Far out to sea

Early on, it looked like it was going to be One Of Those Nights. Anthony Davis had piled up 21 points by halftime, including a 7-0 run all by his lonesome. Omer Asik presented the usual impenetrable wall. And Tyreke Evans was, well, Tyreke Evans. In the third quarter, the Pelicans had worked their way to a nine-point lead, and the crowd at the ‘Peake were grateful it wasn’t nineteen. Gradually the Thunder got some defense working, and went up five at end of three. Early in the fourth, Anthony Morrow went down, and Russell Westbrook, antsy on the bench, came back a couple minutes before Scott Brooks had planned. But just inside the four-minute mark, though, New Orleans regained the lead, and Serge Ibaka still hadn’t figured out how to defend against Davis; going into the last minute, the Pelicans were up two and Davis was up to 38 points. Lots of maneuvering in those sixty seconds, but no actual Thunder offense, and the Beak Boys, who hadn’t won a game in OKC since early 2010, flew away with a 101-99 win.

Along with those 38 points, Davis reeled in 12 rebounds, as many as Asik; Jrue Holiday collected 11 points and delivered 15 assists, one fewer than the entire Thunder team. (The Pelicans served up 33 assists in all, while coughing up only 12 turnovers.) Ryan Anderson led the New Orleans bench with 14 points. But this may be the Telltale Statistic: Davis and Asik each blocked three shots. Ibaka had no swats at all.

Westbrook, of course, looked like Westbrook: 29 points, eight assists, five boards. But his shooting mojo didn’t accompany him onto the floor in that fourth quarter, and probably wasn’t even within screaming distance on that final brick. Perry Jones, starting in favor of the walking-wounded Kevin Durant, came up with 12 points; Reggie Jackson, having remembered how to shoot, was good for 19. And Steven Adams posted yet another double-double, 12 points and 10 boards. Imagine how he’ll do when he can hit more than half his free throws.

The Trail Blazers, who lead the Northwest by several dozen games, will be here Tuesday. They’ve won their last five and have no desire to drop one on a sub-.500 squad.

Comments




Lakers sloughed off

ESPN’s Royce Young observed inside the 6:00 mark: “Lakers on a 13-2 run to go up three. This is the part where Kevin Durant would be hitting a cold-blooded 3 to calm everything back down.” But Kevin Durant wasn’t there, awaiting further inspection of his ankle sprain from last night in Oakland; Kendrick Perkins wasn’t there, either, hobbled by some sort of contusion. The only saving grace: Nick Young, who’d been a pain in the first half, was tossed in the third quarter with a Flagrant Two against Steven Adams. (Then again, Adams bricked the free throws.) Still, Adams provided a very nice pick for Russell Westbrook with 38 seconds left to put OKC up 104-101. Jeremy Lin came back with a bucket, the Thunder came up empty, and Kobe Bryant (who else?) went for the last shot. Andre Roberson wasn’t buying, and that’s the final: 104-103. Roberson was on Kobe pretty much all night, and Bryant finished with 9 points on 3-14 shooting. (Roberson, not known for his offense, dropped in 10 and secured 7 boards.)

Contributing factors: Reggie Jackson, who’d had a few rough outings, smoothed it out tonight, going 9-15 for 25 points. Westbrook had an almost-routine 31 with 10 assists; Adams finished with 9 points and 10 rebounds. Serge Ibaka checked in with 16 points and five blocks. And Nick Collison, who got the minutes Perk would have, wound up with a Perkesque four points and seven boards.

Ed Davis led the Lakers with 18; Ronnie Price and Carlos Boozer added 14 each; Young had 10 before being thumbed. That last shot of Lin’s gave him 12. And give Kobe credit: he was working the ball as much as he could, grabbing eight rebounds and serving up eight assists. Your Number Three All-Time Scorer is still plenty viable, thank you very much.

So 2-1 on the road trip. It could have been worse. The Pelicans, one game ahead of the Thunder for 8th in the East, will be coming to the ‘Peake Sunday evening; the Trail Blazers, way out front in the Northwest, arrive Tuesday; and then a Christmas matinee in San Antonio. Interesting week, and not in an easy-peasy way.

Comments




Of course you know this means war

Nobody expected this to be easy. Somehow, the Thunder were up 30-13 on the Warriors seven minutes in; this was approximately the point where Golden State remembered that they had a defense, and a damned good one. Right before the halftime horn, the Warriors were up 65-63, and Kevin Durant was down: sprained his right ankle against some part of Marreese Speights. Durant did not return, and suddenly half the OKC offense was gone — just about literally, since KD scored 30 points in the 18:44 he played. With one less assignment to worry about, the Warriors took off, finding holes in the Thunder defense. With six minutes left, the Thunder started getting stops; inside the 3:00 mark, OKC got its first lead since the second quarter, 105-104. It didn’t last, with the Dubs scoring the next six; going into the last OKC possession, the Warriors were up 114-109, and that was the way it ended. (In the meantime, the Pelicans were beating Houston, so the Thunder slide to a game and a half behind the eighth-place Sea Birds.)

This is the Telltale Statistic for the night: Golden State had 32 assists and only ten turnovers. (OKC: 17-16.) The Thunder were a tick under 50 percent shooting, the Warriors a point over. Ultimately, I suppose, it boiled down to “How do you replace a guy who had 30 points in 19 minutes?” The bench couldn’t handle it: the five reserves scored 18 total — four from everyone except Kendrick Perkins, who was held to two. It remained, therefore, to Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson to play hero ball. Westbrook, who’s known for this sort of thing, ground out 33 points on 11-30 shooting; Roberson, who is not, collected his first double-double ever, with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

This is, however, not the way of the Warriors, who can come at you from several directions at once. Stephen Curry went 14-24 for 34 points; fellow wingman Klay Thompson picked up 19 more; Draymond Green was good for 16, and Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston and the aforementioned Mr. Speights also hit double figures. With David Lee and Andre Bogut down for the moment, Steve Kerr played only nine guys; it was apparently all he needed.

The road trip ends Friday night against the struggling but not entirely daft Lakers, who have been idle since being thrashed by the Pacers on Monday.

Comments




Definitely not cabbages

Hard to get a handle on this Kings game before tipoff. We knew that Sacramento had just sacked Mike Malone, and Tyrone Corbin was anxious to prove himself as the coach. We knew that there was bad blood, or at least trash talk, between Rudy Gay and Kendrick Perkins. And we knew that DeMarcus Cousins was still out. Based on this, I assumed it was going to be a long haul, and so it was: the Thunder led by seven at halftime, by ten at the end of the third, but the Kings bench rose up and inflicted a 15-4 run on the Thunder to take a one-point lead. The OKC starters returned, a bit earlier than expected, but finished the job with 73 seconds left. Oklahoma City 104, Sacramento 92, a nice preparation for the Warriors, next on the schedule. (It didn’t hurt that the Warriors actually lost tonight, against the one team I thought could beat them: the Grizzlies.)

Despite DeAbsence of DeMarcus, the Kings were plenty tough. Reggie Evans started in the middle, spelled by Ryan Hollins. Gay had a good night, coming up with 22 points and six rebounds; Hollins and Jason Thompson contributed nine rebounds each; Carl Landry and Ramon Sessions hit double figures for the Sacramento bench, which outscored the OKC reserves 44-28. The Kings also ruled the backboards, with a 48-41 edge in rebounding, and performed well at the stripe, going 15-17.

Of late, the big story for OKC has been Russell Westbrook, and tonight was no exception: 32 points, six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and a single turnover. (The Thunder gave it up only 12 times, the Kings 19.) Kevin Durant, in 35 minutes, popped up 26 points. Serge Ibaka didn’t shoot well — 3-10 for nine points — but he blocked seven shots. Steven Adams, once again, had double-digit rebounding (10); Anthony Morrow scored 10 to lead the bench. Kendrick Perkins did not outscore Rudy Gay, but by all accounts he outscowled him.

Next: Thursday night in Oakland, where the Warriors have lost only once all year. Where it gets interesting: Golden State, 21-3, is 9-1 over the last ten. Oklahoma City, 12-13, is — 9-1 over the last ten. Still, the Warriors remain the team to beat in the West, so if the Thunder can pull this off … well, we’ll know Friday morning.

Comments




A little dark spot

The Suns have been slumping of late, and the loss of Goran Dragić to back spasms wasn’t going to help matters. An ideal time, perhaps, for the Thunder to run off another 70-point first half. Both sides, however, looked tired in the third quarter, though OKC extended the lead to 25. There wasn’t any particular reason for the starters for either side to play the fourth quarter, and they didn’t; in fact, things got to the point where Mitch McGary actually got to play. (Jeremy Lamb drew a DNP-CD, though apparently he was not feeling well, in case anyone thought Lamb was residing in Scott Brooks’ doghouse.) And as it turned out, the fourth quarter, despite meeting the definition of garbage time, was actually a bit more entertaining than the third. Final: Oklahoma City 112, Phoenix 88, climbing to 11-13 and dropping the Suns to 12-13. Half a game out of eighth place, guys.

Gerald Green, subbing for Dragić, was the Suns’ high scorer with 15; fellow wingman Eric Bledsoe added 12. Rookie Tyler Ennis led the reserves with 11. The Suns put up lots of shots, didn’t make many: 34 of 99 for 35 percent. (OKC was 39-80 for 49 percent.) Thunder dominance on the boards was prodigious: 63-40.

In their brief appearances, Russell Westbrook (27 minutes) picked up 28 points and eight boards, and delivered eight assists; Kevin Durant (24 minutes, though Brooks would have let him go 35 if needed) picked up 23 points and eight boards, and delivered two assists. Top rebounder turned out to be Kendrick Perkins, with ten; Steven Adams had eight. The Thunder did not shoot the long ball well (4-18), though the Suns weren’t any better (7-31). Oh, and McGary? Three points and four boards in seven minutes.

That long West Coast haul is coming up. The Kings are struggling a bit, with DeMarcus Cousins unwell; the Warriors are not struggling in the least, and hey, Kobe Bryant moved into third place on the all-time scorers list, which has to make the Lakers happy.

Comments




And they call it puppy love

The key to tonight’s Timberwolves game, it appears, was the presence of Jeff Adrien. And the reason he was there is fourfold: Kevin Martin, Nikola Peković, Ricky Rubio, and Ronny Turiaf were out with various injuries. Adrien, therefore, is Minnesota’s Ish Smith: picked up under the NBA’s hardship rule while the roster is depleted. It wasn’t so long ago that the Thunder was in similar straits, and they played tonight like the Thunder’s opponents back then: the quantity of mercy is conspicuous by its absence. Oklahoma City jumped out to a 39-21 lead after the first quarter, running it to 70-49 at the half. But the Wolves dug in and concentrated on making high-percentage shots; by the end of the third, they’d cut that lead to 16, and the Thunder obligingly made only one shot in the next four minutes and one more in the next three and a half. The Wolves did not, however, capitalize on this opportunity, and OKC bagged the win, 111-92.

Minnesota, after working their shot percentage up over 50 in the third, dropped to a still-plausible 46, and five Wolves made double figures, led by Andrew Wiggins and Shabazz Muhammad (off the bench!) with 18 each. Thaddeus Young, one of the few veterans available this evening, added 16. The Wolves were efficient at forcing turnovers, collecting 19 from the Thunder; they were soundly spanked on the boards, though, 47-31.

Kevin Durant stayed under his 30-minute restriction, and concentrated on moving the ball around: he had 16 points and five assists. Still, the team’s Master of Dime is Russell Westbrook, who served up six of them and scored 34. And Steven Adams put together a double-double: 16 points, 11 boards. Anthony Morrow led the bench with 14. The Minnesota bench actually outscored the OKC reserves, 30-27; most of those came from Muhammad, though Jeff Adrien scored 4 — exactly as many as Ish Smith.

Back home on Sunday to take on the Phoenix Suns, followed by a trip to the Left Coast: Sacramento Tuesday, Golden State Thursday, and the Lakers on Friday. The Suns can score, and so can the Kings; the Warriors can beat you every which way. We’ll leave it at that.

Comments




Until he took one to the knee

The absence of LeBron James, sidelined with a sore left knee, proved to be less of an issue than anyone thought: guard Matthew Dellavedova, averaging a hair over three points per game, started at small forward and dropped in four of five treys, contributing a great deal toward the collapse of what once was a 20-point Thunder lead. With 2:00 left, the Cavaliers had pulled to within four; back-to-back buckets from Kevin Durant, though, stretched the lead back to eight, and the Cavs would see no more daylight. Final: Oklahoma City 103, Cleveland 94.

King James was missed, yes, but it’s not like the Cavaliers were way outmanned: no team with Kyrie Irving really can be. (There were some anxious moments on the Cleveland bench late in the second quarter, when Irving came down hard on a knee; but he was back after halftime, good as new.) To go with Irving’s 20 points, Cleveland also had Kevin Love, 18 points and 16 rebounds, and Tristan Thompson, 14 points and 13 boards. (Cavs outrebounded the Thunder, 48-48.) Add fourteen points from Dion Waiters and fourteen more from the aforementioned Matthew Dellavedova, and here’s a team that can play with the best even without that James fellow.

But that James fellow is a formidable shot blocker, and in his absence, OKC shot 44 percent and 7-26 on the three-ball, most of which came in the fourth quarter. KD, right on top of his time limitation at 30:07, chunked in 19 points; Russell Westbrook checked in with a game-high 26 on 12-24 shooting, eight assists and seven rebounds. Steven Adams collected 10 boards. It was another weird night for Serge Ibaka, who fouled out in just under 26 minutes: he scored seven and blocked two shots, but grabbed absolutely no rebounds whatsoever. Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow contributed two dozen points between them.

Tommorow night in the Twin Cities: the 9-13 Thunder versus the 5-16 Timberwolves. You kind of figure both of these teams would be doing better than that. Then again, they could be 1-2 in the division, or 14-15 in the conference, and they’d still go at it with hammer and tong.

Comments




Fallen deer zone

Payback can be so sweet sometimes. The Bucks, who so thoroughly thrashed these Thunder in Milwaukee earlier this season, managed to lead by five after the first quarter, and were never heard from again; Scott Brooks, always cautious about proclaiming garbage time, pulled the last of the starters — except for Andre Roberson, who replaced the fouled-out Anthony Morrow — with three and a half minutes left and OKC up by double digits. It was 114-101 at the horn, and the Restored Thunder are now 3-1 — but still 8-13 overall.

This was yet another game in which O. J. Mayo started out sort of slow and then gradually stepped up his production; he’d made it up to a game-high 18 points before fouling out late. His frontcourt served him well: Giannis Antetokounmpo had 17 points, Jabari Parker 15. The reserves were headed by Jerryd Bayless, with 11. Somehow, the Bucks managed only three fast-break points all night; even weirder, they were outrebounded 54-31. The Bucks did well at the stripe, though, with 29 hits in 35 tries. And while their bench was good for 36 points, the OKC reserves came up with 42, led by Reggie Jackson with 18.

Jackson, incidentally, played 30 minutes tonight, second only to Russell Westbrook. (Kevin Durant knocked out 29.) This is consistent with the last couple of games, indicating that Jackson’s spending nearly as much time subbing for Durant as he is for Westbrook. Russ kicked in 28 points tonight on 8-16; Durant went 7-11 for 23 and gathered nine boards, four more than even the mighty Serge, who was 5-5 from the floor and 5-5 from the line, +25 for the night. Nick Collison drew an unexpected DNP-CD, which I’m inclined to attribute to all manner of potential height mismatches.

Thursday, the Cavs come to town, and everyone says they’re ready. Me, I’m just grateful LeBron stayed in the East.

Comments




It’s all about the cylinders

The last game these Pistons had won was against the Thunder in disrepair, three weeks ago. You might have guessed that this wouldn’t happen again, with OKC fortified with Batman and Robin once more; you might not have guessed, however, just how difficult this task would prove to be. After a 2-0 lead early, OKC fell behind, and stayed there until nearly the end of the third quarter. Detroit, despite being a tad fragged on the second half of a back-to-back, would not go away; with four treys in the fourth quarter, they stayed within reach until the last second, when a Josh Smith trey for the lead went awry, and once the Thunder inbounded — twice — it was Oklahoma City 96, Detroit 94, and a 1-1 split for the season.

Four starting Pistons made it into double figures, led by the redoubtable Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who probably would have gotten mentioned here even if he hadn’t scored a team-high 19, because, darn it, he’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. (Starting point guard Brandon Jennings scored only 6, but he served up a game-high 9 assists.) Stalwart Greg Monroe led the reserves with 12. What the Pistons failed to do was block shots: Andre Drummond had one, and that was it.

As for the Dynamic Duo, Russell Westbrook came up with 11 rebounds while scoring 22, and Kevin Durant, still playing just under 30 minutes, cranked out 28. Nearly as flashy was Serge Ibaka, with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks. Reggie Jackson, quite involuntarily, wound up being more playmaker than scorer, though Jeremy Lamb happily took up the slack, dropping in 12. As happened last time, the Pistons got more foul shots (19-28), though the Thunder were 12-17, a decided improvement over the 1-6 they posted that night in November.

Another rematch coming up: Tuesday at the ‘Peake, against the Bucks. OKC will have to win that one also to secure a 1-1 season split.

Comments




Deep Sixing

Kevin Durant, asked if the Thunder might overlook the 1-17 76ers tonight, is reported to have quipped: “Nah. We feel like we’re 1-17 too.” And really, however ragtag the Philadelphia roster may appear to be, you won’t persuade me that they’re tanking: they demonstrated considerable skill closing out quarters, something the Thunder didn’t do until the fourth, and I don’t recall any of the Sixers looking lost or bewildered. Indeed, if anyone looked lost out there, it was Durant, who was off his feed or something; he went 3-11 for 10 points. It didn’t matter, though: OKC wins it 103-91 and goes up to, um, 6-13.

This game, I think, was a good example of complementary efforts. Steven Adams scored seven points but collected no rebounds; Kendrick Perkins pulled nine boards (and a Flagrant 1 foul) and no points. And where you’d expect KD to be playing hero ball, there was Jeremy Lamb, knocking down two treys in the final three minutes to seal the deal. Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 27.

But still there were anomalies. The Thunder bench scored 38; the Philly bench scored, um, 38, including a team-high 21 from Robert Covington. Luc Mbah a Moute, who can’t shoot a trey to save his life, knocked down two of them, easy as pie. Michael Carter-Williams (16 points, 14 assists) and Nerlens Noel (11 points, 10 rebounds) posted the only two double-doubles tonight. And give the Sixers credit for going after the damned ball: they outrebounded OKC 44-40, and held a 19-6 edge off the offensive glass. They might yet break their record for futility (9-73, 1972-73), but I’m finding it hard to see that happening.

One more game on this road trip, Sunday against the low-compression Detroit Pistons — who, I remind you, beat OKC at home last month — and then a couple of interesting home games: with the Bucks (who beat OKC in Milwaukee last month), followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Two words: “LeBron James.”) Assuming the Cavs dispatch the Raptors tonight, they’ll be 11-7.

Comments




Sea birds on glass

In fact, you couldn’t keep the Pelicans off the glass tonight: they rebounded seemingly at will, and when they weren’t rebounding, they were passing the ball all over the place, and when they weren’t passing the ball all over the place, they were collecting free throws. Fundamental stuff, but that’s how this game is played. “How was this team 7-8?” I was thinking as the fourth quarter blew by with New Orleans firmly in command, a position they’d been in since overcoming an early six-point Thunder lead in the first and rushing to 40 points in the second — a 12-0 run in two minutes — for a 69-52 halftime lead. As close as OKC would get after that would be five; the Pelicans win it 112-104 in the Big Easy.

The free-throw situation, said radio guy Matt Pinto, was exacerbated by some “horrific” officiating. The Birds took 45 foul shots, making 29; the Thunder were 23-27 from the stripe. But worse, I think, was OKC’s reversion to the two-man game: the starters scored only 56 points, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had 48 of them. One doesn’t expect points from Andre Robberson; one does expect, however, more than six from Serge Ibaka and more than two from Steven Adams. The bench acquitted itself decently, with Reggie Jackson checking in with 17 and Jeremy Lamb with 15; for Lamb, who is usually much better at home than he is on the road, this was definitely a plus.

But at the end, the most Durantean figure on the floor was not Durant, but New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, whose line included 25 points, ten rebounds, and six steals. And Davis wasn’t even the high scorer; that would be Tyreke Evans, who, upon seeing OKC within five in the fourth quarter, scored on the next three possessions. He finished with 30. Double-doubles for Jrue Holiday (16 points/10 assists) and sixth man Ryan Anderson (23 points/11 boards). How is this team only 8-8?

Next game is Friday at Philadelphia. We’re supposed to believe that any middle school in town can beat the Sixers. Doesn’t mean a thing, I assure you.

Comments




A New York state of grind

This looked like a Battle of the Also-Rans until word came down that Carmelo Anthony was going to miss another game with a back ailment, and that Russell Westbrook would actually be back. “Holy crap,” thought Loud City, “we might win this one in a walk.” More of a gallop, really, and all you need to know is the lineup with four minutes left: Ish Smith, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, Lance Thomas and Grant Jerrett. Repeat: Grant Jerrett. Number Seven spent all of last year in the D-League, and the first 16 games of this season glued to the Thunder bench. Tonight, Jerrett got three points on a single trey (out of five tries), an assist, and a rebound in eight and a half minutes, a luxury made possible by the enormous margin the Thunder enjoyed en route to a 105-78 win over the Knicks.

And that win, in no small part, was made possible by Westbrook, who in just under 24 minutes rolled up 32 points, seven rebounds, eight dimes, and wasn’t needed at all in the fourth. Yeah, he had that glove thing on his hand. Didn’t seem to bother him in the least. Reggie Jackson, back in his sixth-man role — though there were moments when both Jackson and Westbrook were on the floor — performed creditably, with 10 points, six boards and four assists. And Jeremy Lamb had something of a hot hand, leading the bench with 13 points. Serge Ibaka kicked in 14; Steven Adams managed six, but retrieved a career-high 13 rebounds. That word “rebounds” seems to be coming up a lot, but it ought to: the Thunder owned these boards, 57-33.

These Knicks are known better, as it happens, not for their rebounding, but for their three-point prowess, so far this season the best in the league. The Thunder response was not to let them get any, and indeed New York scored only twice from beyond the arc, once in the third quarter, once in the fourth, despite putting up 19 tries. (One of those was scored by the comparatively diminutive Shane Larkin, five-eleven, whom I assume no one figured would need blocking at that distance.) None of the Knick starters made double figures, though both Amar’e Stoudemire (20) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (11) did so from the bench. “A work in progress,” said radio guy Matt Pinto.

So this homestand ends on an upbeat note, 2-2. Four games on the road follow: at New Orleans on Tuesday, at Philadelphia Friday, at Detroit Sunday, and at Milwaukee the following Tuesday. Almost certainly Kevin Durant — remember him? — will be back for some or all of these.

Comments (2)




Easier listening

The second Jazz-Thunder meeting of the season was not quite like the semi-blowout in Salt Lake last week. For one thing, Oklahoma City did not go entirely to pieces in the second half; in fact, the biggest OKC lead, 20 points, was attained with 3:41 left. What’s more, the Thunder defense hung around for basically the entire game: after giving up 29 points to the Jazz in the first quarter, the screws were tightened, and Utah managed only 53 points the rest of the night. The final was 97-82, dropping the Jazz to 5-11 and pulling the Thunder up to 4-12.

There were lots of numbers screaming from the box score. Perhaps the most obvious: Kendrick Perkins outscored the entire Jazz bench, 4-3. In fact, the OKC reserves were good for 44 points, including a startling 21 from Jeremy Lamb in less than 24 minutes, limited only by Lamb’s tendency to reach in, which resulted in his fouling out. Anthony Morrow added 12; curiously, he was 4-9 from three, 0-2 from closer in. Among the starters, Reggie Jackson dropped in 22 points, Serge Ibaka 20 (including 4-4 shooting in the fourth quarter), and Steven Adams came up with six points and 11 rebounds. Lance Thomas inexplicably goose-egged, which I attribute to the strain of answering questions from the Oklahoman (see this morning’s sports page).

Also inexplicable: Gordon Hayward, who led all scorers with 24 points and a career 80-percent free-throw shooter, tossed up seven bricks from the stripe, exactly as many as he made. (Then again, if we mock Hayward’s 7-14, we must mock the Thunder’s aggregate 5-10, which, minus Lamb, leaves 1-9.) Utah had no talent for treys tonight, hitting only three of 16. Still, all five of their starters made it to double figures, leaving, um, three points for the bench, all by Dante Exum. And it’s always fun to watch Enes Kanter work: he was 6-13 for 16 points tonight, and he was the only Jazzman to come close to foul trouble.

The Knicks will be here Friday. Rumors persist that the mighty Russell Westbrook might actually be back. I’ll believe it when I see it — or when I don’t see Ish Smith.

Update: For “Ish Smith,” read “Sebastian Telfair.” Smith was the hardship-exception player; however, they’re keeping him and ditching Telfair.

Comments




A colder war than usual

During a second-quarter lull, radio guy Matt Pinto ventured the opinion that if these Warriors played their cards right, they could wind up in the Finals. They didn’t have a particularly hot hand tonight — Golden State’s shooting prowess seemed to fail them from time to time — but they cashed enough aces to slide by the Thunder, 91-86, the Warriors’ tenth win and the Thunder’s twelfth loss.

Still, the Warriors are nothing if not persistent, and when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson cooled off, reserve forward Marreese Speights took over, hitting 11-28 on the way to a game-high 28 points. (Thompson finished with 20, Curry 15.) Yet the mind boggles at a Golden State team shooting a mere 35.5 percent. (The Thunder were, um, 35.6.) And two other Warrior mainstays — Andre Igoudala and Andrew Bogut — retired early with physical damage.

And there’s that dreaded Consistency Factor that continues to elude Oklahoma City. Serge Ibaka, for instance, checked in with 16 points, but he shot a dim 5-17 from the floor. Jeremy Lamb hit all his foul shots (five), none of his field goals (six). The Thunder did haul in the bulk of the rebounds tonight (58-51), 12 by Anthony Morrow and 11 by Reggie Jackson, but the Warriors had all the dimes (26 versus 13). Jackson’s 22 for the night was respectable; but 26 shots to get it, not so much. OKC was never really out of it, but you have to wonder how much they were really in it.

The homestand continues Wednesday with a visit from the Jazz, a day off for Turkey Day, and a Friday-night clash with the Knicks. Visions of 3-29, alas, are still dancing in my head.

Comments




Men in black

About the only thing that was discussed in advance of this game is that somebody’s losing streak would have to end: the Thunder had lost four straight coming in, the Nets five straight. (Well, there was the absence of Andrei Kirilenko, who didn’t travel with the team; there is reasonable speculation that he never will again.) And OKC played it close for three quarters, only to watch the Nets go on a 10-0 run in the middle of the fourth. With a minute left, the badass black-clad Nets were up five; the lead shrank to three, then to one, then went back to two with 4.6 left. Reggie Jackson had a decent look for a last-second trey to win, but the ball refused to cooperate, and Brooklyn, on the high side of a 94-92 score, is now on a one-game winning streak, having swept the Thunder for the season.

Scott Brooks started Andre Roberson in place of Jeremy Lamb; it didn’t seem to make any difference, as the two of them together managed only nine points, though Roberson, the superior defenseman, did block four shots. The usual suspects got the scoring: Jackson with 21, Serge Ibaka with 16 (and ten rebounds), Anthony Morrow with 11, Steven Adams with 10. Adams, I must note, was 2-5 from the foul line, which reflects a growing problem: when your best foul shooters are Kendrick Perkins and Sebastian Telfair, each of who went 2-2 from the stripe, there’s something horribly wrong somewhere. OKC put up 19 freebies, sank only 12. By contrast, the Nets wangled 30 shots and hit 27 of them.

Reserve guard Jarrett Jack was the big scorer for Brooklyn, with a game-high 23; of the starters, Deron Williams had 17 points, and Brook Lopez 16 (and ten rebounds). Shooting percentages were pretty close — 46-45 — though the Nets were substantially more efficient, bagging 31 of 67, while the Thunder put up 85 and saw only 38 go through.

Three more games on this homestand: Golden State Sunday, Utah on Wednesday, New York on Friday. The Jazz have already shown they can beat OKC; the Warriors, 8-2 going into tonight’s game with those same Jazz, can probably beat anyone. We’re forced to hope against hope that the Knickerbockers are terrible. Then again, their crosstown rivals had dropped five in a row before arriving here, so the Knicks have to be worse than that. I’m not counting on it.

Comments (1)




It can’t happen here

You know, if Scott Brooks could get decent performances from even six of his ten actual players, the Thunder surely would have a record better than 3-10. (A Tulsa woman on Twitter invoked the painful memory of 2008-09, which began 3-29.) But it didn’t happen in Denver, where the Thunder, down 17 at one point in the third quarter, mounted enough of a rally to pull within three late, only to see the Nuggets nail back-to-back treys, one by Wilson Chandler, one by Arron Afflalo, and squelch what was left of the Thunder’s hopes. Denver 107, Oklahoma City 100, evening the season series at 1-1.

Contrast: Sebastian Telfair, who didn’t miss a shot all night (7-7, 4-4 on treys, 18 points), and Reggie Jackson, who missed a lot of them (5-20, 0-3 on treys, 6-6 free throws for 16 points). Speaking of not hitting treys, Anthony Morrow went 0-4, and Andre Roberson, in limited minutes, was 1-4. Serge Ibaka had a good night: 22 points, 13 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb had a not-so-good night: 8 points. Kendrick Perkins spent more time in the middle than did Steven Adams, but neither was as much of a factor as Timofey Mozgov, who not only guarded the lane but scored 17 points from close in.

Four of five starting Nuggets hit double figures; Kenneth Faried, the one who didn’t, did grab ten rebounds to go with his eight points. Chandler led Denver with 21 and nine boards; Ty Lawson served up 15 points and 15 assists. Denver didn’t drop below 50% shooting until the very end, and finished with 49. (Thunder shooting was not awful: 46%, and 10-23 on treys, though they’re 6-19 if you factor out whatever alchemy was sending Telfair’s long shots into the cylinder.) There is, however, one Telltale Statistic: OKC blocked zero shots. None. Not Ibaka, not Collison, not nobody. Explains some of that highfalutin’ Denver shootin’, don’t it?

For what it’s worth, during the annus horribilis that was 2008-09, OKC got its fourth win on the 31st of December. It shouldn’t take that long this year. Then again, “shouldn’t” is a word one shouldn’t use in connection with sports.

Comments (2)




Bebopped on the head

Seven minutes into the second quarter, the Thunder owned a 39-22 lead over the Jazz. It was all downhill after that: Utah finished the half with an 18-3 run, outscored OKC 32-17 in the third quarter, and opened the fourth with an 8-2 run. Faced with a 19-point deficit, the Thunder did what they’ve done most often this season: rallied to make up a fraction of it. The Jazz won it by 17, 98-81, with all five starters in double figures and a 55-44 rebounding edge. Not going to pieces when the going is rough is a decided advantage, wouldn’t you say?

For the victorious Jazz, Alec Burks posted a game-high 20 points, and while he was at it gathered 14 rebounds. Enes Kanter scored 16, retrieved 15; Trey Burke scored 17 and served up nine assists. No real monster numbers here: just attention to the fundamentals. Meanwhile, OKC shot a subpar 36 percent and bagged 35 percent of their treys, seven points behind the Jazz on both counts. (Neither side did very well at the stripe, just under 70 percent.) Jeremy Lamb had a respectable night with 19 points, Steven Adams slid by with 11, Reggie Jackson struggled to 10. But this was the night that Lance Thomas would outrebound Serge Ibaka, 8-6. (Both scored six points.) And only one player hit all his shots tonight: Kendrick Perkins, 4-4 for eight points. Were it not for Nick Collison’s newfound 3-point prowess — he hoisted five, actually made two — well, do the math.

And there are, I suppose, worse places to be than 13th in the West. (Under five feet of snow in Buffalo is one of them.) But there’s no point wasting time in contemplation: it’s off to Denver, where the Nuggets are enjoying similar levels of disappointment so far this season. Four home games follow, one of them against these same Jazz.

Comments




Can’t anyone here play this game?

Houston came into the ‘Peake with Peak Swagger; not only were they 5-0 on the road, but James Harden was scoring something like a bazillion points a game. And indeed, they dominated the first half of the game, leading 42-33 after two. Then great strangeness manifested itself: the Thunder scored a lousy 18 points in the third quarter — and briefly took the lead. The two free throws Harden sank in the final moments of the third were Houston’s eighth and ninth points of the quarter. Stifling Oklahoma City defense did it: the Thunder had blocked 14 shots in the first 36 minutes. But they couldn’t make any shots on their own, either.

Three minutes into the fourth, there was a bizarre little incident in which Patrick Beverley was trashtalking one of the zebras. Scott Brooks took the opportunity to point this out to the crew; Kevin McHale jumped up because he’s Kevin McHale, and for a moment there, it looked like a hockey game was about to break out. After a lengthy discussion, a tech was called on Sebastian Telfair, which drew a muted “Wow” from radio guy Matt Pinto.

With 78 seconds left, a Harden trey put the Rockets up 68-65; Houston did their best to run some clock, the Thunder managed no further threats — Reggie Jackson sent up a 30-footer over Dwight Howard which went nowhere — and the Beard cashed in one of two free throws for the final four-point difference, 69-65. If that sounds like a high-school score, well, consider: neither side shot over 30 percent; fully 54 treys were attempted tonight, and 44 of them failed; Harden, who scored the last four points in the game, was -2 for the evening. If anyone on earth was thinking “Oh, Mama, I want to see the bricks tonight!” she should have been in downtown OKC.

Harden led all scorers with 19 despite going 5-17 from the floor; Dwight Howard (4-12) and Patrick Beverley (4-10) had 12 each; Trevor Ariza, who drew a tech for some unknown reason, got 11 points from 4-11. Reggie Jackson and Lance Thomas had 15 each for the Thunder, with the Reg hauling in 11 boards; Serge Ibaka had 10; Steven Adams scored one solitary foul shot, though he contributed six blocks to the cause. OKC at least remembered how to do foul shots, making 22 of 28. (The Rockets were 16-30, largely due to Howard, who is to free throws what Shaq was to, well, free throws.)

Seems like a good time to get out of town. So it’s a trip halfway out West, to meet the Jazz on Tuesday and the Nuggets on Wednesday. The Nets will be in OKC Friday night.

Comments




Crank sensor

Sometimes it’s just hard to watch. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Detroit led Oklahoma City 77-70, a score which suggests the presence of many, many bricks tossed up by both sides. This obviously would not do, and the Thunder put some effort into catching up. With a minute left, it was tied 82-82; the Pistons burned up two timeouts on a single possession, and came up empty when Kyle Singler failed to get a shot past Steven Adams. Reggie Jackson’s fadeaway jumper at the horn proved to be invisible, and overtime ensued. A lot of fumbling in the first couple of minutes, and then Detroit leaned on the loud pedal. In those five minutes, Brandon Jennings outscored the Thunder, 8-7, and the Pistons got their first win ever in the ‘Peake, 96-89.

Were I inclined to look for moral victories, I’d point to the three OKC double-doubles: Jeremy Lamb (24 points — a career high — and 10 rebounds), Reggie Jackson (20 points, 12 assists), and Serge Ibaka (19 points, 10 boards). But here’s the amazing statistic: the Thunder took only six foul shots — and missed five. Remember “close to the worst foul shooting in NBA history”? This was more than 10 percentage points worse.

And really, nobody expected this from Brandon Jennings, who checked into the locker room at halftime with four points. He wound up with 29 on decently efficient 10-18 shooting, including five of eight from far outside. The Detroit frontcourt also performed, with Josh Smith salting away 18 points, Greg Monroe (+30 for the night!) 14, and Andre Drummond nine, albeit with 15 rebounds. The Pistons collected 55 boards, 13 more than the Thunder, and outshot them by about 3 percent. (They were a blah 9-15 from the stripe, but hey: nine points. OKC should try that more often.) Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away, the D-League Blue dropped one to the Maine Red Claws, 111-105. Cold hands all around?

The Houston Rockets, who managed to beat the hapless Sixers by one point tonight, will be here Sunday. Pray for snow.

Comments (1)




Warmed up in Beantown

No thanks to the Don’t Call It A Polar Vortex, it was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in Boston than in Oklahoma City. Then again, one does not expect a warm reception at TD Garden, especially when Rajon Rondo is in good form. And Rondo was in excellent form tonight, coming in just short of a triple-double. It didn’t help that the Thunder opened with a chilling demonstration of shooting ineptitude — 1-11! — and found themselves trailing 18-3 midway through the first quarter. Things settled down, but OKC was still down nine at the half, 51-42. And then suddenly things just started to work. Reggie Jackson, who’d had eight points in the first half, played the entire second half and ended up with a sizzling 28, one short of his regular-season career high. Lance Thomas, not previously known as a collector of rebounds or a deliverer of assists, had career highs in both: 13 boards, six dimes. Nick Collison tossed up two more treys and finished with 12 points. Then there was Scott Brooks’ decision to take the stopwatch off Anthony Morrow. Given 31 minutes to work, Morrow missed exactly one shot in the second half and wound up with 28 points. Despite a blah performance by Serge Ibaka (11 points/4 boards/1 block) and a sub-blah performance by Jeremy Lamb (2-10 for four points), the Thunder waltzed all over the Garden floor and left the Celtics on the bad end of a 109-94 trouncing.

Still: Rondo, excellent form. Twenty points, twelve assists, nine rebounds. Avery Bradley added 17; the other three starters — Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk — contributed 14 each, and Sullinger collected 11 rebounds. But that was about it for the Boston offense: the reserves, six of whom saw playing time, came up with only 15 points in aggregate, or just over half what Anthony Morrow did by himself. The extremely thin OKC bench — four, with Ish Smith getting a DNP-CD — managed, um, fifty.

A startling calculation: after that 1-11 start, the Thunder finished 40-82, a tick or two below 50 percent. They even outrebounded the Celtics by six, and the Celtics had been outrebounding everyone this season. But this may be the key: only eight turnovers all night.

Next: things resume at the ‘Peake, with the Pistons arriving Friday and the Rockets on Sunday.

Comments