Not the usual grind

The first half, the Thunder promised to make it a laugher: they led the Grizzlies by as many as 25 before James Johnson nailed a trey with two seconds left before halftime. Nobody was laughing in the third quarter, though: Memphis outscored OKC 31-13 in the third quarter to pull within four, and they narrowed it to two early in the fourth. This is approximately the point where I think Scott Brooks pointed to his wrist and mouthed the words “SPEED IT UP.” Which is what the Thunder did, going on a 13-1 run, and the Griz never regained their momentum. First game goes into the books: OKC 100, Memphis 86, on a night where three other teams with home-court advantage fell.

Seriously. The Raptors, the Clippers and the Pacers all were beaten at home. This, of course, means nothing at the moment. What this game means is something we knew all along: the Grizzlies are befuddled at any pace other than Slow Grind. They did a good job of protecting the rock, giving up only six turnovers, but otherwise they were largely at sea, missing nine of 11 treys, 13 of 31 free throws, and shooting only 36 percent. The statistic I’m staring at, though, is Zach Randolph’s line: he had a team-high 21 points on 7-21 shooting, 11 rebounds, and three assists, despite spending time on the bench with five fouls, and still ending up with 39 minutes. Mike Conley (16 points, 11 assists) also played 39; Marc Gasol (16 points) played 45. Apparently the only reason the bench got any burn tonight was because Tayshaun Prince took ill early and did not return. Tony Allen led those reserves with 13; Mike Miller, the three-point specialist, made exactly one of them.

It was a decent night for Kevin Durant, who knocked down 13 of 25 for 33 points. Russell Westbrook, officially off his minutes restriction, played 33 minutes, collecting 23 points and 10 rebounds; Serge Ibaka, who played one minute more, scored 17 and retrieved nine boards. (The Thunder was never seriously threatened on the boards, finishing 51-41.) Caron Butler and Reggie Jackson each kicked in nine from the bench.

If there’s anything I wonder about, it’s this: would this have gone any differently had Nick Calathes been available? The rookie Memphis guard is a pretty good shooter, but we won’t see him in the playoffs at all: he’s serving a 20-game suspension for violation of the NBA’s drug policy. The drug in question, tamoxifen, is usually prescribed for treatment of, um, breast cancer; Calathes isn’t suffering from that, but there’s an off-label use to reduce the effects of steroids.

Game 2 is Monday night at the ‘Peake; Games 3 and 4 will be played in Memphis, and as Beale Street Bears reminds us: “There is still a ton of basketball left to be played and the Grizzlies are still very much alive in this series.” These are, after all, the same Grizzlies who won their last 14 home games. If they can upset the Thunder at home even once — but let’s not bring back that memory.


On (almost) all cylinders

If you had told me three hours ago that four Detroit starters would pick up 20 points or more, and that one of their rookies would soar to a career high, I’d have assumed you were on some kind of high yourself. Shows you what I know. The Pistons have been out of playoff contention for some time now, and there’s nothing a lottery team likes better than thrashing one of their betters. There ought to be a word for that, and the word ought to be “Kentavious,” after Detroit rookie guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who, in addition to having one of the truly great names in NBA history, rolled up 30 points tonight after never having seen even 20 before. The Pistons led by as many as 11 tonight, though the Thunder clambered back to within one with just over a minute left, and at the :16 mark Kevin Durant threw it down to put OKC up 112-111. Then came an absurd little contretemps in which neither team seemed to be able to claim possession, ending with a jump between Durant and Greg Monroe, and then Brandon Jennings’ Hail Mary trey fell short at the horn. Fully half of Durant’s 42 points came in that fourth quarter, and as Kendrick Perkins says: “That’s what he do.”

It’s a good thing he do that, because the Thunder did not shoot particularly well: 44 percent, and a woeful 5-23 from three-point distance. They did, however, collect free throws: 41 of them, of which they made 31. (Durant had 13; Russell Westbrook had 12 among his 22 points.) And then there were those ten steals, six of them executed by Westbrook.

But the Pistons shot 50 percent or better just about all night, which explains four starters over 20. (Jennings wound up with six, more assists than points, and more turnovers than either.) Monroe scored 22, as did Andre Drummond before fouling out; Drummond also reeled in 13 rebounds, second only to, um, Serge Ibaka.) This didn’t leave much for the bench, which is perhaps as well: only Jonas Jerebko got more than 20 minutes, and he collected only five points for his trouble.

So the battle for the #2 seed is over. Who’s #7? The Mavs and the Grizzlies, competing for that very spot, tied at 93 after 48 minutes in Memphis, and with 1.1 left, a pair of Mike Conley free throws gave it to the Griz, 106-105, Dallas burning up three timeouts in those waning moments in a desperate attempt to get off a play. (Monta Ellis finally managed an unsuccessful 20-foot jumper, and that was that.) So Dallas gets to play the Spurs in the first round, and it’s Thunder vs. Grizzlies. Groan.

Oh, and Durant won the scoring title again. Is anyone surprised?


Beak production

Didn’t we just dispose of this team a couple of days ago? But this was different: the Pelicans were at home, the Thunder were worn out yesterday by the Indiana Pacers, Russell Westbrook was resting, and Tyreke Evans, despite a bone bruise, was playing through it all. And from the How Is This Even Possible department: Nick Collison got broomed. Four minutes into the second quarter, he and Austin Rivers got into it; Rivers, by all appearances, was the major aggressor, but presumably in an effort to appear “fair,” the officials tossed them both. No matter. This was Tyreke’s night: whatever pain he might have been in, he ignored, while putting up a career-high 41 points. It was 75-75 with eight minutes left; New Orleans won it going away, 101-89, with Evans playing the entire second half.

But let’s face it: the Pelicans didn’t look all that depleted, even down to nine players after Rivers’ unexpected departure. And if Luke Babbitt was the only other Bird to score more than ten, well, New Orleans did shoot 44 percent, four percent better than the Thunder, and OKC was in one of its Desperation Trey modes. (Nine of 32? Sheesh. The Pelicans weren’t that much better, at 9-29, but still.) Serge Ibaka had some vim and/or vigor, producing 22 points while gathering 16 rebounds, and Caron Butler did serious sixth-man work with 19, but take those two out of the equation and you’re left with a team that went 18-55 from the floor. Reggie Jackson mustered only four points; Kevin Durant managed 25, but it took him 23 shots to do it.

So happy times in the Big Easy, which hasn’t seen a lot of them of late. Not only did the Thunder fail to clinch the #2 seed in the West, they also assured themselves of a poorer record than last year: assuming they beat Detroit Wednesday, they finish 59-23. (They won 60 games last season.) And if tonight is any indication, the Pistons might actually pull off the upset.


Meanwhile in Circle City

Coming into this game, the Pacers and the Heat were tied at 54-26, though Indiana owned the tie-breaker. Still, nothing invigorates a team quite like beating the tar out of a really good opponent in the last home game of the season, and that’s precisely what the Pacers were planning today. They had all the ingredients: board dominance, shooting over 50 percent, and a capacity crowd. And up until the last five minutes, the formula was working nicely. Then the Thunder put together a 7-0 run — Russell Westbrook knocking down a trey and assisting on two more, to tie the game. Undeterred, the Pacers came back, and in the last minute held a three-point lead; a Lance Stephenson jumper put the game out of reach, and free throws — one from George Hill, three from David West, one from C. J. Watson — salted it away, 102-97, splitting the season series and sending the Thunder away still looking for a place to clinch the #2 seed in the West.

Nine Pacers hit the floor, and six of them made double figures; Stephenson rang up a triple-double on 17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. West led the attack with 21 points, though Watson and Paul George were right behind with 20 each. Indiana shot 52 percent from the floor, 45 percent from outside, and, as mentioned, outrebounded OKC, 46-32. The Pacers are hard to beat when they’re playing their own game, and for the most part, the Thunder were unable to keep them from doing it.

Still, the Thunder generated spurts of offense, led by (of course) Kevin Durant with 38; Russell Westbrook added 21, and Serge Ibaka dropped in 11. Caron Butler came up with 13 from the bench; Reggie Jackson was rather badly pounded in what was deemed a sub-flagrant foul and was held to eight. OKC shot only 42 percent from the floor, 25 (7-28) from the outside, but somehow managed to hold on to the ball: consistent with recent trends, they committed only nine turnovers.

It’s tomorrow night in the Big Easy for another shot at clinching #2; after that, a lone home game with the Pistons, and the playoffs begin next weekend against [insert as-yet-undetermined team name here].


Awfully forward of them

From the sports section of the Oklahoman this morning:

Clipping from the Oklahoman 4/12/14 citing Kendrick Perkins as a forward

Perk, of course, is a center; I don’t think he’s played power forward, let alone small forward, for even a minute since he decamped here from Boston.

Comments (1)

Wounded birds

“Decimated” doesn’t even begin to describe the parlous state of the New Orleans Pelicans’ health: they started the night with four players sidelined and ended it with six. Worse, one of the casualties was Tyreke Evans, one of their more proficient providers of points, lost in the middle of the third quarter; down by 19 already, the remaining Birds put up a decent effort the rest of the way, but they were sent home with a 116-94 loss. You may have noticed that there has been no mention of their opponent so far in this paragraph, and that’s because the Thunder really didn’t do anything remarkable: they just played their usual game and made sure it was enough.

Okay, maybe there are a couple of remarks to make. We must note the remarkable line by Serge Ibaka, who had 16 points on 6-8 shooting, 10 rebounds, and eight blocks. This is not record-setting material exactly — Elmore Smith rejected 17 Trail Blazers shots in one game for the Lakers in ’73 — but still, that’s a lot of swats. The more worrisome statistic is Kevin Durant’s: yes, he had a game-high 27 points, but he also collected his 15th technical foul of the season. The 16th earns a one-game suspension. Admittedly, there are only three games left in the season, and the clock restarts for the playoffs, but the new, mouthier KD may be in trouble. For Westbrook watchers: Russell played 28 minutes, scored 24 points. Off the bench, Reggie Jackson popped up 11.

Darius Miller and Austin Rivers both contributed 18 points for New Orleans, Rivers playing 40 minutes for the shorthanded (shortwinged?) Pelicans. Evans had picked up 13 before his injury; reserves Alexis Ajinça and James Southerland picked up 12 and 10 respectively. The Pelicans did make some three-pointers (9 of 18, versus 5-13 for OKC), and turned the ball over only twelve times, but Thunder defense picked off most of the rebounds (47-39) and there were those four blocks other than Ibaka’s.

Two road games follow: Sunday afternoon at Indiana, Monday evening at, yes, New Orleans; the season finale will be at the ‘Peake on Wednesday against the Pistons. The Thunder will have to sweep all three to beat last year’s 60-22 record.


A close clipping

This was one of those games when you wonder just what the heck is going on. For one thing, the Clippers occasionally got fouls called on them, something experience says is nearly impossible. Oklahoma City had a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter; they ran it to 15 in the second before the Clippers started clawing their way back. At halftime, L. A. had cut that lead down to five. The Thunder then pulled away to a 17-point lead in the third; the Clippers started clawing their way back, and had closed to within nine when Reggie Jackson made a 28-foot jumper just ahead of the horn. In the fourth quarter, the Thunder had a 15-point lead when, yes, the Clippers started clawing their way back; they ran off 14 consecutive points to pull to within one. Creeping fatigue? Radio guy Matt Pinto certainly thought so. In the last minute, it was all free throws — two by Kevin Durant, one by Chris Paul, one by Russell Westbrook — and then J. J. Redick put up a jumper, blocked by Serge Ibaka. Westbrook snagged the rebound, dropped in two more freebies, and that was it: Oklahoma City 107, Los Angeles 101, splitting the season series at 2-2 and leaving the Thunder needing only one more win in four games to clinch the #2 seed in the West.

Durant, in fact, had a sub-Durant outing: 27 points, but it took him 26 shots and ten free throws to get it. Maybe he was the tired guy. Westbrook didn’t seem too worn out, collecting 30 points and 11 rebounds. Ibaka came up with 15 points and four timely blocks — though really, almost any block is timely. And maybe the issue for the Clippers was their lack of prowess at the stripe; they clobbered the Thunder on the boards, 52-44, shot about the same percent (41 versus 42), but made only 21 of 34 free throws while OKC was hitting 26 of 32. That’s a seven-point difference right there.

Blake Griffin got the sort of numbers Blake Griffin gets: 30 points, 12 rebounds. (DeAndre Jordan matched him for boards; Chris Paul tossed in 25 points.) The benches: OKC 26, Los Angeles 25, though Darren Collison led all reserves with 12.

Two and two isn’t the worst road trip in the world, and the Pelicans will be in OKC Friday.


The once and future (maybe) Kings

It is a measure of something, I suppose, that the last time the Kings were in the playoffs, they finished fourth in the Pacific. Today they’re fourth in the Pacific, having demonstrated that they’re at least somewhat better than the Lakers, but they’re mired deep in the lottery. Inconsistency consistently befalls Sacramento: down twelve at the half, they fought back to within three, ended the third quarter down eight, and then didn’t score a point for six minutes — well, 5:59 — in the fourth against the Thunder bench. At the time, it was Oklahoma City 101, Sacramento 79; had a faith healer suddenly brought Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas to life, it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference. Thunder 107, Kings 92, and that’s the season sweep.

How good was the OKC bench in that fourth quarter? There was no reason to bring in Kevin Durant, who finished with 23 points, ending his streak of 25-plus at 41. And Caron Butler, more or less the official sixth man when Reggie Jackson starts, also finished with 23, hitting six of six treys. (Jackson, of course, started under Restbrook conditions; Russell is being saved for the, um, “big” game tomorrow against the Clippers.) Butler had a ridiculous +28 for the night. And Steven Adams, keeping Kings out of the lane, blocked three shots, three more than Serge Ibaka. Then again, Ibaka scored 19 points, Adams 5.

The Kings, though, had the two top scorers: DeMarcus Cousins (24, 14 rebounds) and Travis Outlaw (24, a season high). Further, the Kings outrebounded the Thunder, 44-39, having demonstrated, at least early on, a talent for second-chance points. But shooting was an issue: 41 percent, only 3-14 from outside. And unexpectedly, the Thunder didn’t give them a whole lot of opportunities to cash in on mistakes: OKC had zero turnovers in the first half and finished with a mere six.

The number to watch, though, is 1.5. OKC is now 56-21; the Clippers, who had the night off, are 55-23. A game and a half. (The Timberwolves, now officially a lottery team again, vented their frustration on the Spurs, which had to be fun.) Can the Thunder win 60? They’ll have to beat the Clippers first. (Four games after that — New Orleans twice, Indiana and Detroit — and the Pacers, despite recent slumpage, are 34-6 at home.)


Suns continue to shine

Whatever else may happen this year, one of the biggest stories in the NBA, if you ask me, is the return of the Phoenix Suns, a meager 25-57 last year, to legitimate playoff contention; a win tonight would go a long way to nailing down the #8 seed, what with both the Grizzlies and the Mavericks owning tiebreakers over Phoenix. So the Suns played like there was no tomorrow, and for most of the game maintained a small lead; Oklahoma City pulled ahead at 112-111 with 2:39 left, but Markieff Morris rattled down four points in a row on a layup and two free throws, and after Kevin Durant dribbled into a double-team, P. J. Tucker nailed two more freebies, and Eric Bledsoe added four more just for fun. That made it 121-112 Phoenix, and a Kevin Durant trey in the waning moments went all for naught: the Suns claimed the win, 122-115, the season series 2-1, and maybe, just maybe, that vital #8 spot in the West.

That trey of KD’s gave him 38 points; he’s now gone 25-plus in 41 consecutive games, passing Michael Jordan on the all-time list for such streaks. Russell Westbrook looked pretty good with 33 points in 33 minutes before fouling out. But Serge Ibaka had an off night — 11 points, six boards, no blocks — and the Thunder bench, led by Reggie Jackson with 11, was utterly outplayed by the Phoenix reserves, led by Gerald Green with 24 and the Morris twins (Markieff and Marcus) with ten apiece.

Not that the Phoenix starters needed tremendous help, mind you; Goran Dragić came up with 26 points on 11-19 shooting — by comparison, Durant was 13-28 — and P. J. Tucker posted a season-high 22. The Suns were shooting 60 percent into the fourth quarter and finished at 58; the Thunder managed 47, that cold spell at the end dragging the numbers down a bit.

What follows: two West Coast games, one at Sacramento on Tuesday, one at Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Clippers, who beat the Lakers tonight, are 55-23; the Thunder, 55-21. No more need be said.


Lots and lots of red glare

Is there something in the Thunder playbook that says “Start out slow”? Once again, OKC fell behind early — 14-4 early on, 43-29 with five minutes left in the first half — and had to play catchup. Fortunately, by now they’re good at it, and the Thunder led Houston 84-82 after three quarters. But the Rockets evened it up quickly, aided by a sieve-like Thunder perimeter defense — if Houston wasn’t actually getting the treys, they were getting free throws — and pulled away in the last few minutes, winning 111-107, clinching a playoff spot, and avoiding the season sweep.

The man of the hour, unsurprisingly, was James Harden, whose 9-22 shooting was pretty decent, but whose performance at the stripe won it: The Beard was 17-20 on free throws. The entire Thunder team was 18-20. Remember what I said about the Oklahoma City perimeter defense? Harden cashed in big on both ends. And when it wasn’t Harden, it was Chandler Parsons (23 points, 10-11 from the stripe); Terrence Jones and Omer Asik combined for just over half of Houston’s 45 rebounds.

Weirdly, both teams had 45 rebounds, and both teams were 13-31 from three-point land. In Russell Westbrook’s absence, Reggie Jackson mostly acquitted himself well, with 17 points, seven assists, and only a couple of “WTF were you thinking?” moments. Steven Adams, starting in the middle while Kendrick Perkins rests up, rolled his ankle; this meant that most of the night, Serge Ibaka was playing something like center. And Serge was up to it; he hit 11-17 for a career-high-tying 27 points, reeled in nine boards, and swatted six shots. Kevin Durant, on the other hand, was having a bad day, at least by Kevin Durant standards: 28 points — that’s 40 games in a row at 25 or more, so scoot over on the bench there, MJ — albeit only 7-19 from the floor, six assists and 12 rebounds. Caron Butler led the bench with 13. (The entire Houston bench — Kevin McHale played only three reserves — had 14.) Jeremy Lamb, ostensibly the player from whom Butler was taking minutes, did show up for 22 tonight, 5-8 for 12 points.

This of course drops the Thunder to 3½ games behind San Antonio with seven to play. But I tell you what: if the seeding at the end is the same as the seeding tonight, I’d much rather play Dallas (#7) in the first round than Memphis (#8).

Comments (1)

Nemesis unbound

Oklahoman sportswriter Anthony Slater came up with this startling statistic this morning: “Since the Thunder flipped the script back in late May 2012, San Antonio is 2-9 against OKC and 129-41 against everybody else.” Narrowing it to this season? “0-3 versus OKC and 59-13 against the rest of the league.” And yet the Spurs are still perched semi-comfortably on top of the Western Conference. The Thunder’s job, of course, is to make that perch less comfortable, and starting late in the second quarter, they did superbly well at doing exactly that, outscoring the Spurs 32-20 in the third quarter and keeping San Antonio off balance the rest of the way. The final was 106-94, and you have to figure Pop is relieved that the Spurs are in the Southwest and some years only have to play the Thunder three times.

How thwarted were the Spurs? Tony Parker wound up 3-10 for six points. Tiago Splitter, a good shooter for a big man, was 1-5 for two. Some slack was picked up elsewhere — Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan turned in 17 points each, and reserve guard Patty Mills came up huge with 21 on 8-13 including 5-7 from out by the canal. And the Spurs did enjoy a slight advantage rebounding, 42-39.

But San Antonio still has no answer for either Russell Westbrook, who stayed in for 31 minutes and knocked down 27 points, or for Reggie Jackson, who paced the bench with 14. And then there’s that Durant fellow, who came up with 28, the 39th time in a row he’s had at least 25. (There were a few “MVP” chants from the crowd, but not enough, if you ask me.) Kendrick Perkins was back, vacillating between stony silence and exercising the jawbone: he and Duncan got offsetting technicals early on.

Tomorrow night in Houston. Westbrook is supposed to have the night off. Patrick Beverley’s torn meniscus will keep him out, though he won’t be needing surgery, and Dwight Howard is sidelined with ankle issues. This could go all sorts of ways, though the scoreboard ultimately will show one of two.


One more down

It would have been easy to write off the last-place (in the West, anyway) Utah Jazz, especially twelve minutes into this game, where they were trailing by a ghastly 26-9. For the rest of the afternoon, however, the Jazz played some fairly respectable basketball, knocking down 31 points in the second quarter and 37 in the third. Unfortunately, any Thunder lapses were temporary at best, and OKC was still up 15 points at the start of the fourth; after that, the Thunder reserves and Serge Ibaka — I suppose Serge probably needed an extra block or two for statistical purposes — quietly put the Jazz out of their misery, 116-96, securing the system series 3-1.

And Ibaka turned in a decent line, with 17 points, six rebounds and, yes, four blocks. Kevin Durant departed after a 25-foot trey just ahead of the third-quarter buzzer, having garnered 31 points, his 38th game in a row with at least 25. (Scoring-leader title isn’t even slightly in doubt.) With Reggie Jackson still ailing and Russell Westbrook deemed rested, Russ got the call for starting point guard, and in 25 minutes collected 19 points, nine of which came from nine free throws. Caron Butler led the bench with 15 points on five three-pointers. (Weirdly, Butler made all his treys, but missed all four of his closer-in shots.)

Of the four Jazzmen in double figures, we must mention Eres Kanter, with a team-high 18 and the game’s only double-double (12 rebounds), and reliable Richard Jefferson, who knocked down 17. Derrick Favors retrieved 13 boards, more than anyone else, to go with his eight points.

In a rare example of scheduling kindness, the Thunder get half a week off. But Thursday, the Spurs, three games ahead of OKC in the standings, will arrive at the ‘Peake. Jackson, who is renowned for his ability to torch the Spurs, is expected to be back. And the punchline: the next night, the Thunder go to Houston to face the Rockets. Westbrook will presumably be resting. On the other hand, or knee, there won’t be any antics with Patrick Beverley, either.


A Sac of kittens

When Russell Westbrook is gone — but never mind, let’s not think about that again. One thing we haven’t thought about at all, though, is this: what happens when Reggie Jackson is gone? The Regmeister hosed up his back at practice yesterday and was scratched for tonight, which almost certainly explains why the Thunder signed the nearest available Reggie, the 66ers’ Reggie Williams, to a second 10-day contract, and brought him in just in case they needed him against the Kings.

Maybe not so much. The Kings played even with the Thunder for just over three minutes, at which time the score was 4-4. After that, Sacramento appeared to go to pieces; four minutes into the second quarter, they were down 37-15. Then the Kings started to make some shots, pulling into the 30-percent range after wallowing in the 20s. But everything they gained in the second quarter (Sacramento 23, OKC 22) they lost in the third, and more, with the Thunder claiming a 31-point lead, 82-51. Still, the Kings weren’t giving in, and OKC finally caught on at the four-minute mark, having been outscored by Sacramento 21-6 in the fourth quarter. (Williams was then put in, and promptly made a couple of jumpers.) The Kings cut that 31-point deficit down to 13 at the horn, losing by a not-that-embarrassing 94-81 count, and they did that without their big names: Rudy Gay (3-11, 7 points) played only 21 minutes, DeMarcus Cousins (2-8, 4 points) only 17, and neither showed up in the fourth.

With the OKC defense apparently watching everything else, the Kings sustained themselves with the occasional trey (9 of 18, but 22-67 from within the arc) and rebound dominance (49-38, 17-3 offensive). Guards Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum played almost the whole game (46 minutes each); McLemore was the Kings’ high scorer with 18. From the bench, Travis Outlaw contributed 17; Jason Thompson rang up 10 points and 14 boards, and Quincy Acy added 13 boards more.

Still, the Thunder starters wouldn’t be seen in the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant retiring for the night with 29 on an efficient 9-11. Westbrook worked 24 minutes, as always flat-out, and collected 18 points on 7-12. And Jeremy Lamb put in a team-high 33 to lead the reserves with 13. OKC hit nine treys, but it took them 23 tries to get them.

The Jazz will be here Sunday afternoon, which might be a yawner; the Spurs will show up Thursday, which almost definitely won’t.



One does not expect a titanic defensive struggle from Thunder/Mavs, and indeed we didn’t get one; the 13-3 run with which Dallas began the fourth quarter was due less to sparkling Maverick defense than to sputtering Thunder offense. Even then, OKC was still shooting about 50 percent; the problem was, so was Dallas, and the Thunder wasn’t putting up much resistance to the Mavs’ long-ball. (Late in the first half, the Mavs put up three treys in a row in less than a minute.) And then with a minute left, it was tied at 108 following one of those patented Derek Fisher treys from the corner; Russell Westbrook just walked up to Dirk Nowitzki and took the ball away from him, setting up a Kevin Durant trey. José Calderón replied with a three of his own to reknot the game with 1.8 seconds left in regulation. Dirk’s jumper over Westbrook at the buzzer fell short, and the Ghost of Overtimes Past was seen hovering over the arena.

A dilemma: At the horn, Westbrook had logged 31 minutes. Would he come back during the overtime, in violation of his time limit? He didn’t come out for the beginning — but with Dallas up seven with two minutes left, Westbrook was indeed brought back. It didn’t matter, really; Dallas filled up the period with free throws and claimed the season series, 2-1, with a 128-119 win.

Did I mention free throws? The Mavs hit 23 of 28, including seven in the overtime period. (OKC was 15-19.) Oh, and there were those 14 Dallas steals, a 48-37 advantage on the boards, and seven Mavs in double figures, led of course by Dirk with 32 and 10 rebounds. Calderón, the squad’s three-point specialist, knocked down six of nine from outside; Dallas finished with 15 of 38. (OKC was 12-33.) Vince Carter headed the reserves with 16 in 26 minutes.

It’s to the point now where you just want to know if Durant broke 30 or not. Well, yes, he did; in fact, he had 43, on 15-27 shooting including five from deepest Plano. Westbrook, in his slightly limited time, came up with 23; once again, Fisher led the bench with 13 (and the team with +13, all the starters being minus for the night). No sign of Lamb or PJIII.

Now if the season ends up with OKC 2nd and Dallas 7th, which it well may — let’s just hope we didn’t see a preview of the first round.


Back to the Front Range with thee

After a 41-24 first quarter, you might be forgiven if your mind wandered elsewhere, say, to “How is it that the 76ers have lost 24 in a row and still aren’t last in the league?” (The answer, of course, is that they were 15-31 when the streak began, not what anyone would call great, but not appreciably worse, percentage-wise, than the current Lakers.) Anyway, it was 72-58 at the half, and presumably at some point during the halftime show some mischievous imp nailed a lid on each rim: third quarter was OKC 18, Denver 15. Now how do you get 41 points in the first quarter and only 18 in the third? Don’t worry about it. The Thunder regained some mojo in the fourth quarter, and dispatched the depleted (and debatably demoralized) Denverites 117-96, taking the season series 3-1.

There was one thing the Nuggets did superbly well: accumulate free throws. This was accomplished by, well, drawing a lot of fouls from the Thunder: Andre Roberson had six (again), Derek Fisher and Nick Collison five each, Caron Butler and Steven Adams four. Denver took 40 shots from the stripe. And if they’d made more than 27 of them — but let’s not go there. What’s more, all five Denver starters hit double figures, though four of them were clustered at 11 and 12. Ty Lawson had 25, including 13-16 on free throws. For a forced nine-man rotation — that’s all he had, injuries having mounted in recent weeks — you have to figure that Brian Shaw did just about everything he could.

This was a Restbrook evening, so Reggie Jackson started at the point, and ran up 16 points and a career-high 11 assists. Kevin Durant, who exited after a mere 31 minutes — nobody from OKC played more than 33 or so — departed with 27 points in hand. Sidelights: Adams, playing more than usual due to the absence of Hasheem Thabeet, had six of the Thunder’s 13 steals; Jeremy Lamb got twenty minutes and two points. (Butler, widely seen as the reason why Lamb gets so few minutes, played 29 minutes and scored 23.) And any day Collison gets a trey is all right with me.

Tomorrow night in Dallas, presumably with Westbrook back and everyone reasonably well rested. Oh, and the Sixers lost again — this time to San Antonio, which means the Spurs stay two games ahead of the Thunder in the West. Philadelphia remains a game and a half in front of the Bucks.

Comments (1)

Rapt up

Weird things sometimes happen in Toronto. Serge Ibaka got no blocks and only five rebounds; Andre Roberson got six fouls in 14 minutes; Grevis Vasquez got six fouls in 31 minutes; Caron Butler got six fouls in 36 minutes; Kevin Durant took several minutes to warm up (13 points at the half); Kyle Lowry banged into Russell Westbrook’s knee in the third quarter, forcing Westbrook to the locker room with a sprain; and nobody built a lead more than eight points. With 17.4 left, it was tied at 96; the Thunder burned up all the clock and never got off anything resembling a shot, forcing overtime. Not a lot happened until 1:34, when KD tossed it in from 27 feet over Amir Johnson, and then got the next two stops against the Raptors. After that, things went to Grind City; the Thunder were up three with 11.4 left, and Lowry poured in a trey to tie it at 107. The Raptors saw their chance, and with 49 seconds left in the second overtime, held an eight-point lead. Then, well, things happened: KD hit a trey, Derek Fisher hit a trey, and to the absolute horror of the crowd, Durant, with 1.7 seconds left, executed a perfect pull-up from 31 feet to put the Thunder up 119-118, sweeping the road trip, earning a season split with the Raptors, and did I mention that the Raptors haven’t won an overtime game at home in five years? Weird things sometimes happen in Toronto.

Of course, some things you can expect. DeMar DeRozan was typically DeStructive, leading the Raptors with 33 points, including 15 of 16 from the charity stripe. The man simply knows how to draw fouls. Vasquez (21 before fouling out), Johnson (25) and Lowry (25) all scored big time; Johnson had 12 rebounds and five blocks to go with his 25 points (in 50 minutes!), and Jonas Valanciunas had eight points and 13 boards. Toronto, in fact, owned the boards, to the tune of 57-47, including a big 14 off the offensive glass; they shot a couple of percentage points better than the Thunder (40-38) and were about three percent better from the foul line.

None of this, however, matters in the face of Kid Delicious, who stretched it out for 52 minutes and scored 51 points, 15-32 from the line. Still, with Westbrook sidelined, Reggie Jackson needed to step up, and did he ever: 25 points (10/10 from the stripe) and a career-high 12 rebounds. Butler wasn’t a scoring factor, particularly, but he pulled off five of the Thunder’s eight steals. And of that 12/36 from beyond the arc — well, as radio guy Matt Pinto might say, it’s when you get them.

Coming up: yet another back-to-back, and it’s home-and-away, Monday against the Nuggets, and then to Dallas on Tuesday.


First-night jitters

Russell Westbrook was a “game-time decision,” they said, and given the fact that Cleveland would be missing both Luol Deng and Kyrie Irving, Westbrook’s absence was virtually guaranteed. Easy win, you might think. And then with the Thunder up 2-0, the Cavs took over, and maintained a lead halfway through the second quarter; OKC went on an industrial-strength run (19-8) to close the half with a ten-point lead, which they padded to 24 points halfway through the fourth. But Cleveland then went on a 16-0 streak, pulling to within eight. A clearly irritated Scott Brooks had begun reinserting the starters he’d pulled, but it didn’t stanch the bleeding: at 1:12 the Cavs were down only five, and OKC held on for a 102-95 win despite missing three of the their last free throws.

Second-year shooting guard Dion Waiters proved to be a powerhouse, collecting 30 points and three steals; if he could hit free throws (he went 6-12) this thing would have been a lot closer. Spencer Hawes knocked down 20 points; rookie point guard Matthew Dellavedova led the bench with his first career double-double (11 points, 10 assists). The Cavs moved the ball pretty well (27 assists), but trailed badly on the boards (53-36) and blocked no shots.

As is usually the case in Westbrook-free zones, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka had to supply most of the offense. Durant had 35 points for the night, along with 11 rebounds and six assists; Ibaka had 16 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. For a change, Jeremy Lamb got some serious minutes (26), during which he scored 10, second only to Derek Fisher (12) among the reserves. We also saw the second appearance of Mustafa Shakur, who went scoreless in two minutes before the starters began filtering back in.

So that evens up the Cleveland series, 1-1. Next up: the Raptors, who lead the Atlantic division by dint of, well, playing like a division leader the past few weeks. The Thunder will have to beat them to even up that series, 1-1. Westbrook will almost certainly start. I’m making no bets on the finish.


You’ve seen the butcher

The Telltale Statistic for tonight is startling: the Bulls scored nothing in six and a half minutes in the fourth quarter, from 10:01 to 3:30. You have to figure that part of Scott Brooks’ pep talk on the plane to Chicago was “You guys remember defense, don’t you?” They did. The lead had changed hands several times before the final 12 minutes, and the Bulls pulled to within one at 76-75 before the Big Shutdown. By the time they broke through with a free throw (Joakim Noah hit one of two), the Thunder had run out to 89-76, and the Bulls wound up at the slaughterhouse, 97-85.

Then again, it wasn’t all defense; OKC, while not shooting particularly well (31-75, 41 percent), actually had some three-point mojo working (13-25, 52 percent), with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Caron Butler each knocking down three treys. (And it didn’t hurt that the Bulls were shooting quite a bit worse: 29-84, 34 percent.) Westbrook, after his rest last night, was up to playing 28 minutes tonight; he came awfully close to a triple-double (17 points, nine rebounds, nine assists) before the reserves came on to mop up. Durant, for his part, knocked out 35 points and collected 12 boards; Butler led the bench with 12, though Reggie Jackson was right behind with 11. And this was one of those nights when Serge Ibaka was more of a factor for the offense, scoring 15 on 6-11 while retrieving a modest four caroms and swatting only twice.

Any of the Bulls could score, assuming any of the Bulls could score, if you know what I mean: five of them — Thibs only played nine men — hit double figures, led by Taj Gibson, coming off the bench with 16. The picture of frustration, if you’re looking for one, had to be Kirk Hinrich, who in 32 minutes connected on three shots (out of 12) and collected five fouls. Carlos Boozer, in just 24 minutes, came up with 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls’ only double-double; Noah, had he made that one foul shot, would have had another.

Revenge game coming up Thursday night against the Cavaliers, followed by, well, another revenge game Friday against the Raptors. Westbrook will be out for one of them.


Perhaps they chose poorly

Long before gametime, the Thunder organization had let it be known that Russell Westbrook, still officially convalescent, would be sitting for one game during each of the club’s remaining half-dozen or so back-to-backs. In and of itself, this is not a bad idea; however, it telegraphs exactly what the front office thinks about the opponents, and in this particular case, the Chicago Bulls were taken more seriously than were the Dallas Mavericks. It’s pretty obvious what the Mavs thought of that: starting late in the first quarter, they beat up on the Thunder pretty hard, and Dallas, who hadn’t won in Oklahoma City since 2010, made short work of the Thunder, 109-86.

Part of the problem was that the OKC bench, while it fended off the Mavs well enough while they were on the court, couldn’t score: at the beginning of garbage time, halfway through the fourth, the reserves had registered only 14 points. (Dallas sixth man Vince Carter scored more than that all by himself.) The Mavs dominated all the columns on the box score, shooting more than 50 percent all night, ruling the boards 41-33, and cashing in 13 of 24 three-point attempts. (Meanwhile, the Spurs were beating the Jazz to take a two-game lead over the Thunder in the West.) Kevin Durant did scrounge up 30 points on 20 shots, and Serge Ibaka came up with 19 on 19 shots; but Andre Roberson garnered more fouls than points (five vs. two), and OKC came up with only 17 assists, while the Mavs were serving up 26.

The Dallas attack was pretty balanced: Shawn Marion led the Mavs with 19, Carter led the bench with 18, Dirk Nowitzki collected 17, and José Calderón added 16. If you look at plus-minus stuff, Carter was the plussiest, at +23. And this season, there are only three Mavs/Thunder games, so the rubber game is yet to come.

Tomorrow: at Chicago. Westbrook will play. Will the Bulls be impressed? Will anyone?


Dredge report

The last game with the Lakers this year — oh, come on, there’s no chance they’ll make the playoffs, even if they’re not mathematically eliminated just yet — was widely seen among Loud City residents as mandatory payback for that debacle this past Sunday at the Staples Center. Certainly the Thunder acted like they wanted it: ten steals and eleven blocks — Serge Ibaka had seven swats — demonstrate some serious desire. Once garbage time ensued and everybody got some minutes (new hire Reggie Williams made his OKC debut, knocking down five points in five minutes), attention, mine anyway, turned to the box score. Would the Lakers get six players into double figures? (They would.) Would the Thunder reach 60 rebounds? (They would.) Can OKC possibly break 130 points in 48 minutes? Yep. 131-102 was the actual final.

If ever you wondered whether Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were spiritually joined at the hip, consider tonight’s lines: KD, 8-17 for 29 points; Westbrook, 9-17 for 29 points. (Russ also served up nine dimes.) Ibaka came up with a double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds) to go with those seven blocks; the bench contributed 46 points, led by birthday boy Caron Butler with 11. (Is it just me, or is Butler gradually displacing Jeremy Lamb in the rotation?)

Still: six Lakers in double figures, topped off once again by Jodie Meeks. I think I speak for everyone here in town when I say that I’d much rather Meeks got 19 than the 42 he got on Sunday. And L. A. got 13 treys in three fewer attempts than OKC did. But their three-point prowess was to some extent undercut by their futility at single points: the Lakers missed 10 of 25 free throws. (OKC put up 30 and missed only two.)

For the rest of the season, “L. A.” denotes the Clippers, whom the Thunder face once more. (The Clips are up 2-1.) But that’s not until April. In the meantime, the Mavs will be here Sunday, and after that it’s a week out East, against Chicago, Cleveland and Toronto.