from Durant, as the Thunder ice the game 102-95, jumping the Thunder to 50-18 which at the time pulled them within a game-and-a-half of the Spurs. The loss dropped the Cavs to 26-43. Although not completely eliminated from playoff contention for the Eastern Conference, they’ve gone 1-1 since, putting them at 27-44, which is still 5 1/2  games behind the current 8th seed in the East.

Serge Ibaka shoots over Spencer Hawes. Ibaka posted a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double against the Cavs, and dropped 13 points on the Raptors. Hawes was good for 20 points.

Serge Ibaka shoots over Spencer Hawes. Ibaka posted a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double against the Cavs, and dropped 13 points on the Raptors. Hawes was good for 20 points.

Durant and Ibaka were both good for double-doubles in Cleveland. Durant posted 35 points and 11 rebounds, while Ibaka chipped in 16 points and 11 rebounds. And the guards did well filing in for Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson had 13 points as the fill-in starter, while Derek Fisher and Jeremy Lamb combined for 22 off of the Thunder bench (Fisher: 12, Lamb: 10).

Jeremy Lamb gets past Dion Waiters. Lamb dropped 10 points against the Cavs, while Waiters' 30 points led his team in scoring.

Jeremy Lamb gets past Dion Waiters. Lamb dropped 10 points against the Cavs, while Waiters’ 30 points led his team in scoring.

Although you don’t get a good push like that at the end without somebody racking up numbers. Dion Waiter’s 30 points led the Cavs, followed by Spencer Hawes’ 20. Tristan Thompson pulled down 10 boards, although he was only good for 5 total points. Oddly enough, one of the better performances came from the Cavs’ bench, as Matthew Dellavedova quietly posted an 11-point, 10-assist double-double.

Durant throws it down.

Durant throws it down.

Now I’m almost positive the game in Toronto would have given every Thunder fanatic an aneurism if the heart attack didn’t happen first.

Riggie Jackson drives past Kyle Lowry. Jackson dropped 13 against the Cavs, and posted his first career double-double against the Raptors, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Lowry finished with 25 points himself.

Reggie Jackson drives past Kyle Lowry. Jackson dropped 13 against the Cavs, and posted his first career double-double against the Raptors, with 25 points and 12 rebounds. Lowry finished with 25 points himself.

Granted we got the win in the 2nd OT,  but the Thunder had a chance to end it in regulation. They attempted to drive the lane for the lay-in only to realize they waited too long, and Fisher didn’t get the ball out of his hands until the buzzer had already sounded. Although his attempt got nowhere near the bucket anyway.

Not only that, but the Thunder had a chance to seal the win in the 1st OT as well. All they had to do was play perimeter defense, as they were up 107-104 with less than 10 seconds to play. Leave it to the Thunder to leave Kyle Lowry wide open for the 3-ball that forces a 2nd OT.

Ibaka goes over Amir Johnson as Steven Adams successfully boxes out Jonas Valenciunas. Johnson posted a 25-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Valenciunas added an additional 13 rebounds.

Ibaka goes over Amir Johnson as Steven Adams successfully boxes out Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson posted a 25-point, 12-rebound double-double, while Valanciunas added an additional 13 rebounds.

The Thunder almost bit the dust and gave the Raptors the series sweep in the 2nd OT. Greivis Vasquez was on fire until he picked up his 6th foul with 2:04 remaining. Yet the Thunder were still down 8 (118-110) with only 49.3 seconds left on the game clock. Durant decides now is the time to heat up, hitting a 3-ball off of a Lamb assist to pull the Thunder within 5. Lowry bricks a 3-ball attempt at the other end, then Fisher drops 3 points, pulling the Thunder to within 2 (118-116) with 15.7 seconds to play. Durant then ends up fouling John Salmons. With a chance to ice the game at the line, Salmons bricks not one, but both free throw attempts, leaving it a 2-point game with 8.8 seconds left. That’s when Durant decided to add to the 2014 NBA MVP resume. Still down two, Durant almost has the ball poked away from him, only to recover it. Realizing there’s not enough time left to drive the lane, Durant launches a prayer that ends up answered with 1.9 seconds left. This win puts the Thunder at 51-18 for the season, while dropping the Raptors to 38-30. As of today though, the Spurs 13-game winning streak still has them up 2 full games for the top spot in the West. And although Toronto’s record is good enough for the Eastern Conference’s 3rd seed, it wouldn’t even get them 9th place in the West. I know I already posted video highlights, but you know you want to see that Durant game winner one last time.

Durant finished with 51 points and 12 rebounds. Ibaka added 13 points, and Westbrook was good for 15 points before a knee-to-knee collision with Lowry resulted in a sprained knee. Although the good news is that an MRI showed no further damage. Honestly, I think even the “sprain” was an exaggeration. He will probably still be rested on back-to-backs, but he’s not expected to miss any additional time. Although his exit paved the way for Jackson’s first career double-double, as he finished with 25 points and 12 boards.

Jackson, Durant, and Russell Westbrook watches as Johnson again tries to impede Ibaka's progresswith Lowry down low. Westbrook had 15 points before leaving the game after a knee-to-knee collision with Lowry.

Jackson, Durant, and Russell Westbrook watches as Johnson again tries to impede Ibaka’s progress, with Lowry down low. Westbrook had 15 points before leaving the game after a knee-to-knee collision with Lowry.

Amir Johnson had a 25-point, 12-rebound double-double for the Raptors. Kyle Lowry also scored 25, and DeMar DeRozan’s 33 points led the Raptors. Jonas Valanciunas grabbed 13 boards, but only managed 8 points. Vasquez dropped an eye-popping 21 points from the Raptors bench before fouling out.

Greivis Velasquez with the perimeter D against Derek Fisher. Fisher dropped 12 against the Cavs, while Greivis hit 21 points against the Thunder before fouling out late in the 2nd OT.

Greivis Vasquez with the perimeter D against Derek Fisher. Fisher dropped 12 against the Cavs, while Vasquez hit 21 points against the Thunder before fouling out late in the 2nd OT.

Another back-to-back is in store, as the Thunder host the Nuggets tonight, then travel to Dallas to try to get their win back against the Mavericks tomorrow. The Nuggets will be looking to split the season series with the Thunder, as they try to make it two in a row after winning 101-88 on Jan. 9th. Before that, the Thunder had claimed victories of 115-113 on Nov. 8th, and 105-93 on Dec. 17th. Although the Nuggets don’t have much left to play for. Even though they aren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, they’re back 9 1/2 games from the 8th seed with only 10 games left on the schedule. One more loss, or even one more Mavs victory will probably seal their fate. Expect the Mavs to fight much harder, as they are currently a mere half-game ahead of the Suns for the Western Conference’s 8th and final playoff spot. The Mavs will be looking to claim their season series over the Thunder outright tomorrow, as a 115-113 Thunder victory on Nov. 18th, and a 109-86 Mavs victory the Sunday before last has the series knotted up 1-1. Tomorrow’s game against the Mavericks will be featured as the front-end of TNT’s double-header. Tonight’s game has the same 7pm tip-off time, but will be brought to you by the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Thunder Leave No Doubts In Thorough Rout Of Lakers

Thunder Leave No Doubts In Thorough Rout Of Lakers

Well, this one should be pretty short and sweet. Jodie Meeks’ 3-pointer following a Russell Westbrook dunk gave the Lakers their only lead of the game (3-2) less than a minute into it. 5 unanswered Thunder points swung the lead in the Thunder’s direction for good (7-3). While the Lakers tried to hang early, only down 3 (15-12) with 6:35 to play in the 1st, the Thunder went on a 22-7 run that extended into the 2nd quarter, giving them a 37-19 lead with 10:30 to play in the first half.

Kevin Durant shoots as Wesley Johnson gts caught on camera not playing defense. Durant's 29 points tied Westbrook for leaing scorer, while Johnson added 10 points to the Lakers' final score.

Kevin Durant shoots as Wesley Johnson gets caught on camera not playing defense. Durant’s 29 points tied Westbrook for leading scorer, while Johnson added 10 points to the Lakers’ final score.

The Lakers would then hit on a 9-2 run to pull themselves within 11 (39-28), only to be pushed back once again by a 15-4 Thunder run that extended the Thunder’s lead to 22 (54-32). The score was 59-38 with less than 2 minutes until halftime when the Lakers sparked an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 13 (59-46) with just over six seconds until the halftime buzzer. Although a foul by Ryan Kelly allowed Westbrook a chance to hit 1 of his 2 free throws with 4 tenths of a second remaining, which allowed the Thunder to take a 14-point lead (60-46) into the locker room at the break.

Westbrook goes for 2 of his 29 points through heavy Laker traffic. Westbrook's 29 points is made even more impressive when coupled with his 9 assists.

Westbrook goes for 2 of his 29 points through heavy Laker traffic. Westbrook’s 29 points is made even more impressive when coupled with his 9 assists.

The Thunder lead was still 14 (74-60) with 6:37 left in the 3rd when the Thunder broke out a 16-3 run that broke the Lakers’ morale. That established a 27-point lead for the Thunder (90-63) with 4:09 still on the clock in the 3rd quarter. Despite the lead, the Lakers were not quite finished, as they immediately sparked an 11-2 run to pull themselves within 18 (92-74), only to be repelled yet again as the Thunder ended the 3rd on a 9-2 run that gave them a 101-77 lead heading into the 4th.

Serge Ibaka gets past the outstretched arm of Ryan Kelly. Ibaka's 15 points and 13 rebounds gave him his 24th double-double of the season, while Kelly finished his night with 12 points.

Serge Ibaka gets past the outstretched arm of Ryan Kelly. Ibaka’s 15 points and 13 rebounds gave him his 24th double-double of the season, while Kelly finished his night with 12 points.

Down 24, I think even the Lakers knew that the Thunder weren’t giving up the lead by this point. After dropping an 18-point lead to the Lakers at Staples Center to find themselves down 18 on Sunday, the Thunder brought themselves back into it, only to suffer a heart-breaking (but certainly eye-opening) 4-point defeat (114-110). I think this game opened their eyes to the fact that they need to go for the kill against anyone they have on the ropes early. The 15-4 run in the 2nd put the Lakers on the ropes. The 16-3 Thunder run in the 3rd was the boot knife that cut the throat of the Lakers’ comeback opportunity. The Lakers still gave effort with an 11-3 run to start the 4th, but the Thunder lead was still 18 (104-86) with less than 10 minutes to play. They honestly gave effort as long as they could, with the Thunder lead holding around 20 for most of the 4th. The lead was an even 20 (115-95) with 5:35 left until the final buzzer when the Thunder sparked yet another run, this one a 14-3 run that established the Thunder’s largest lead of the game at 31 (129-98) with a mere 43.4 seconds to play. The lead would settle at 29 by game’s end, as the Thunder took a 131-102 victory that propelled them to 48-17 while dropping the Lakers to 22-43, effectively relegating them to the Western Conference basement (which an organization like that would certainly view as unfamiliar territory). (Side note: The Lakers’ record is now 22-44 following an abysmal 119-85 beating by the Spurs at AT&T Center last night, propelling the Spurs to 49-16. The Spurs’ current record effectively establishes a full-game lead over the Thunder for the Western Conference’s #1 seed.)

The Thunder's Big 3 (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) talk strategy with Caron Butler (Partially hidden behind Ibaka in this shot) and Reggie Jackson.

The Thunder’s Big 3 (Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka) talk strategy with Caron Butler (partially hidden behind Ibaka in this shot) and Reggie Jackson.

Westbrook and Kevin Durant tied for leading scorer with 29 points apiece. Durant’s performance now has him scoring 25+ for the 30th consecutive game, which hasn’t been done since the great Michael Jordan posted 40 straight 25+-point performances in the ’86-’87 season. That means Durant has accomplished something even “King James” himself can’t say he’s ever pulled off in his career. Seeing as LeBron was the really the only top player during his 7-year tenure with the Cavaliers, that actually says a lot about Durant’s silky smoothness as a scorer. And Serge Ibaka has effectively replaced James Harden in the Thunder’s Big 3. His 15-point, 13-rebound performance marks his 24th double-double of the season. He also added an eye-popping 7 blocks in this game. Caron Butler continues to prove his steadiness as a bench scorer, adding 11 points.

Caron Butler pops one over the lackadaisical defense of Jordan Farmar. Butler posted 11 points off of the Thunder bench while Farmar added 13 points off of the Lakers bench.

Caron Butler pops one over the lackadaisical defense of Jordan Farmar. Butler posted 11 points off of the Thunder bench while Farmar added 13 points off of the Lakers bench.

It was truly a team effort for the Lakers. Meeks’ 19 points were added to Pau Gasol’s 14, Kelly’s 12, and Wesley Johnson’s 10. Kent Bazemore and Jordan Farmar even combined for 29 off of the Lakers bench, as they hit 16 points and 13 points respectively. They even broke 100 points as a team, but they just had no chance against a Thunder offense that dropped 131 on them. The fact that they’ve given up 250 points in the last two nights is an obvious indicator of where the Lakers’ deficiencies lie.

Kendall Marshall looks to be the only Laker even trying to battle Ibaka for the rebound.

Kendall Marshall looks to be the only Laker even trying to battle Ibaka for the rebound.

Yes, injuries have pretty much derailed them, but the Thunder are down two starters themselves, yet they’re starting to find the defense they were lacking. Scott Brooks’ decision to start Andre Roberson over Perry Jones III in place of the injured Thabo Sefolosha even paid immediate dividends at the defensive end, as he stole the ball from Meeks on the Lakers’ first possession, setting up the Westbrook slam to start up the scoreboard. Jones is good for beaucoup (many) points at times, but if Roberson keeps putting out this level of effort defensively, this starting lineup featuring Roberson could be leaned on more frequently until Sefolosha’s return.

Kent Bazemore ends up grounded as a battle for the loose ball ensues. Bazemore posted 16 points off of the Lakers bench.

Kent Bazemore ends up grounded as a battle for the loose ball ensues. Bazemore posted 16 points off of the Lakers bench.

Tomorrow evening will see the Mavericks hit Chesapeake for the last of the Thunder’s three-game home stand. The Mavericks are looking to crack the Thunder code for the first time in a 12-game span. The current 11-game Thunder winning streak not only includes this season’s 107-93 victory from Nov. 6th, but also includes the 4-0 sweep from the 2012 playoffs. They shouldn’t feel bad about it though. Since the start of the ’11-’12 season, the Heat have been the only team to find truly consistent success against the Thunder anyhow. The Mavs will get a chance to break the losing streak tomorrow night at 6pm CST, and those without a ticket can catch the action via the usual suspects: Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

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.

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.

The Thunder Move To 10-0 Against The Kings In OKC

The Thunder Move To 10-0 Against The Kings In OKC

I’m not sure what exactly it is. I know we have one of those atmospheres that even jazzes up visiting teams from time to time. It’s been well documented that even opposing NBA players appreciate the passion that emanates from Chesapeake Energy Arena. I see how that could backfire, if our passion fired up the wrong team. I could very easily envision certain NBA players who would salivate over the challenge to quiet Loud City.

DeMarcus Cousins goes for the lay-in as Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, and Jason Thompson look on. Cousins finished the game with a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double, as teammate Jason Thompson ended his night with an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double. Meanwhile, Durant dropped 30 points for the Thunder, and Ibaka contributed 20 points of his own.

DeMarcus Cousins goes for the lay-in as Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, and Jason Thompson look on. Cousins finished the game with a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double, as teammate Jason Thompson ended his night with an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double. Meanwhile, Durant dropped 30 points for the Thunder, and Ibaka contributed 20 points of his own.

Therefore, I’m not exactly sure why the Kings have been unable to rise to the challenge since “The ‘Peake” was referred to as The Ford Center. In their 10 total trips to Oklahoma City, including last night, the Kings have yet to take a victory away from the area. Although that’s not to say they didn’t try last night.

Cousins tries to work around Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha had 10 points in last night's game.

Cousins tries to work around Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha had 10 points in last night’s game.

The 1st quarter was mostly back-and-forth, with the Kings clinging to a 22-20 advantage with 2:39 remaining in the quarter. That’s when they started a 8-2 run that gave them their largest lead of the game, a 30-22 advantage with 1:15 to play in the period. Unfortunately for the Kings, that would be the largest lead they would see all game, as an immediate 6-0 Thunder run pulled them to within 2 to end the 1st (30-28).

Jeremy Lamb drives around Quincy Acy. Lamb dropped 10 points from the Thunder bench.

Jeremy Lamb drives around Quincy Acy. Lamb dropped 10 points from the Thunder bench.

It ended up as an 8-0 Thunder run when a Jeremy Lamb pull-up jumper tied the game at 30-all with 11:33 remaining in the half. The King’s Isaiah Thomas immediately went on a 6-0 run of his own, as a 3-ball, followed by 3 free throws off of a Lamb foul brought the score to a 36-30 Kings advantage. The Kings lead was still 6 (39-33) at the 9:25 mark when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run to claim a 2-point advantage (41-39) with 5:36 to go until the break. After some slight back-and-forth, the score was 43-all at the 4:04 mark. That’s when the Thunder went on a 12-4 run to claim an 8-point advantage (55-47) with 1:24 left in the half. A Derek Fisher lay-up had the Thunder lead maintained at 8 (57-45) only for Fisher to be yet another Thunder player to foul Thomas behind the arc. His 3 free throws put the score at 55-50 for the half.

Isaiah Thomas goes for the lay-in as Durant and Sefolosha trail. Nick Collison goes for the block. Thomas' 38 points led all scorers, while Collison added 10 points from the Thunder bench.

Isaiah Thomas goes for the lay-in as Durant and Sefolosha trail. Nick Collison goes for the block. Thomas’ 38 points led all scorers, while Collison added 10 points from the Thunder bench.

Thomas was having a great game with Reggie Jackson guarding him. That’s when Scott Brooks actually utilized strategy (surprising, I know), and switched to some Thabo Sefolosha defense for Thomas. The move paid off, as with 9:22 to play in the 3rd, and the score tied 60-all, the Thunder sparked a 27-10 run to give them what was easily their largest lead of the night, at 87-70 with 33 seconds to play in the 3rd. The 4th would begin with a 15-point Thunder advantage, 89-74.

Cousins gets blocked from behind by Ibaka.

Cousins gets blocked from behind by Ibaka.

The 4th saw the Thunder begin it with a 9-0 run that pretty much sealed the win, as it was 98-74 with 8:08 remaining. During that run, the Thunder fanatic got to see one of the more odd ejections of the NBA season. Quincy Acy was called for a shooting foul on Nick Collison. Don’t ask me why, but Rudy Gay really took exception to this. He went off on lead official Ken Mauer, calling the foul BS (but in a much less tactful way) three times before Mauer finally T’d up Gay. You would figure Gay would have learned his lesson. But, despite Mauer telling Gay to calm down, Gay dropped the expletive twice more before Mauer had finally had enough, and T’d up Gay for a second time, effectively ejecting him from the game with 10:01 left to play. The Kings spent the rest of the 4th chipping away, but the Thunder lead was too much to surmount, as the Thunder claimed a 108-93 victory which climbs their record to 31-10, while dropping the Kings’ to 14-25.

Durant and Ibaka showing Reggie Jackson love. Jackson ended his night with 16 points.

Durant and Ibaka showing Reggie Jackson love. Jackson ended his night with 16 points.

Kevin Durant’s 30 points led the Thunder, but notice how much easier wins seem to come by when Durant isn’t asked to do everything by himself? Serge Ibaka dropped 20 for this game, marking his third straight game scoring 20 or more, which is a first in Ibaka’s career. Jackson posted 16 points, while Sefolosha drained 10. Jeremy Lamb and Nick Collison combine for 20 off of the Thunder bench, with both players scoring 10 apiece.

Ibaka with the jam as Thompson trails.

Durant with the jam as Thompson trails.

Thomas’ 38 points led all scorers to take the floor. But, it wasn’t enough to get the win, as there were only two other players to do anything significant for the Kings last night. DeMarcus Cousins had a 16-point, 14-rebound double-double, while Jason Thompson had an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double of his own.

Durant jam from an alternate angle.

Durant jam from an alternate angle.

Tomorrow night, the Thunder have a true test in front of them. They will welcome the Trail Blazers back into town to see f they can get one step closer to tying the season series. The Blazers took a 111-104 victory back on Dec. 4th, and took a 98-94 victory to mark the Thunder’s first New Year’s Eve loss of the OKC era. With only two games remaining in the season series, a split is the best the Thunder can hope for at this point. The game tips at 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, or NBA League Pass.