Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

Thunder-Clippers: A Look Ahead

If you thought the Thunder-Grizzlies series was a nail-biter, you may not be ready for Thunder-Clippers. People who are sans fingernails from the Thunder’s 7-game showdown with the Grizzlies more than likely won’t make it to the end of this series without experiencing cardiac arrest at some point.

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Russell Westbrook 2014 Playoff averages: 25.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 8 APG

Make no mistake, these two teams are very evenly matched. If you’re looking for proof of that last statement, look no further than the 2-2 season-series split between both squads. The first matchup was played back on Nov. 13th, and was most notorious for the Serge Ibaka-Matt Barnes double ejection.

I honestly agree with one commenter’s assessment of it. They should have thrown out double Ts and moved on. It was only a little shoving, it’s not like a punch was even thrown. Either way, Ibaka’s ejection proved costly for the Thunder, as the Clippers took that matchup 111-103.

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha's starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Former Clipper Caron Butler looks to be taking Thabo Sefolosha’s starting SG spot for the forseeable future. 2014 Playoff averages: 7.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1 APG

Matchup #2 gave us a bit of Thunder revenge a mere eight nights later. An out-of-sync Clippers defense allowed 51.9% shooting from the Thunder, and the Thunder went on to a convincing 105-91 outcome. The thing that stuck out to me about that game was towards the end, when Steven Adams goes to shake the hand of former Thunder player Byron Mullens, and Mullens doesn’t even bother to acknowledge him. Adams, crafty big man that he is, decided to remedy the situation in his own way:

Adams: "Good game... or not. Whatever. At least I'm still The Man."

Adams: “Good game… or not. Whatever. At least I’m still The Man.”

The third matchup was played Feb. 23rd, exactly one week after the All-Star game. The Thunder struggled mightily following the All-Star break, but I thought they played the Clippers well here. The defense did everything you can do short of fouling, but Clippers bench player Jamal Crawford was not going to be stopped in that game. I couldn’t believe some of the shots he was making through the defense the Thunder had on him. He had basically no space, hands all up in his line of sight, and he was still draining jumpers, some of them all-net, which was a big factor in getting the Clippers a 125-117 victory. Here’s video of Crawford’s 36-point performance. Your eyes will pop out of your head as you see some of the shots he was hitting.

Less than a month ago, April 9th, saw the last regular-season meeting between the two squads. It was a game the Thunder controlled pretty much the entire way, but a 4th quarter surge by the Clippers nearly stole the victory. the Thunder were able to hold them off at the end for a 107-101 victory.

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

Kevin Durant 2014 Playoff averages: 29.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.4 APG

As it pertains to this playoff series, the Thunder are staring down the NBA’s highest scoring team of the regular season (averaging 107.9 points a game). Therefore, the Thunder D will need to be on top of their game at all times. One defensive slip up, and a large enough Clipper run, and the Thunder will see games get away from them. This is a Clipper team that does not let up, and they seem to love the run-and-gun style just as much as the Thunder. The Thunder, on the other hand, counter with the league’s leading scorer in Kevin Durant. According to NBA.com, here are five things to keep an eye on as this series progresses:

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

Serge Ibaka 2014 Playoff averages: 13 PPG, 7.1 RPG, .6 APG

1) The play of Kevin Durant: He was struggling immensely in the Grizzlies series before a disparaging headline and possible elimination forced him to stop thinking, and start having fun. He went from averaging 28 points on 40% shooting in the first 5 games, to 34.5 points off of 56% shooting in the last 2. He can’t think about things too much. He needs to just go out on the court loose, and treat it like a day at the park. When he just let’s his game flow naturally, he’s at his best. Overanalyzing things has a tendency to hurt an athlete’s overall performance, because then hesitation in said athlete becomes increasingly noticeable. Hesitation in this league can prove very costly. Trust me. This is coming from one of the most notorious overanalyzers on Earth. This is actually the reason I time-crunch assignments in my college courses. Waiting until the last possible second to get my assignments done prevents me from overthinking them, and turning in an incoherent essay with my thoughts all over the place because, “Oh, I just thought of this as well”. Because in all honesty, if certain facts failed to pop in your head as you write something, the thoughts that you omitted are more than likely not that relevant to your topic anyway. But, as you may have noticed, I’m beginning to digress here.

Kendrick Perkins 2014 playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: "You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?")

Kendrick Perkins 2014 Playoff averages: 4.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, .7 APG (Perkins: “You really thought I was gonna smile in this photo?”)

2) Chris Paul’s sore right hamstring: Sore hamstrings are already tough to deal with on their own, but as Mike Conley proved in Game 7 of the previous series, a sore right hamstring is even tougher to deal with when you’re tasked with guarding Russell Westbrook. While Conley was good for 20 points in that game, he had no answer for Westbrook’s blinding speed. Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10 rebound triple-double put him in some elite company. Paul should still get his numbers, as he posted a 22 point, 14 assist double-double in Game 7 vs. the Warriors. Although now Paul is going to try to accomplish what Conley could not, and try to limit Westbrook’s numbers on a bad hamstring, which is far easier said than done.

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

Chris Paul 2014 Playoff averages: 17.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 9 APG

3) The Ibaka-Griffin matchup: Let’s face it. We all know Blake Griffin is a beast. Oklahoma is familiar with Griffin, seeing as he played his high school and college ball here in the state. Griffin is used to dominating his opposition down low, but Ibaka is not a man who can be dominated very easily, if he can be dominated at all. Plus it seems as though tensions really ratchet up in the post when those two are battling down there.

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

J.J. Reddick 2014 Playoff averages: 14.3 PPG, 2 RPG, 2.3 APG

4) Will Westbrook continue to facilitate?: Westbrook’s first 5 games against the Grizzlies saw him take 25.6 shots per game, as he averaged 25.4 points per game on 34% shooting. He actually averaged more points in the final 2 games at 26 off of 51% shooting. His shots per game fell to 18.5 as his assists climbed to 10.5 a game. As long as he can maintain a balance between facilitating and aggression, he’ll help give the Thunder the best possible chance to win.

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

Matt Barnes 2014 Playoff averages: 8.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG

5) How much do these teams have left?: NBA.com asked this question in regards to the Clippers, but I honestly still feel as though it applies to the Thunder as well. Both teams just came off of brutal and highly physical 7-game tests. Granted, the Thunder really seemed to find their stride in their last 2, while the Clippers were trailing for the majority of their Game 7 against the Warriors, so I can see why NBA.com wasn’t as quick to ask that about the Thunder. But these two teams matchup very well, and this series is expected to be just as physical as their previous ones. One key injury could easily derail either squad.

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

Blake Griffin 2014 Playoff averages: 23.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.6 APG

I’m noticing that when people are asked to pick a winner, the majority will say either the Clippers in 6, or the Thunder in 7. I’m leaning more towards the Thunder in 7 myself. If the Clippers win, they’ll have to get it done in 6, because if a Game 7 in OKC is forced, I just don’t see the Clippers having anything left for it. The reason? I just feel like they’ll expend most of their energy trying to close out Game 6. Failure to do so would leave that team way too drained to compete in Game 7. The Clippers could potentially take a game or two here in OKC, but it certainly won’t be the deciding Game 7 if it comes down to it.

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

DeAndre Jordan 2014 Playoff averages: 12.1 PPG, 15.1 RPG, 1 APG

Game 1 comes to us from The Peake, and tip-off is scheduled for 8:30pm CST. The game will be featured at the back-end of TNT’s double-header, and you already know you’re going to want to catch this one. I have a feeling this series could produce even more drama than the last one.

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Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Let the Memphis Conspiracy Theories Begin

Blaming refs, blaming league officials, blaming any outside force they can think of is exactly what almost all fans do once their team has been eliminated from the postseason. Hell, the conspiracy theories out of Memphis had already started before Game 7 even tipped.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

Kevin Durant led all scorers with his 33 points. Here he is with that scowl I like to see from him. Get mad, KD!

I was seeing ignorant drivel on my Facebook feed to the likes of:

“They only suspended Z-Bo because they can’t afford to have their MVP ousted from the 1st round.”

“That wasn’t a punch! That was a shove!”

“The Grizz would have won if the refs weren’t playing for OKC.”

The last statement made me laugh. If that were the case, why did the Grizzlies take 34 free throws to the Thunder’s 30 in Game 7? Why did they take 28 free throws to the Thunder’s 25 in Game 6? Why did the Grizz take 26 free throws to the Thunder’s 19 in Game 5? Why did they take 23 free throws to the Thunder’s 20 in Game 4? The refs gave the Grizz chance after chance. It’s not the NBA’s fault that the Grizzlies couldn’t cash in at the line.

Russell Westbrook's 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double proved historic.

And to the idiots saying Zach Randolph only pushed Steven Adams and didn’t punch him, this tape proves otherwise.

And some sad Memphis fans still willfully put blinders on and called it a push on the video. The butthurt in the comments section is very strong. I guess I’d be disappointed too if my team had a chance to eliminate a #2 seed in Game 6, only to suffer a monumental 2-game collapse and blow the series. Quit making excuses for a thug like Randolph! He has a history of pulling this crap, and that history is what likely prompted the decision to suspend him. If you can’t hold your emotions in check, you’re in the wrong league. This is not Rucker Park, or The Cage on West 4th St. No blood, no foul does not apply to the NBA. This is a league of professionals, and anyone who fails to conduct themselves in a professional manner suffers the consequences. It doesn’t really matter anyway, because what’s done is done. Hell, I’m done with the Randolph issue. Let’s take a look at these Game 7 numbers.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

Serge Ibaka dropped 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

The Thunder used a total team effort in Game 7 to advance. Kevin Durant’s 33 points led all scorers to take the floor. Russell Westbrook’s 27-point, 16-assist, 10-rebound triple-double marks his 2nd Game 7 triple-double for his postseason career, making him only the 2nd player in NBA history to accomplish the feat, with Rajon Rondo being the 1st. The stat line also makes him the 3rd player in NBA history to score at least 25 points, dish out at least 15 assists, and pull down at least 10 rebounds in an NBA playoff game. Oscar Robinson was the first to accomplish this feat, and Chris Paul (who the Thunder will see in the next round) has accomplished it on two separate occasions. Not only that, but Westbrook’s 16 assists ties a postseason franchise record that was set by Nate McMillan back in ’87, when they were still the Seattle Supersonics. Serge Ibaka was good for 12 points, and Caron Butler scored 15 as he once again started at SG in place of Thabo Sefolosha. While you figure Sefolosha would be a little miffed at being benched, it looks like he took it in stride. I’m sure he feels like any lineup changes that result in an NBA Championship are more than welcome. I know that’s how I’d feel about it if I were in his position. But to conclude, Reggie Jackson came off of the bench to drop 16 points. With a 120-109 victory, those 16 points were the difference between an 11-point victory and a 5-point defeat. When at least one bench player scores big, the Thunder put themselves in a much better position to win.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Caron Butler scores 15 starting in place of Thabo Sefolosha for the 2nd straight game.

Marc Gasol’s 24 points led the Grizzlies, but Mike Conley deserves some credit for dropping 20 points while playing on a bad hamstring. Courtney Lee dropped 16, and Tony Allen was good for 15 points starting in place of Tayshaun Prince and playing with an eye injury. Beno Udrih came off of the Grizzlies bench to score 12.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson was good for 16 points off of the Thunder bench.

I will bring you the Thunder-Clippers series preview tomorrow. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the series victory. Stay basketball-hungry, my friends.

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.

Thunder Follow Up Nuggets Blowout With Mavericks Letdown

Thunder Follow Up Nuggets Blowout With Mavericks Letdown
The leading scorers for their respective squads. Kevind Durant posted 27 points against the Nuggets, and 43 points against the Mavericks. Ty Lawson was good for 25 points against the Thunder.

The leading scorers for their respective squads. Kevin Durant posted 27 points against the Nuggets, and 43 points against the Mavericks. Ty Lawson was good for 25 points against the Thunder.

The Nuggets game was the blowout I’d expected, seeing as they really had nothing to play for anyway. One more loss was going to render their elimination from the playoffs mathematically official, and they had way too many injuries to overcome a Thunder team that has been learning to overcome injuries on the fly themselves since All-Star Weekend. Danilo Gallinari was out with a torn ACL in his left knee, JaVale McGee was out with a left tibia stress fracture, Wilson Chandler was out with a strained left groin, JJ Hickson was out with a torn ACL in his right knee, and former Thunder guard Nate Robinson was out with a sprained ACL in his left knee. On top of all of that, recent trade-deadline acquisition Jan Vesley wound up sitting out due to a left rib cage contusion (bruised ribs).

Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka give Randy Foye a hard time at the basket as Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Kenneth Faried look on. Jackson posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double, while Ibaka dropped 15 points, and Steven Adams added 10. Foye and Faried were both good for 11 points, but Faried also grabbed 11 rebounds as well.

Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka give Randy Foye a hard time at the basket as Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, and Kenneth Faried look on. Jackson posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double against the Nuggets, and was good for 11 points off of the bench against the Mavs. Ibaka dropped 15 points against the Nuggets, and added 10 against the Mavs. Steven Adams scored 10 against the Nuggets. Foye and Faried were both good for 11 points against the Thunder, but Faried also grabbed 11 rebounds as well.

The Nuggets’ largest lead was 13-10 at the 6:58 mark of the first quarter. The Thunder would then use almost the rest of the 1st to set up a 31-9 run to create serious breathing room at 41-22. The Nuggets ended the 1st with a 2-pointer with 2/10ths of a second left. This became a 12-0 run that pulled the Nuggets within 7 (41-34). The Thunder then used a 14-4 run to push the lead back to 17 (55-38). with 6:25 until halftime. The Thunder would claim a 117-96 victory that lifted them to 52-18, while dropping the Nuggets to 32-39, effectively eliminating them from the playoff race. The win also allows the Thunder to claim a 3-1 season-series victory.

Ibaka rises through the defense of Timofey Mosgov and Quincy Miller, who were both good for 12 points apiece against the Thunder.

Ibaka rises through the defense of Timofey Mosgov and Quincy Miller, who were both good for 12 points apiece against the Thunder.

Kevin Durant led all scorers with 27 points, while Serge Ibaka was good for 15 points. Reggie Jackson posted his second career double-double starting in place of the resting Russell Westbrook (16 points, 11 assists), and rookie big man Steven Adams scored 10 points starting in place of the injured Kendrick Perkins. Caron Butler provided fire from the Thunder bench with his 23 points, and bench big man Nick Collison was good for 10 points of his own.

Big man Nick Collison lets the rebound come to him. Collison was good for 10 points against the Nuggets.

Big man, Nick Collison lets the rebound come to him. Collison was good for 10 points against the Nuggets.

All of the Nuggets’ starting five scored double figures, led by Ty Lawson’s 25 points. Quincy Miller and Timofey Mosgov scored 12 points apiece, Randy Foye dropped 11, and Kenneth Faried’s 11 points provided a double-double performance when coupled with his 11 rebounds.

Caron Butler drives past Foye. Butler exploded for 23 bench points against the Nuggets, and an additional 10 against the Mavs.

Caron Butler drives past Foye. Butler exploded for 23 bench points against the Nuggets, and an additional 10 against the Mavs.

The Mavericks’ victory on Tuesday Night allowed them to claim a 2-1 season-series victory over the Thunder, which makes them the only team to do so this season. Others have split their season series with the Thunder, but the Mavs have been the only team to claim their’s outright. This victory also allowed them to claim a half-game lead over the Suns in the Western Conference, so the Thunder might be okay with not getting the #1 seed if the Mavericks end up with the 8th and final playoff spot.

Durant streaks past Shawn Marion. Marion was good for 11 points against the Thunder.

Durant streaks past Shawn Marion. Marion was good for 11 points against the Thunder.

It was a good game all around. The largest Thunder lead was 9, while the largest Maverick lead was 10. There were 10 ties and 16 lead changes as well. The Mavs just broke the Thunder in the overtime period, outscoring them 17-8 to win 128-119. This win put the Mavs at 43-29 at the time, while dropping the Thunder to their current 52-19 record. Although last night’s loss to the Clippers puts the currently 43-30 Mavs a half-game behind the Suns for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Thunder are now a full 3 games behind the red-hot Spurs, who have won their last 15 consecutive games. The Thunder and the Spurs both have 11 games remaining on their schedule, and with the Mavs 10 games behind the Thunder at the #9 spot, this means that both the Thunder and Spurs have their playoff tickets punched. It’s simply about seeding at this point.

Durant goes "Air Jordan" as Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis trail. Calderon finished with 22 points, while Ellis finished with 17.

Durant goes “Air Jordan” as Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis trail. Calderon finished with 22 points, while Ellis finished with 17.

Durant once again led all scorers with 43 points. This marks the 36th straight 25+-point performance, putting him 4 behind the great Michael Jordan for largest such streak. Westbrook dropped 23 points in limited action, while Ibaka added 10. Jackson, Butler, and Derek Fisher even combined for 34 points off of the Thunder bench (Fisher: 13, Jackson:11, Butler:10).

Ibaka slams as Dirk Nowitzki, Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert spectate. Nowitzki's 32-point, 10-rebound double-double did the damage, while Dalembert added 10 points of his own.

Ibaka slams as Dirk Nowitzki, Calderon, and Samuel Dalembert spectate. Nowitzki’s 32-point, 10-rebound double-double did the damage, while Dalembert added 10 points of his own.

Dirk Nowitzki was “The Man” in this game however. 32 points and 10 rebounds saw to that. Jose Calderon dropped 22 points, including the 3 that forced OT. Monta Ellis posted 17 points, Shawn Marion dropped 11, and Dalembert added 10. Vince Carter and Jae Crowder even combined for 26 points off of the Mavs bench (Carter: 16, Crowder: 10).

Vince Carter runs into both Butler and Derek Fisher on the way to the rim. Fisher dropped 13 points off of the Thunder bench, while Carter dropped 16 off of the Mavs bench.

Vince Carter runs into both Butler and Derek Fisher on the way to the rim. Fisher dropped 13 points off of the Thunder bench, while Carter dropped 16 off of the Mavs bench.

The Thunder begin the first of a three-game home stand tonight, as they welcome the Kings. The Thunder are currently 2-0 in the season series, as they claimed a 97-95 victory on Dec. 3rd, and a 108-93 victory on Jan. 19th. The Kings are already mathematically out of the playoffs, and have been for some time now. All they can hope to do is play spoiler and split their season series at this point. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm CST, and will be broadcast via Fox Sports Oklahoma, WWLS The Sports Animal, and NBA League Pass.

Russell Westbrook looks to get the ball past Calderon. Westbrook scored 23 points in limited action.

Russell Westbrook looks to get the ball past Calderon. Westbrook scored 23 points in limited action.

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.

Patrick Beverly’s Aggression Proves Costly As Thunder Take 4th Straight At The Peake

Patrick Beverly’s Aggression Proves Costly As Thunder Take 4th Straight At The Peake

NBA.com’s Randy Renner is even referring to Chesapeake Energy Arena as “The Peake”, so I might as well drop the apostrophe and quotations when I use it moving forward. I have a feeling that name will take off big in the next season or two.

Kevin Durant floats one over Howard as James Harden looks on. Durant led all scorers with 48 points, while Harden led all Rockets scorers with 28. Howard added 10 rebounds.

Kevin Durant floats one over Dwight Howard as James Harden looks on. Durant led all scorers with 48 points, while Harden led all Rockets scorers with 28. Howard added 10 rebounds.

Renner gave me a great laugh yesterday however as I was gathering material for this postgame. In the Rockets-Thunder notebook, he described the Thunder defense as having “returned from an extended All-Star break”. Well, they certainly showed up at “The ‘Peake” against James Harden, Dwight Howard and the rest of the Rockets squad. Although Patrick Beverly and his two incidents involving Russell Westbrook in the 1st quarter provided all of the fuel the Thunder would require, as Renner points to those incidents in particular (which I would agree with) as the turning point of the ball game. They certainly got not only the squad fired up, but the entire Oklahoma City crowd as well. But to really put them in perspective, allow me to set the backdrop for a moment.

Westbrook and Patrick Beverly waste no time reestablishing their rivarly last night.

Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverly waste no time reestablishing their rivalry last night. Westbrook ended up getting the better of it, finishing with 24 points against Beverly’s 2.

Westbrook scored the game’s opening 2 points off of a Kevin Durant assist, followed by the Rockets rattling off 7 straight points. This 7-2 lead would eventually prove to be the Rockets’ largest of the game, but I digress. The Thunder would then answer with 6 straight points to reclaim an 8-7 lead. After trading buckets, the Rockets would hit another 5 unanswered points to claim a 14-10 lead. James Harden had just made a 3-pointer, and Westbrook calls for the timeout when Beverly goes for the late steal in a way very reminiscent of how Westbrook received his knee injury that required a surgical hat trick to fully repair. Westbrook responded with a shove, and then Beverly shoved back, earning himself a technical foul with 6:10 remaining in the 1st.

That incident alone would have been enough to light the Thunder’s collective fuse, but Beverly apparently felt as though he didn’t do enough. Following his lone basket of the game, Beverly goes for another steal against Westbrook, sending both players crashing to the ground. Then, in an I’m-not-exactly-sure-what-you’re-trying-to-prove type of move, Beverly decides to wrap Westbrook up and try to pin him to the court. The officials decided that this was the time to let Beverly know that this type of play was not going to be tolerated, and subsequently slapped him with his first personal foul at the 5:07 mark.

All of this went down towards the beginning of an 11-3 run, which ironically saw Beverly score his only 2 points of the game (a run that was 8-1 following Beverly’s made basket). This run resulted in a 21-17  Thunder lead with 2:32 to play in the 1st. Then an odd 4-1 Rockets run that consisted of all free throws brought them to within 1 (22-21), before a Caron Butler jump shot off of a Derek Fisher assist would briefly break the monotony. The rest of the 1st would end with both teams trading free throws.

Caron Butler, the newest Thunder acquisition.

Caron Butler, the newest Thunder acquisition, is quickly proving to be a reliable bench scorer, adding 11 points last night.

The 2nd opened with 3 more Rocket free throws, ending a strange period that saw Butler’s 2 points as the only points scored that didn’t come off of free throws following Durant’s diving bank shot with 3:36 left in the 1st quarter. If you count the 3 by Durant before his diving bank shot, just after Beverly’s only made bucket, you have a period where, despite the Thunder outscoring the Rockets 13-11, all but 4 Thunder points came off of free throws for both teams. Apparently The Thunder defense got so fired up following Beverly’s actions against Westbrook, that the Rockets would go on to miss their next 12 shots from the field. The Rockets went so cold, they even ran into trouble at the foul line, going 11-for-17 at the charity stripe during that period. But even though the Rockets’ last 11 points came from the free throw line, they were still enjoying a 28-27 lead with 9:14 to play in the first half (which would end up being their last lead of the game). That’s when the Thunder went up-tempo, and sparked a 23-5 run that established a 17-point lead with 3:46 remaining in the 2nd. The Rockets tried to push back, but the Thunder lead was 15 (56-41), heading into halftime.

Westbrook finishes the easy lay-in.

Westbrook finishes the easy lay-in.

The 3rd started with 3 points from the Thunder, which extended their lead to 18 (59-41). This would prove to be their largest lead of the game however, as the Thunder proceeded to do what they do best. Up 18 with about 22 minutes of basketball left, the Thunder once again decide to sit back. The Rockets immediately take advantage of this decision with a 12-4 run that closed the gap to 11 (63-52) with 7:17 left in the 3rd. After a 7-2 Thunder run reopened the lead to 16 (70-54), the Rockets would respond with 7 unanswered points to pull within single-digits (70-61) for the first time since the 5:28 mark of the 2nd quarter. And this turnaround happened so fast, there was still 2:58 left in the 3rd quarter. The 3rd would end with both teams trading shots, and the Thunder hanging on to a 77-67 lead.

Durant takes the open shot as he catches Harden, Jeremy Lin,  and Chandler Parsons all with their hands down. Parsons finished with 19 points.

Durant takes the open shot as he catches Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Chandler Parsons all with their hands down. Parsons finished with 19 points.

The 4th opened with a Rockets run that started on Jeremy Lin’s floater with 36.8 seconds to play in the 3rd. That run ended at 9-2, pulling the Rockets within two possessions (79-74) with 8:44 left on the game clock.The Thunder pushed back, scoring 7 unanswered to push the lead back to double digits (86-74) with 7:39 to play. 5 unanswered Rockets points would subsequently end up rebutted by 6 unanswered Thunder points, but the Rockets would make a late push with a 13-5 run that had them once again looking at a two-possession game (97-92) with a mere 2:25 remaining. 2 Durant free throws were answered at the other end by a Francisco Garcia driving jumper. That’s when Beverly was whistled for the foul that would end the Rockets’ chance at a comeback, catching Westbrook mid-air and mid-fall behind the 3-point arc. Westbrook would go on to hit all 3 free throws, establishing an 8-point lead (102-94) with 1:31 to play. 8 points would prove to be the difference, as the Thunder claim a 106-98 victory that puts them at 47-17 for the season while claiming their 4th straight win at home. Meanwhile, the Rockets fall to 44-20, as their 5-game winning streak ends up snapped the moment they take it on the road.

Three of the Thunder's 4 big contributors of the evening sharing a well-deserved celebration.

Three of the Thunder’s 4 big contributors of the evening sharing a well-deserved celebration.

In this postgame video they talk about how reputation got Beverly a bad call to end that game. Sorry, but after the two stunts he pulled in the 1st quarter, I can’t say I feel bad for him.

Durant’s 42 points not only led all scorers, but marked his 11th 40+-point game of the season. He also tied a career high by scoring 25+ in his 29th consecutive game. Westbrook not only added 24 points, but Serge Ibaka had a strong 12-point, 16-rebound performance that marks his 23rd double-double of the season. New addition (and turning into quite the bench scorer) Caron Butler was even nice enough to add 11 points from the Thunder bench.

Serge Ibaka rises to challenge Howard. Ibaka ended his night with a 12-point, 16-rebound double-double.

Serge Ibaka rises to challenge Howard. Ibaka ended his night with a 12-point, 16-rebound double-double.

The Rockets’ starters struggled mightily from the field. Harden posted 28 points, but shot only 9-for-21 from the field, including 3-of-7 from downtown. 7 of Harden’s points came from the charity stripe. Chandler Parsons scored 19, but they came off of a 6-for-17 shooting performance that also saw 3-for-7 from beyond the arc. 4 of Parson’s points were also foul shots. Howard posted 10 rebounds, but was held to a mere 9 points off of 4-for-12 shooting, including a dismal 1-for-6 from the free-throw line (Big props to Steven Adams for the defense he played there.). The only real bright spot for the Rockets came from their bench, as Garcia dropped 11 points off of 4-for-5 shooting, which included 3-of-4 from 3-point land.

The two most efficient scorers for each squad last night, as Durant's 42 points came off of 12-for-22 shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, while Francisco Garcia provided 11 points off of 4-for-5 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown.

The two most efficient scorers for each squad last night, as Durant’s 42 points came off of 12-for-22 shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, while Francisco Garcia provided 11 points off of 4-for-5 shooting, including 3-of-4 from downtown.

Tonight the Thunder look to prove that Sunday’s 114-100 loss to the Lakers was a mere fluke. A win tonight will not only mark the 5th straight home victory, but will claim a 3-1 season-series victory over the Lakers. The Thunder took the Dec. 13th match-up with a convincing 122-97 final, but barely held on to beat the Lakers during their first trip to LA, squeaking out a 107-103 win. If the Thunder defense and the home crowd can be as intense as they were two nights ago, the Thunder should get their win back. The game is scheduled for an 8:30 CST tip-off, but seeing as TNT has picked up the game for the back-end of tonight’s double-header, a 9:30 CST tip-off is far more likely. Not near a TV? You can still catch the action via WWLS, The Sports Animal.

Grizzlies Comeback Attempt Falls Short As Thunder D Tightens Up At Crunch Time

Grizzlies Comeback Attempt Falls Short As Thunder D Tightens Up At Crunch Time

I’m sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday. I was helping out on a move and didn’t realize how tired I was until after I got back home. If I would have attempted this last night, I would have ended up with a draft characterized by disjointed thoughts and incoherent rambling, which I would surely have never let see the light of day anyway.

Marc Gasol goes for a floater over Hasheem Thabeet. Gasol finished the game with 17 points.

Marc Gasol goes for a floater over Hasheem Thabeet. Gasol finished the game with 17 points.

Looking back, I’m sure every Thunder fan was watching the 4th quarter and asking themselves, “Are they really going to find a way to give this game away too?” We spent most of it watching the Grizzlies slowly, but surely chip away at a 19-point lead the Thunder had built throughout most of the game. But I’m obviously getting ahead of myself. To paraphrase the opening soundbite of a White Zombie album, perhaps I’d better start from the beginning.

Tayshaun Prince with the slick jam. Prince ended the game with 12 points.

Tayshaun Prince with the slick jam. Prince ended the game with 12 points.

The Grizzlies opened the game with the first two buckets, but that 4-0 lead would end up being their largest of the game. To make matters worse for the Grizz, the start of a Thunder run ensured that the 4-3 advantage at the 10:00 mark would be their last lead of the game. The Thunder run in reference ended at 10-2, giving the Thunder a 10-6 lead with 7:35 to play in the opening quarter. Even though the Grizzlies had managed to tie the game at 12-all with 6:20 to go in the 1st, an 11-3 run established an 8-point lead for the Thunder (23-15) with 3:10 remaining. The Thunder lead held steady up to the end of the 1st, as they took a 29-22 advantage into quarter #2.

James Johnson splits the defense of Thabeet and Nick Collison as he rises. Johnson provided 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

James Johnson splits the defense of Thabeet and Nick Collison as he rises. Johnson provided 11 points from the Grizzlies bench.

The Thunder lead was still 7 (33-26) when a 3-point Thunder basket had extended it to 10 (36-26) with 8:15 to play until halftime. That’s when the Grizzlies started their initial comeback effort by initiating a run that ended at 10-4, pulling the Grizzlies to within 4 (40-36) with 5:16 left in the first half. The Thunder shut that effort down by ending the first half on a 17-6 run that gave the Thunder their largest lead to that point (57-42). The best part of this first half for the Thunder was that they gave up 42 points to the very formidable Grizzlies in its entirety. Keep in mind, the Thunder’s last loss came because they allowed 42 from the Cavs in the 4th quarter alone.

Serge Ibaka passes up Zach Randoplh for the lay-in, Ibaka finished his evening with 16 points.

Serge Ibaka passes up Zach Randolph for the lay-in, Ibaka finished his evening with 16 points.

After a quick Grizzlies lay-in to open the quarter, two unanswered 3-point buckets by the Thunder would give them their largest lead of the game (63-44) at the 10:11 mark of the 3rd. Even though the Grizzlies were able to generate a couple of mini-runs, the Thunder pretty much cruised through the 3rd quarter, still holding a 16-point lead (87-71) as they entered the 4th.

Russell Westbrook catches Mike Conley out of position. Westbrook's 21 points made him the #2 scorer of the game.

Russell Westbrook catches Mike Conley out of position. Westbrook’s 21 points made him the #2 scorer of the game.

The Thunder lead was still 16 (89-73) with 10 minutes even to play. That’s when a quick 9-2 run pulled the Grizzlies within 9 (91-82) with 8:40 left on the game clock. The Thunder were able to reextend their lead to 13 (99-86) with 7:13 left, when the Grizzlies pulled off another run, this one a 16-6 run that turned a blowout game into a one-possession game (105-102) with a mere 2:29 left on the game clock. I guess the Thunder D had a plan to clamp down if the Grizzlies eclipsed 30 points in any given quarter, however. They’d only allowed 29 in the 3rd, and once the 30 and 31st points were scored for the Grizzlies in the 4th, the Thunder defense that had been AWOL at various times since their return to game action from the All-Star break decided to show at the most critical point in the game. Once the Grizzlies closed the Thunder lead to 3, the defense forced timely misses from the perimeter. Not only that, but Kevin Durant finally shook off his crunch-time funk at the offensive end with two much-needed jumpers (one off of a Russell Westbrook assist), and two timely free throws that provided the killing blow to the Grizzlies’ comeback hopes. Serge Ibaka’s two made free throws with seven-tenths of a second to play were mere icing on the cake at that point, as the Thunder took a 3-1 season-series win by a score of 113-107. Their record improves to 44-15 while the Grizzlies fall to 32-25. (The Grizzlies record is now 33-25 after last night’s 110-96 victory over the Cavs.)

Kevin Durant puts one over Prince. Durant's 37 points led all scorers to take the floor in this game.

Kevin Durant puts one over Prince. Durant’s 37 points led all scorers to take the floor in this game.

One of my biggest problems with the Thunder this season was put on display yet again in this game, as they started getting too comfortable and playing slopball once again. Some of the turnovers the Thunder were guilty of in the 4th were appalling. NBA.com’s Randy Renner has apparently noticed the same thing I have when it comes to “Thunder basketball” this year, especially in terms of the defense. What he put in the game’s notebook section on NBA.com hit the nail right on the head:

Courtney Lee drives against Reggie Jackson. Lee contributed 10 points to the Grizzlies' total.

Courtney Lee drives against Reggie Jackson. Lee contributed 10 points to the Grizzlies’ total.

“The Thunder defense relaxed again in the fourth quarter. It’s something that has happened several times this season in both wins and losses. … Clearly the Thunder still don’t have that killer instinct to put teams that are down, out of the game.”

Zach Randolph splits both Ibaka and Steven Adams on the way up. Randolph posted the game's lone double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

Zach Randolph splits both Ibaka and Steven Adams on the way up. Randolph posted the game’s lone double-double with 13 points and 10 boards.

At least Durant and Westbrook did what they needed to do to stop the slide. Durant’s 37 points led all scorers to take the floor, while Westbrook’s 21 made him the second-leading scorer amongst all players to see minutes. Ibaka added 16 points while being 1 rebound shy of yet another double-double, and Reggie Jackson shook off his recent cold streak with 14 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson, the man who provided 14 points off of the Thunder bench.

Reggie Jackson, the man who provided 14 points off of the Thunder bench.

The individual numbers Grizzlies players post in losses at times can astound you. Zach Randolph had the game’s lone double-double with a 13-point, 10-rebound performance. Marc Gasol provided 17 points of his own, while Tayshaun Prince posted 12 points, and Courtney Lee dropped 10. The Grizzlies bench deserves the bulk of the credit for keeping the game respectable, and one bench player in particular. While James Johnson contributed 11 bench points of his own, Mike Miller’s 19 bench points led all Grizzlies players, including the starters. Another interesting fact is all 19 of Miller’s points came in the 4th quarter, rendering him almost single-handedly responsible for the Grizzlies near-comeback. To put his 19 4th quarter points into better perspective, the rest of the team scored 17 combined in the 4th, with Kosta Koufos actually scoring 9 of those himself (Oddly enough, like Miller, all 9 of Koufos’ points also came in the 4th quarter, which were all bench points as well.). That bench easily helped keep the Grizzlies in this one, as 58 points by the starting five were met with 49 from the bench, although 30 came from just two players, Miller and Johnson. Now that I think about it though, the school of thought going into the 4th was that the game was already over, hence the lack of starters scoring for the Grizzlies in the 4th. All 36 of the Grizzlies 4th quarter points were bench points.

Mike Miller finds himself all alone as he shoots the floater. Miller's 19 points, all coming in the 4th quarter, were the catalyst in the Grizzlies' near-comeback.

Mike Miller finds himself all alone as he shoots the floater. Miller’s 19 points, all coming in the 4th quarter, were the catalyst for the Grizzlies’ near-comeback.

By the time you see this, the next game should be just getting started, rendering this part essentially pointless. However, the Thunder are hosting the Bobcats this evening. The Bobcats are looking to end the season series in a 1-1 split, as they took a heart-breaking 89-85 loss at home on Dec. 27th. The Thunder of course will be looking to sweep. The game is scheduled for 6pm tip-off at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but with the current weather conditions, I’d advise anyone planning to attend to be extra cautious on the roads this evening. The ones who don’t care to brave the elements can catch the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma or NBA League Pass. Those who can’t get to a TV, but have radio access can catch the game via WWLS The Sports Animal.

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.

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.