Somewhat angrier birds

Down 3-0 in the season series, the New Orleans Pelicans came to Oklahoma City with a chip on their collective shoulder and a new non-secret weapon: DeMarcus Cousins, recently arrived from Sacramento. Cousins is as surly as ever — the only NBA player so far this season to be suspended for too many technicals, he got T’d up once more tonight. Not that anyone noticed, there being six other techs tonight. And it was a close one, the Birds up three after the first quarter, a 59-all tie at the half, the Thunder up three after the third. Cousins proved to be as wily as ever, drawing double- and even triple-teams, leaving superstar forward Anthony Davis all alone to knock ’em down. And knock ’em down Davis did. Still, things were fierce going both ways, and both Cousins and Andre Roberson wound up getting broomed after six fouls, which didn’t make the windup any quieter; it took an even hairier than usual performance from Russell Westbrook — 41 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists — to finally put away the Pels, 118-110. Of those 41 points, 21 came in the fourth quarter.

Before Cousins fouled out — Westbrook, of course, drew that foul — he’d rung up 31 points, including 15 of 15 from the stripe. Davis went 15-28 for 38 points. Didn’t leave much for the other Pelicans, but such is the way of the team with two very strong players. (Like, for instance, the Thunder through last season.) Enes Kanter was much closer to form, with 20 points and 9 boards; Steven Adams did the double-double with 13-10. And there were a lot of free throws: 37 on either side, with New Orleans bagging 30, the Thunder 28.

Tuesday night, the Jazz, who lead the Northwest Division by three games, will come to OKC. Anything can happen in Thunder-Jazz, and more often than not, it will. Just you wait.


New look, sort of

The Thunder this week looked mostly like the Thunder last week, but there were some marked differences. For one, Enes Kanter was back in the lineup. For another, the most recent act of Prestidigitation brought the team Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott (and a draft pick, but you won’t see that for a while), while Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne were dealt to the Bulls. And just to confound matters, Alex Abrines got the start at shooting guard, filling in for Victor Oladipo, who complained of back spams. (I don’t blame ya, VO; if I had ’em, I’d complain too.) Expected result: Sr. Abrines collects a career high, 19 points. Unexpected result: Andre Roberson collects a career high, also 19 points. And the Lakers, not privy to any of this maneuvering, did what they usually do these days: they lost on the road. Oklahoma City 110, Los Angeles 93, the season series is finished at 3-1, and perhaps we’ll have some happy pundits in town.

The two ex-Bulls acquitted themselves well, with Gibson picking up 12 points and McDermott eight. (Not so well: Kanter, a little rusty after a month off, with four.) Oh, and there was another Russell Westbrook triple-double: 17-18-17. The shocker, though, was Roberson, who hit eight of nine shots including all three 3-pointers. (Although, to remind you he’s still Dre, he missed both his free throws.) The Lakers had some offense to fling, much of it supplied by D’Angelo Russell, with a game-high 29, albeit on 26 shots. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench for 14 more. L.A. did not shoot well overall, landing just short of 40 percent and nailing only seven 3-pointers out of 35 tries. They did, however, pull off 15 steals (four by Russell), and they blocked eight shots. (OKC: nine steals, seven blocks.)

For the first game after the All-Star break, “not horrible” is satisfactory. The Pelicans, who arrive Sunday, will likely put up more of a fight.


New York regrooved

So the Knickerbockers came to town, and they proceeded to beat the living snot out of the Thunder — for the first quarter, anyway, in which New York rolled up a 39-27 lead. It turned out that OKC took rather a lot of time to figure out how to defend against the Knicks’ mostly half-court offense, and once they did, they ran off 61 points in the next two quarters, against a mere 41 for the Knicks. New York stiffened, as New York will, in the last twelve minutes, but so did OKC, rolling to a 15-point lead just outside the four-minute mark and dispatching the New Yorkers, 116-105, sweeping the two-game season series.

Admittedly, it wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine running at the Peake:

Still, the work got done when it had to be. Carmelo Anthony rolled up the majority of his 30 points before Andre Roberson put the squeeze on him; Derrick Rose knocked down 25; but the four Knick reserves who saw playing time managed a mere 15 points. (The Thunder bench produced 30, 13 from Jerami Grant.) There was, yet again, a Russell Westbrook triple-double (38-14-12), another big outing for Victor Oladipo (21 points), and there was something of an anomaly: both sides shot better from the three-point line than they did overall. Really. The Knicks were 41-86 overall (48 percent) and 11-21 from downtown (52 percent); the Thunder went 41-88 (47 percent) and 12-23 from way out there (52 percent). If your job is to make the dullest highlight reel possible, this is your game.

And that concludes the first half, so to speak, of the season. (Actually, about two-thirds of the season is done, but there’s that whole All-Star weekend thing.) The Thunder are 32-25, which projects to 46-36 for the season. Might be enough for seventh or eighth. It doesn’t hurt that six of the next nine games are against lottery likelies; on the other hand, one’s against the Spurs and two are against the Jazz. Where this one ends up, nobody knows.

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No sorcery required

You have to figure that any night Russell Westbrook finished with a -36 is a night that did not go well, and indeed it didn’t; the Wizards hit their first eight shots, and about five minutes in, they had an absurd 22-6 lead. The Thunder stabilized a bit, and were down a workable 67-54 at the half; however, coming out of the locker room, they missed a dozen shots in a row, and by then the Wizards had sailed. In a game notable mostly for its extensive garbage minutes, Washington, coached by Thunder castoff Scott Brooks, thoroughly trounced OKC, 120-98, in a game that wasn’t even that close: the Wizards, at one point in the third, were up 34.

Mainly, the Thunder couldn’t shoot. We’re talking 34-96, which is barely 35 percent. (The Wizards took only 73 shots, but made 42.) Westbrook managed only 17 points on 5-19 shooting. Andre Roberson got two early fouls and basically was never heard from again. On the upside, Kyle Singler came up with six points in 16 minutes. OKC won the battle of the boards, 47-40, but was otherwise eclipsed. Meanwhile, all five D.C. starters managed double figures, Marcin Gortat getting the least with 12, and two double-doubles to show: John Wall with 15 points and 14 assists, Otto Porter with 18 points and 11 boards. Game-high? That would be Markieff Morris, with 23, and right behind, Bradley Beal with 22.

One to go before the All-Star break: the Knicks come to OKC on Wednesday. New York has been inconsistent, and has been rewarded for its inconsistency with a sub-.500 record; they’d dearly love to trip up the Thunder, and if the Thunder play like this, it won’t get the Knicks out of eleventh place, but it will make OKC’s playoff chances that much dimmer.


Grudge match

First, to get Crowd Response out of the way:

Subtle, Mr. Mayor, sir.

Anyway, were there collars on NBA uniforms, they would have been hot under; late in the third, KD and Andre Roberson nearly came to blows, and trash talk was the rule rather than the exception. Down 23 at the half — the Warriors had a picture-perfect 43 points in the second quarter — the Thunder managed to pull within 12 in the fourth. But that was as close as they would get; a 27-footer by Yonder Cupcake (I have no idea where KD picked up that pejorative) put Golden State up 19 with three and a half minutes left, and with all the air sucked out of the room at 1:52, both benches were emptied. Warriors 130, Thunder 114, the season series goes to 3-0, and if nothing else, Houston’s James Harden probably went up a couple of points in local regard.

In the Battle of the Superstars, Russell Westbrook, 47-11-8, edged KD, 34-9-3, though both committed five fouls. Only four Warriors scored in double figures, but the Thunder had only three. The scary aspect was that JaVale McGee came within one point of a season high, with 16; it’s never a good sign when the more marginal players come up big. This wasn’t a great night for either bench — Golden State’s scored 22, OKC’s 19 — but note should be taken of Andre Iguodala’s +30 for the night, far and away the greatest plusser.

There will be one face-saver in March in OKC. Maybe Kanter will be back. Maybe one of the Warriors will develop flu-like symptoms. But definitely, things will be loud.

Two games before the All-Star break: at Washington on Monday, followed by a visit from the Knicks on Wednesday. I expect little snarling in either case.

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Tyronn Lue was trolling, evidently; all that pre-game talk about possibly sitting his stars on the second night of a back-to-back proved to be nothing more than talk. Lue’s Cavaliers, minus the walking-wounded Iman Shumpert, were close to full strength, and they pretty much played like it, with Kyrie Irving running the point to perfection and LeBron James being LeBron James. Add a Kevin Love double-double, and you have to wonder how the Thunder were going to respond. Answer: Strongly, and late. After plenty of time on the teeter-totter in the fourth quarter, the Thunder found themselves up 111-101 with two minutes left, still led by 10 after one minute more, and had thoroughly stymied the Cavs’ big three. Lue knew he was licked, the aforementioned big three withdrew, and OKC won it 118-109, their first win over Cleveland in over a year.

Lots of good numbers: Russell Westbrook was 29-12-11, Steven Adams scored 20 and retrieved 13 boards, Victor Oladipo knocked down 23. Perhaps the most remarkable was this: despite losing the shooting percentage battle by something like 0.9, the Thunder made tons of shots: 50 out of 106. (The Cavs were 38-79.) Cleveland made more trips to the stripe — the Cavs never, ever foul — but King James, who had a healthy 16-point first half, finished with, um, 18. Andre Roberson can so guard LeBron. Irving was the default sharpshooter, and he wound up with a respectable 28. The Cavs’ bench, however, was held to 20, or about what Enes Kanter gets on a good night. Despite Kanter’s absence, the Thunder reserves popped up 30, half of them from Cameron Payne.

Once you’ve beaten the champs — well, the runners-up are showing up Saturday night. Heaven knows how the Loud City crowd will respond to the appearance of Kevin Iscariot, and you can be absolutely certain Heaven will hear it. We won’t think about that for a while.


Pieces gone to

Three seconds before the end of the second quarter, the Thunder were thrashing the Pacers by 14 points. Then Glenn Robinson III nailed a trey from the corner, Russell Westbrook’s 35-footer at the horn went nowhere useful, and for most of the rest of the night, the Pacers were in control, outscoring OKC by an appalling 32-18 margin in the third and outlasting the Thunder’s inconsistent defense in the fourth. Suddenly, the Thunder started to get stops, and an 11-2 run closed the gap to a single point with a minute and a half left. But that’s where they ran out of steam, and the last Thunder possession, started with 7.6 seconds left, ended with two three-point attempts by Westbrook. So the Pacers sweep the Thunder, 2-0, with a 93-90 win, Indiana’s seventh straight victory, the third-longest win streak in the league. (Miami’s won 10 straight somehow, and Boston seven.)

Thaddeus Young was sitting tonight, due to a sprained wrist, but the Pacers didn’t need him that badly; George delivered 21 points, Jeff Teague 17, and Robinson, coming off the bench, brought 14. Myles Turner scored 10 and blocked four shots. Weirdly, the Pacers shot only 38 percent and gathered only 37 rebounds; OKC shot 39 percent and picked up 61 boards. Westbrook’s final line: 27-18-9. Yeah, he missed the triple-double, but 18 rebounds would be just short of his career high. Andre Roberson, despite catching an elbow to the larynx in the second half, hung around for a double-double (11 points/11 rebounds).

Two more games this week. Good: the Thunder are back home. Not so good: the first one is against the Cavaliers, who are already one up on OKC this season. If possible, even less good: the second one is against the Warriors, who blah blah blah Durant blah blah. At least they aren’t back-to-back.


In lieu of the various Critter Bowls

The NBA wasn’t going to cede the entire day to those characters with the oblong balls, so they scheduled three matinee games which would at least finish early. The last of the three was Portland vs. Oklahoma City, and it was pretty much what you’d expect when only one of the two teams has any three-point prowess. Early on, the Blazers had little problem collecting three-pointers, using eight of them to go up 52-46 at the half. Somewhere in the third quarter, though, the Thunder developed something resembling defense around the periphery; the Blazers would be able to splash only two more treys the rest of the way, Russell Westbrook came up big in the fourth quarter (19 of 42 points) and the Thunder landed a close home win, 105-99, against a Northwest rival.

Portland ended up at 10-28 on three-pointers; the Thunder were a feeble 4-18. Less than a percentage point separated the two teams in overall shooting, with OKC hitting 40 of 98 (40.8 percent) and Postland 35 of 87 (40.2). A lot of that difference in shot count, surprisingly, came on the very first possession, when the Thunder picked up what can only be described as sixth-chance points.

OKC, as usual, dominated the boards, 56-44. The Blazers’ tandem of guards, Damien Lillard and C. J. McCollum, scored nearly half of Portland’s points, Lillard coming up with 29 and McCollum 19. OKC produced two double-doubles, one from Andre Roberson (14 points, 11 rebounds) and one from Victor Oladipo (24 points, 13 boards). Steven Adams snagged 13 rebounds, and Joffrey Lauvergne added nine more. This didn’t leave much for Westbrook, who finished 42-4-8.

And there’s not much time between now and tomorrow’s game in Indiana; the Pacers have won six straight and are 19-6 at home, suggesting that everyone’s going to have to come up big to make it work.


Leaving the slaughterhouse behind

The Memphis Grizzlies aren’t predictable, exactly, but they know what works for them: control the pace of the game, and occasionally knock down a shot. Tonight, they knocked down lots of shots, coming back from a ten-point halftime deficit to take a two-point lead after the third quarter. With 2:35 left, Russell Westbrook splashed three free throws to tie it up at 102, which is, let’s face it, a lot of points for a game involving the Grizzlies. Half a minute later, Westbrook dropped in a trey from the left wing to make it 105-102 Thunder; half a minute later, he did it again to make it 108-102. And just inside 1:00, he hit two more free throws; yet another empty Memphis possession, a Westbrook dunk, another empty Memphis possession, and two more free throws. That made it 114-102, and appropriately, Westbrook, after that 15-0 run, got to dribble it out. Thunder 2, Grizzlies 1 for the season with one to go.

And this was despite the Griz landing four starters in double figures. (JaMychal Green did not score, but he did contribute six fouls in 24 minutes.) Marc Gasol was scary in the way only a Gasol can be, collecting 31 points, and Zach Randolph, coming off the bench, delivered a creditable 16. But nothing was going to stop Westbrook, who finished up with 38-13-12, including 17 out of 17 free throws. Nor did it hurt that the OKC bench stepped up big, with Joffrey Lauvergne nailing a season-high 16 and Anthony Morrow reeling in 15.

That was the middle game of a three-game home stand; the last will be Sunday afternoon, against the Portland Trail Blazers. Then Monday evening, they’re off to Indianapolis, where the Pacers have worked themselves into sixth place in the East. Assuming they survive that jaunt, the Thunder will come home to meet the Cavaliers (gasp!) and the Warriors (gasp!!).


Angry beef

The Bulls, reckoned the people who reckon these things, didn’t figure to figure in this one. I have to assume that Fred Hoiberg gave his troops the proper encouragement in the wake of this dismissive talk, because the Bulls absolutely dominated the proceedings from late in the second quarter on. Chicago led 55-47 at the half, and then trounced the Thunder 39-26 in the third quarter. Nor did they let up in the fourth, and the final was an embarrassing (for the home team, anyway) 128-100, evening up the season series at 1-1 and spurring mumbles of “Trap game!” out in the cheap(er) seats.

Jimmy Butler, who didn’t get a chance to show off in front of OKC earlier this year, dropped 11 of 17 shots for 28 points. And the youngster was spelled by the veteran: Dwyane Wade, a game-high +32 for the night, grabbed 18 points and seven rebounds. Four more Bulls finished in double figures, which can happen when you hit 60.5 percent for 48 minutes. And this may be instructive: the Bulls made six of 15 treys, while the Thunder made ten of, um, 37. Russell Westbrook, like Butler, scored 28; unlike Butler, Westbrook went 10-23. Second scorer? Jerami Grant, who came up with 15. (Big brother Jerian scored 12 for the Bulls.) A flurry of garbage-time activity brought OKC up to 38 percent shooting, but you have to be appalled at the sort of roundball ineptitude that can be improved to 38 percent. (Hint: The Thunder took 19 more shots, and made 11 fewer.) Bright, or at least not-so-dim spot: Joffrey Lauvergne was +5 after 14 minutes, the only player in Thunder blue to finish on the good side of the line.

Oh, and the Grizzlies are coming to town day after tomorrow. There may be some heavy drinking to do between now and then.



Not such a random statistic: both the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder had 16-6 home records before tipoff tonight. The Spurs’ lofty seeding — they’re second only to Golden State — is due to their 20-5 record on the road. The Thunder, meanwhile, was 12-14 on the road. A third-grader, looking at those numbers, possibly might have predicted that OKC would be down 31-17 after the first quarter and 52-42 at the half. The youngster, however, would not have anticipated that the Thunder would rebound in the third, at one point making a 23-2 run to take a three-point lead, before the Spurs girded up their loins, or whatever the hell it is Pop makes them do, and went back up 79-75 to end the quarter. And then suddenly Kawhi Leonard discarded the Clark Kent persona and spun the planet backwards on its axis, or something, finishing with 36 points on 13-26 shooting. With LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points) by his side, Leonard made it a blowout after all: San Antonio 108, Oklahoma City 94, the Spurs’ first win in the last three and the Thunder’s second loss in the last two.

You like statistics? Here’s another one. Neither Aldridge nor Leonard, nor any other Spur, posted a double-double. Meanwhile, the Thunder collected three of them: Russell Westbrook (27 points, 14 assists), Steven Adams (16 points, 12 rebounds), and Domas Sabonis (13 points, 10 boards). Alex Abrines was down for the count with back spasms, giving Anthony Morrow extended minutes, during which he scored 11 points. No reserve Spur made double figures. And yet all you have to do is look at this: Spur benchman Davis Bertans scored two but posted +20 for his 23 minutes. How do you beat someone like that?

Back home overnight, and the Bulls show up around eight-thirty, an hour and a half later than the usual OKC start time. The Thunder should not be too tired — no one played more than 35 minutes — but there’s always the danger of demoralization.


The usual Cavalier treatment

Cleveland has not been doing wonderfully of late, and Kevin Love departed during the second quarter with back spams, but no matter: the Thunder managed to miss both point-blank and long-distance shots, shooting a mere 37 percent, while losing to the Cavs 107-91. One could, perhaps, blame Enes Kanter’s absence for at least some of OKC’s offensive juicelessness — what was he thinking when he punched out that chair? — but the Cavs were technically undermanned as well: neither Chris “Birdman” Andersen nor J. R. Smith was available. And it should be noted that the Thunder actually put up eight more shots than did the Cavs — 100 versus 92 — but Cleveland hit four more (41 versus 37). And this might perplex some folks: OKC made six treys (out of 26), Imam Shumpert, all by his lonesome, made five (out of eight). Yes, Russell Westbrook had another triple-double (20-12-10), but the Cavs had three double-doubles (Kyrie Irving, 29 points, 10 assists; LeBron James, 25 points, 14 rebounds; Tristan Thompson, 19 points, 13 rebounds).

Also hors de combat: radio guy Matt Pinto, who was wrestling with an uncharacteristic rasp all day. He expects to be better by Tuesday, when the Thunder head to San Antonio. The Spurs, as seemingly always, rank just below the Warriors in overall record and sheer panache; the spirit of Tim Duncan still hangs over the place. And just to complicate matters, the Thunder immediately come home, to be visited by the Bulls on Wednesday and the Grizzlies on Friday. Chicago, at this writing, is two games under .500, but still in seventh place in the East; they will not be pushovers. Not that the Thunder can assume anyone is, at this point.


This is no second string

So the Mavericks show up at the ‘Peake without J. J. Barea. Without Wesley Matthews. Without Deron Williams. Without Dirk Nowitzki, fercrissake. Talk about being lulled into a false sense of security. You may be sure Rick Carlisle always has a plan, and tonight this plan was to play hard and slow, a sort of clean-shaven Memphis Grizzlies surrogate. And for twenty-four minutes, it worked remarkably well; Dallas kept the Thunder at bay through halftime and took a 55-53 lead into the locker room. But OKC came back, piling on to the tune of 34-18 in the third, and when the Mavs made some serious inroads into the Thunder lead, newly-minted (for the sixth time) All-Star Russell Westbrook ran showed his stuff and then some, delivering 17 points in the fourth quarter. The final was 109-98, and of those 109, Westbrook had 45 on 16-29 shooting. No triple-double, or even a double-double, but he’ll take the W any day. Just ask him.

It helped that three other Thunder starters banged out double figures, 17 from Victor Oladipo, 15 from Steven Adams, and 10 from Domantas Sabonis. (Only two from Andre Roberson, but he swept up eight rebounds.) Downside: Usual bench power Enes Kanter banged up his wrist in the first half, apparently a self-inflicted wound, and did not return. Meanwhile, the Mavs were scoring with Curry, Bogut, and Harrison Barnes. Okay, it’s Seth Curry, not Steph, but Barnes turned in a Golden State-y 31 points, Curry added 11, and Bogut six. Justin Anderson led the Dallas bench with 17.

The Thunder are now nine games over .500, with 35 to play. Unfortunately, the next one is against the league champs, and it’s in Cleveland on a Sunday afternoon. Two days later: the Spurs. And then it’s back home for the second half of a back-to-back, against the struggling Chicago Bulls. Just because it’s February doesn’t mean it gets easier.


Angrier birds

A laugher in the Big Easy? Not a chance. The Thunder did have a 19-point lead at the half, but the Pelicans pecked away at it, and let’s face it, the Pelicans have serious beak. That lead was down to 10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and New Orleans would pull to within five with five minutes left. Oddly, they made the biggest gains without superstar Anthony Davis, who managed to reopen an old wound late in the first half and disappeared into the locker room. Fortunately, the fourth-quarter Thunder defense was better than the third-quarter Thunder defense of late, and it ended OKC 114-105, up 3-0 in the season series and 3-3 for this six-game road trip.

With Davis (8 points) sidelined, six Pelicans stepped up into double figures, led by E’Twaun Moore with 18; Jrue Holiday and Solomon Hill led the starters with 14 each. One does not expect a balanced attack from OKC, but five from the Thunder doubled up, led (of course) by the de rigueur triple-double from Russell Westbrook (27-12-10). Steven Adams muscled his way to a double-double (20 points, 14 boards), as did Enes Kanter (17 points, 11 boards). The numbers were mostly pretty close, with the Thunder generally having a small edge.

So we’re back to good news/bad news. Good: the road trip is finally over. Bad: the Thunder lost as many as they won. Good: They’ll be at home for the next game, against the woeful Mavericks. Bad: It’s 21 hours and a few minutes from now. If Billy Donovan was hoping to rest up some of his troops — well, they shouldn’t have blown that big halftime lead, right? And the Mavs truly haven’t caught fire this year, sitting at 15-29, a baby step beyond the Lakers and the Suns. One should never, however, underestimate the power, or lack thereof, of pure old-fashioned fatigue.


Tight arrangement

You might have thought this one was going to turn into a laugher, had you noticed that the Thunder were up three at halftime and the Jazz scored only 19 points in the third quarter. Then you choked at how OKC choked: the Thunder managed only 11 points in the third quarter. With 1:22 to play, the Jazz were up 90-89. Before 1:00 appeared, Russell Westbrook had knocked down two free throws and assisted on a Steven Adams dunk. As the 12.9 mark approached, the Jazz had answered, then Adams salvaged a busted play, got the rock to Westbrook, and Westbrook was duly fouled. Two more free throws from The Force, as radio guy Matt Pinto has been calling him lately, and it was 95-92 OKC. Gordon Hayward spent only two and a half seconds to send up an angle-right three to tie it. With 1.4 left, Westbrook again, with a 20-foot pullup. Alec Burks drew the last-shot assignment, and it missed. Oklahoma City 97, Utah 95, evening the season series and putting the kibosh on the Jazz’ six-game winning streak.

Westbrook, incidentally, did that triple-double thing again: 38-10-10. This despite scoring nothing in the third quarter. Wildly, both teams shot 43 percent (36 of 83), though neither was all that swift from the three-point line: the Thunder made six of 20, the Jazz five of 21. Other numbers from the stats bin were similarly close. Derrick Favors got the one Utah double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). But there were 16 lead changes in 48 minutes, which is enough to make you dizzy. Or me, anyway.

One last road game: Wednesday at New Orleans. The bad news: it’s the first night of a back-to-back. The good news: it’s against the Mavericks, who are one game out of the Western Conference basement. Then again, everyone’s tired and waiting for the All-Star break, so it is not wise to assume that things will fall according to plan.


Imagine my lack of surprise

Last Thunder/Warriors clash, OKC went to pieces in the second quarter. It took a bit longer this time: after a 56-all tie at halftime, Golden State methodically rolled up 37 points in the third to go up 15 on the undermanned Thunder. In the absence of Steven Adams, Jerami Grant drew the Guard Number Thirty-Five assignment, and he was game, but, precisely as happened the first game in this series, Kevin Durant had an unusually good night, with 33 points and ten rebounds through three quarters. It didn’t even seem necessary to drag KD onto the court in the fourth, though Steve Kerr wasn’t taking any chances, and within a few seconds of Durant’s return, he’d already bagged another shot. KD’s previous season high was 39, against, um, guess who? Bench-emptying didn’t take too awfully long, Durant finished with 40 points and 12 rebounds, and yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double — 27-15-13, not to mention ten turnovers — will be overlooked in the wake of the giant-size L, 121-100.

Victor Oladipo scored 20 again, Enes Kanter scored 22 again, but no one else in Thunder blue was able to hit double digits. OKC shot a blah 42 percent, versus 54 for the Warriors. Treys, you ask? Golden State 10 of 21, OKC 8 of 28. And the Steph Curry/Klay Thompson axis of splashers produced 24 and 14 respectively.

Fortunately, there will be four days of wound-licking before the next game, at Utah, the current Northwest standard-bearers, and then the road trip ends at New Orleans. Nobody expected much from January, or at least that’s what punditry assembled will assert. But nobody also expected two consecutive blowouts. (If they did, they didn’t say so.)


Shorn of dignity, among other things

The Clippers, as radio guy Matt Pinto is always reminding us, are kind of irritating to watch: the very idea that one of them might be charged with a foul is utterly unthinkable. Still, one should not let one’s irritation interfere with the fact that this is a very gifted team that works diligently to thrash its opponents. They certainly seem to have enjoyed having thrashed the Steven Adams-less Thunder tonight; L.A. shot well over 50 percent most of the night and dominated in all the ways a team can dominate. Admittedly, the Thunder were on the second night of a back-to-back, but the problem didn’t seem to be fatigue so much as simple discombobulation: OKC couldn’t do anything about dribble penetration, and once again they tossed up three-point shots instead of actually going for the rim now and then. The reserves finished up the demolition job, 120-98.

Jerami Grant, starting in the place of Adams, did yeoman work — nine points, eight rebounds — but Adams’ scoring touch was missed. So was Victor Oladipo’s, and he was there; the best he could manage was six points on 3-11. Russell Westbrook did bring 24 points to the arena, but he went 7-19. Surely it means something that the Clippers’ leading scorer was reserve Mareese Speights, who posted a season-high 23 with 10 rebounds. J. J. Redick, largely undefended, rang up 20. Blake Griffin wasn’t even missed, and Chris Paul, who sprained his wrist in the second quarter, didn’t create a big hole in the L. A. attack. The only oddity was the continuing futility of Jamal Crawford, who missed all five of his shots.

So the road trip starts 1-3 before it gets to Oakland and the Warriors. This can’t be good.


Jacking the Kings

The Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento cost something like $550 million to build, with 17,608 seats available for roundball. The place was quite full tonight, but the Kings weren’t quite at their best: they put together some stirring runs, but the Thunder were always able to swat them back, even without Steven Adams, who retired to the locker room with the dreaded Concussion-Like Symptoms, which means he may have to go through the standard NBA concussion protocol and perhaps won’t be available for tomorrow night’s game in Los Angeles. With time called at 5:32 left, the Thunder had just finished an 11-2 run to claim a 15-point lead over the Kings; within a minute, the Kings had (stirringly) scored six in a row. The OKC swat team promptly took hold of the situation, only to see Sacramento come alive in the last minute. With 47 seconds left, the Kings pulled to within seven; a Russell Westbrook dunk stanched that bleeding, DeMarcus Cousins dropped in a pair of free throws, and after a steal, Cousins nailed another one; at 26.5, Rudy Gay tossed up a trey to make it a three-point game. Alex Abrines delivered two free throws of his own, the Thunder fouled Cousins again, and this time he got three of ’em. The Kings promptly fouled Victor Oladipo, who swished two freebies to make it 120-116, and Westbrook, who apparently had had enough, swiped the ball from the Kings and stuffed it into the net. There would be a jumper from Darren Collison at the buzzer, but too late: Oklahoma City 122, Sacramento 118.

Four Kings starters rolled up double figures, and Garrett Temple just missed with eight; both Cousins and Gay made double-doubles, with Cousins knocking down a stirring (there it is again) 31. Sacramento actually outshot OKC, 46 to 44 percent, and tied them for rebounds at 44. The Kings also had the advantage in assists, 24-20. But what they didn’t have was, as radio guy Matt Pinto says, The Force. Westbrook’s 20th triple-double (36-11-10) was nearly matched by Enes Kanter’s 29-12 showing. For what it’s worth, Westbrook was -1 for the night despite all those digits.

Tomorrow night — late tomorrow night — it’s the Clippers at the Staples Center. I hope everyone’s Sort of Rested, because the Clips have won six in a row.


Hungrier in the wintertime

“Sometimes you get the Wolf,” Judge Radar noted, “and sometimes the Wolf gets you.” It was cold in the Twin Cities tonight — single digits at gametime — and the young Wolves were hungry. During most of their recent history, that hunger would go unsated. But not tonight. Down five at halftime, Minnesota flattened the Thunder 29-18 in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook failing to score so much as a single point, and in the fourth quarter, the Wolves gradually pulled away, and His Zeroness was pulled with two minutes left, having managed only a single additional bucket. Minnesota 96, Oklahoma City 86, as this six-game road trip starts off on the wrong foot.

Lots of weak points for the Thunder tonight. For one, they gave up 33 points on 19 turnovers. (Does this count as a quadruple-double? Westbrook finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists — and 10 turnovers.) The Thunder shot just under 39 percent, dismal by any standard, and factoring out Westbrook’s dire 7-23 still leaves only 42 percent. OKC put up 20 treys; exactly three fell. (Minnesota made five of 18.) Enes Kanter did contribute 21 points to the cause, and Victor Oladipo managed 19, but nobody else made it to double digits.

Meanwhile, Karl-Anthony Towns cranked it up to the tune of 29 points and 17 rebounds, Andrew Wiggins added 19 points, and Ricky Rubio, having discovered he can handle the ball, produced 14 points and 14 assists. The Wolves shot a decent 45 percent and missed only one of 14 free throws.

And now it’s off to relatively balmier California, where over four days the Thunder will visit the Kings, the Clippers and the Warriors. It will take at least two wins for anyone to declare a moral victory.

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Contentious to the last

The Memphis Grizzlies came to town, and they came to be as Grizzly as they possibly could, because that’s what they do; you have to wonder sometimes if maybe Quentin Tarantino is drawing up the plays. “An absolute grind,” muttered radio guy Matt Pinto during a fourth-quarter timeout, and he wasn’t kidding: to the extent possible, the Griz will simply wear you down. The Thunder know; they have to play these guys three or four times every season, and it almost always happens this way: up eleven at the half, they couldn’t find any way to create any serious distance between themselves and Memphis. (Last time they played was the exception that proves the rule: the Griz simply ground them into sausage and claimed an easy win.) OKC finally got a break with just over a minute left: Steven Adams delivered a fearsome swat, and Victor Oladipo turned it into three points, opening the Thunder lead to seven. Shortly thereafter, Jerami Grant saved a Russell Westbrook fumble and came up with an and-one, providing some breathing room, and the last 15 seconds took about 15 minutes to play, the Griz fighting on every single possession, because that’s what they do. Oklahoma City 103, Memphis 95 at the horn, evening up the season series at 1-1.

If anything stands out here, it was the Thunder’s ability to contain Marc Gasol, who was held to a mere nine points, around half his average. Then again, they couldn’t stop Mike Conley (22 points) or Chandler Parsons (14 points in 18 minutes). And Enes Kanter was Kanterlike in his insistence, conjuring up 19 points and retrieving 13 rebounds. For the “Did Westbrook get a triple-double?” fans, the answer is Yes: 24-13-12 despite shooting a sub-meh 6-19 from the floor. The Thunder shot only 45 percent overall, but the Griz were under 40 most of the night and finished at 41.

That long six-game road trip begins in Minnesota on Friday; I bet the Twin Cities have better weather than we do.