Archive for Net Proceeds

Second verse, unlike the first

Probably the most telling moment of the evening was about halfway through the fourth quarter when the Thunder took five shots from point-blank distance on a single possession and came away empty-handed. It was at this precise moment that it became evident that the Bulls were going to do a better job down the line than did the Nets. The events of Wednesday night would be repeated only in one aspect: the final score, 114-112 — but this time the Thunder were on the losing side of the ledger.

It wasn’t supposed to happen that way, of course. The last Thunder possession at Chicago followed the pattern set at Brooklyn: get Paul George loose for a trey. Tonight, though, PG-13 landed the shot just slightly wide of the mark. He finished with 19 points, 28 fewer than he’d had on Wednesday. And Russell Westbrook popped up with what could be called a quadruple-double: 24 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists — and 10 turnovers. Zach LeVine coughed it up nine times for the Bulls to go with his 25 points, but somehow it didn’t seem quite so heinous. Perhaps it was the return to form of Lauri Markkanen, who’d been injured earlier in the season and who probably wasn’t expected to come up with 24 points tonight, let alone the game-winning bucket inside the five-second mark that kept threatening to roll out of the cylinder but never quite did. And let it be known that the Bulls shot 50 percent or better almost the entire night, finishing at 52 (43-82). The Thunder got 12 more shots, but no more goals (43-94, 46 percent). This is what happens when you take five shots in a single possession and come away empty-handed.

All five teams in the Northwest are at .500 or better, and the Thunder play two of them next week: Utah at home on Monday, at Denver on Friday. (In between, a trip to New Orleans; the Pels are one game below .500.) Just to complicate matters further, the Clippers, second in the West — the Nuggets are first — show up Saturday.

Comments




Detangled at last

You might not have expected this level of ferocity from an 8-17 team. But the Brooklyn Nets, up two after the first quarter, were up 16 at the half and managed to push that lead to 23 at various points thereafter. And at some point, Paul George evidently had had enough. In the first 36 minutes, PG-13 had a respectable 22 points. In the next 12 minutes, he had 25 more, including the last score of the game, a three-pointer that put the Thunder up 114-112. According to radio guy Matt Pinto, this was the greatest comeback in OKC NBA history, And it ended in spectacular fashion, with the stop to end all stops: the Nets got the ball back with 0.1 second. With that meager sliver of time, Brooklyn had exactly one option: to lob the ball to above the rim and have another player gently guide it through without getting close enough to get called for goaltending. Chances of this happening: next to nil, changing quickly to nil as the ball approached the net.

The spirit of Joe Btfsplk was evidently moving above the Barclays Center. The Nets shot adequately, a smidgen better than the Thunder from three-point range and much better than the Thunder from the charity stripe. (Fifteen of 26?) Six Brooklyn players reached double figures, led by Allen Crabbe with 22 and Joe Harris with 19. Any other night, they’d have won it easily.

But then there was Russell Westbrook, getting one more triple-double (21-15-17) and passing Jason Kidd on the all-time list, in the arena where Kidd’s jersey hangs from the rafters. And there was nobody noticing Westbrook anyway: Paul George had long since taken over the game, finishing with 47 points, one short of his career high, on 15-27 shooting, 6-13 from beyond the arc, and 11-14 from the line. Oh, and he collected 15 rebounds. It’s enough to overlook the mere 18 points generated by the OKC bench, two-thirds of which came from Dennis Schröder.

Jim Boylen is 0-1 so far as coach of the Bulls. I’m thinking maybe he’s not expecting to even up that record when the Thunder arrive in the City of the Big Shoulders Friday night.

Comments (1)




In the absence of rings

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have predicted this, but it happened just the same: the Detroit Pistons, who had won five straight overall and six straight in Motown, did a collective faceplant in the presence of the Oklahoma City Thunder, falling 110-83. (The oddsmakers apparently favored OKC, but by two points, not by twenty-seven.) Then again, when your leading scorer is also your worst performer in plus-minus — Blake Griffin, 20 points, minus 25 — something unexpected clearly is going on.

The blow-by began early, with OKC taking a 26-17 lead in the first quarter; it didn’t help the Pistons that they lost starting shooting guard Reggie Bullock to an ankle sprain just three minutes in. The other guard named Reggie — that would be Jackson — was held to 10 points. And Andre Drummond picked up 13 points, which is believable, and retrieved only six rebounds, which isn’t.

Thunder scoring involved the usual suspects, albeit in an unusual bunch. Steven Adams topped them all at 21; Russell Westbrook, 18; Paul George, 17 (with 10 boards); Jerami Grant, 15; Dennis Schöder and Nerlens Noel, 12 each. Terrance Ferguson was back, and he still plays better defense than offense, but at least he was back. Hamidou Diallo? Perhaps not 100 percent yet; he was listed as active, but drew a DNP-CD.

The Eastern Safari continues Wednesday in Brooklyn; the Nets fell to Cleveland tonight and have now dropped six straight. Meanwhile in Chicago, the next stop (Friday):

When the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune says something is “not the greatest,” you can safely assume it sucked. Of course, it would have been easier on Hoiberg if they’d given him some players to work with.

Comments




Hotlanta chilled

Your sportsball pundits will happily tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder is the best third-quarter team in the entire NBA, which of course explains why the Hawks outscored them 30-25 tonight. It didn’t make a whole lot of difference: a 38-22 second quarter got OKC to a twenty-point lead (66-46) at halftime, and Atlanta, so far this season anyway, hasn’t been the sort of team that comes back from a twenty-point deficit. And so the Thunder won it by fifteen, 124-109, not so much thanks to Hawks futility, but from getting their own ducks properly queued.

Item: Alex Abrines has been shooting poorly of late, and Patrick Patterson was about 1.5 standard deviations worse than Abrines. Tonight, Señor Splash sank seven of 11 from outside for an easy 21 points, and the Patt Man, who hadn’t made a shot in a couple of weeks, bagged four of nine, including three treys, for 13.

Item: Patterson’s 13 points was third-highest from the Thunder bench, trailing both Dennis Schröder and Nerlens Noel.

Item: The Thunder tossed up 41 three-pointers; miraculously, 18 of them dropped, a season high.

Item: OKC took only 15 free throws, but made 14 of them. We’ve seen nights when they were lucky to get ten.

And oh, yes, Russell Westbrook almost had a triple-double: 23-9-10.

The Hawks did make reasonable noise. Their starting forwards, John Collins and Taurean Prince, delivered 19 and 15 points respectively; reserve big Alex Len had 19 more. But the situation that characterized Atlanta’s night best was this: veteran Vince Carter had exactly zero playinh time, but was rung up for a technical for a bit of trash-talking in Westbrook’s direction. (Westbrook returned the courtesy, and he, too, was hit with a T.)

This is about the time you want to tell the men in Thunder blue not to get cocky. It’s time to hit the road, and the road goes first to Detroit, where the Pistons have won four straight and are now in fourth place in the East, five ticks below the all-conquering Raptors. In the sort of scheduling that used to make travel agents rich, the next two games are at Brooklyn and Chicago. Maybe we can think of them as downhill.

Comments




As falls Cuyahoga

The Cavaliers came out breathing, if not fire, certainly something with incendiary potential: up seven after the first quarter, they stretched the lead to as much as fifteen before the Thunder shifted gears. From a 47-all tie at halftime, OKC outscored Cleveland 53-36 in the second half to skunk the Cavs, 100-83, gaining a season sweep and maybe a little bit of confidence.

One thing is for sure: just about anyone might end up at Thunder shooting guard. Tonight it was Alex Abrines, who ended up +13 despite making only one shot, but being Señor Splash, it was a 3-pointer. Raymond Felton climbed back into the rotation; two-way guy Tyler Davis actually got a minute of playing time. Paul George got four fouls in a hurry, but never did foul out. (In fact, the Cavs took only eight free throws all night, and missed half of them.) And Russell Westbrook climbed another rung on the All-Time Triple-Double Ladder, waving to Jason Kidd as he went by. Westbrook’s line: 23 points, 19 rebounds, 15 assists.

One oddity on the Cleveland side of the box score: sixth man Jordan Clarkson led all scorers with 25 points on 10-22 shooting, including 4-8 on treys. Only two other Cavalier reserves saw action — Ante Žižić and Andrew Harrison — and neither of them made a shot (though they took four each) all night. So no Channing Frye, no George Hill, no J. R. Smith (though he’s going to be dealt shortly), and with a DNP-Personal, no Kyle Korver, though Woj says there’s a reason for that:

In return, the Cavs get Alec Burks and a couple of second-round draft picks. Korver played three seasons with the Jazz; let’s hope he’s happier now.

Friday the Atlanta Hawks will arrive in town; I’m sort of looking forward to seeing how Hawks alumnus Dennis Schröder fares against his old team.

Comments




They did it again

Billy Donovan brought in yet another starting lineup tonight, with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot at shooting guard. It didn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference; TLC did a decent job of clearing the boards when called upon, but a shooting guard, one hopes, will actually make some shots. Then again, hardly anyone in Thunder blue was making shots for most of the night; the shooting percentage didn’t budge much from 30 percent for the whole game, and the Nuggets at one point held a 25-point lead. With three minutes left, OKC had pulled to within six, and shortly thereafter squeaked their way to a five-point deficit. But Denver’s knack for coming up with second-chance points, and the Thunder’s inability to get even first-chance points, resulted in a thumping Denver win, 105-98.

One of the major objectives was to neutralize center Nikola Jokić, who came in averaging 17 points a game while terrorizing the area around the rim. Didn’t happen: Jokić did not shoot well — 6-20 — but he still came up with 16 points. (Then again, Trey Lyles led the bench with 16, and he didn’t miss a shot all night.) Jamal Murray led all the Nuggets with 23; Denver shot a blah 41 percent, still four percent better than OKC.

Paul George, five fouls notwithstanding, led the Thunder with 24 points and 11 rebounds; Jerami Grant, five fouls notwithstanding, was back in double figures again with 13, and Russell Westbrook put together a 16/10/12 triple double despite shooting only 6-23, 1-12 (!) on the three-ball, and you can probably guess how many fouls he had. Fortunately, the Nuggets were not so great at the foul line, hitting 17 of 24; then again, OKC, at 15-23, was worse. Dennis Schröder led the reserves with 18.

So once again, Denver has the Thunder’s number: they’ve won five of the last six, with three more to come this season. Next week, it’s a couple of Eastern squads that have fallen on hard times: the Cavs on Wednesday, followed by the Hawks on Friday. Then it’s an Eastern road trip, against Detroit, Brooklyn and Chicago.

Comments




Bees waxed

There’s a lot of sideline talk about “pace,” usually because (1) it’s too fast or (2) it’s too slow. Tonight, things were moving briskly in the first quarter, slowed a bit in the next two periods, and ground to a virtual halt in the fourth. With 12 minutes left, the Thunder led the Hornets by nine; Charlotte wasted no time whittling that lead down to two, and then to one with twenty seconds left. The big question then became “What will Kemba Walker do?” Turned out to be nothing; Marvin Williams took a 3-point shot, missed it, and Russell Westbrook grabbed the ball. He was of course fouled; he buried both the subsequent free throws, and it was once again a three-point game. Charlotte had eleven seconds to do something about it; Walker (25 points) had a good look for a trey, and didn’t get it. Westbrook, of course fouled, buried two more free throws, and that was that: Oklahoma City 109, Charlotte 104, and the Bees are swept.

One of the Hornets’ chief weapons is the long ball, but it wasn’t falling for them tonight; they made only six of 31. (The Thunder were a little better, at 11-33.) Otherwise, Charlotte shot tolerably well, just under 46 percent, and six Hornets hit double figured, including four starters. The reserve Hornets turned out to be way more efficient than the OKC bench, 32-13; Thunder two-way forward Deonte Burton got 11 of those 13. But the temporary Thunder starting lineup — Dennis Schröder was inserted at shooting guard — all broke into double digits, led by Westbrook with 30 and Schröder with 23. Rebounds were dead even, at 46.

The Nuggets will be coming in from Denver tomorrow, followed by a break until Wednesday, with the arrival of the Cavaliers. It’s not often you see a back-to-back with two home games, but there it is. OKC has so far gone 3-0 on the second night of a back-to-back, but sensibly, they profess to be properly worried, and Denver is only about a rung behind in the standings and can make life very difficult if things go their way.

Comments




And the Oakland booting

Funny thing about playing Golden State: we discuss the matter at work, but we never mention the actual game. Instead, we wander around the periphery:

“So, for whom can they [it’s always “they”] trade Draymond Green?”

Came this response:

“They won’t have to. Durant will be a Knick next fall. Count on it.”

You heard it here first, folks. Before any of that happens, though, there’s actual basketball to be played. And the Warriors were somewhat depleted at tip-off: besides Steph Curry (groin strain) and DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles), they were minus, um, Draymond Green, who had a messed-up toe. Meanwhile, the Thunder were depleted during the game, losing Terrance Ferguson to an ankle strain and Hamidou Diallo, who had to be wheeled away following what looked like a knee injury. (Nerlens Noel got scraped fairly badly early on, but was back in a few minutes with five shiny new stitches.) If nothing else, having to watch these incidents emboldened OKC, which held Golden State to 10 points in 10 minutes in the fourth quarter; the Warriors wasted no time throwing in the towel, one they haven’t used much at home this year. Oklahoma City 123, Golden State 95, which I don’t think anyone anticipated.

It helped that the Thunder didn’t play any hero ball: yes, Russell Westbrook got a triple-double, but 11 points/11 rebounds/13 assists is not the sign of a ball hog. Paul George just missed a double-double (25 points/9 boards). Steven Adams? Got another one (20 points/11 rebounds). Jerami Grant? Got his first one of the season (14 points/11 boards). And then there’s Dennis Schröder, off the bench, with, um, 32 points. The man was overdue.

You might think the Thunder did a lot of rebounding, and you would be correct: the board distribution ended up at 60-41. Explains how the Thunder took 21 more shots (103 versus 82). The Warriors were reasonably efficient, with both Durant and Klay Thompson bagging 27 points each, and KD also collecting 14 boards. (Durant was playing the four, with Andre Iguodala starting at the three.) Perhaps most wacky: the Warriors were 7-29 from the three-point circle. (After a slow start, OKC ended up with a respectable 12-33.)

And it’s back home for the holiday. The Hornets will be visiting on Friday; the Nuggets follow on Saturday. (A back-to-back at home? Unheard of.) Wednesday we’ll see the Cavaliers; two nights later, the Hawks. Anything can happen in those four games.

Comments




Trey fatigué

Live by the three-pointer, die by the three-pointer. There have been too many moments in Thunder history when omigod we have to go for the long ball, often because they weren’t defending against it themselves. The fourth quarter at Sacramento was instructive. Nobody, at least nobody paying attention, puts Buddy in the corner. And Buddy Hield, left all alone, peppered the rim, three points at a time. He ended up with 25 points, a virtual second-half mirror image of Iman Shupert’s first half. The two of them combined for 9 of 21 treys. (The Thunder in aggregate went 12-42. You have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been easier to phone it in.) For the second time this season, the Kings ruled; after an early-season thrashing administered in OKC, they’ve taken a 2-0 lead in the season series with a 117-113 win at home.

The return of Russell Westbrook, you might think, would make a big difference. It didn’t. Westbrook did plenty of scoring — 29 points plus 13 rebounds — but once again, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot led the bench, this time with 11, and you wonder where the rest of the troops were. I mean, Paul George had 27 points, but it took him 24 shots to get there. Steven Adams got his usual 15 rebounds, but a below-average 11 points. The one saving grace: Hamidou Diallo, starting at shooting guard, who actually shot: 7-7, 2-2 from outside, 2-2 at the foul line. You can do worse than not miss a shot all night, and in fact you usually do.

Outrebounded by the Kings, 59-53, you have to wonder how they’ll clear the boards day after tomorrow at Golden State. I mean, yeah, Steph Curry is unwell of late, but he’s not their primary defender. Let’s hope Dennis Schröder recovers his mojo: 3-17 is a whole lot of Not Good. (Oh, and he put up six treys. Missed ’em all.)

Comments (2)




Brightness abides

Something I wasn’t expecting to say this season: “The Thunder bench was led by Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot with 12 points.” But it happened, a by-product of Terrance Ferguson’s absence for personal reasons and the late scratch of Alex Abrines. TLC pulled down four rebounds, and served up an assist as well, prompting Billy Donovan to give him extended minutes. And maybe, after three games out of 15 against the Suns, OKC has learned a little bit about how Phoenix operates. (Unfortunately, they only play them once more in the next 67.) It never hurts, of course, to start a road trip with a win, and 110-100 over the Suns is indeed a win, even though Phoenix put together an 11-0 run in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Come to think of it, the Suns were missing one of their mainstays: veteran forward Trevor Ariza had personal matters to attend to as well. Still, the Valley Guys actually outshot the Thunder by a smidgen more than a percentage point, and T. J. Warren, as usual, led the squad with 23. Devin Booker came up with a double-double (18 points, 11 assists), and rookie center Deandre Ayton pushed through a highly-creditable 19. The Thunder, however, utterly dominated the boards (52-31), and they’ve evidently been working on their free throws (27 of 32, 84 percent). Steven Adams battled with Ayton pretty much all night, and rose to a season high of 26 points, with 10 boards beside. The heaviest of heavy lifters was once again Paul George, with 32 points including 11 of 11 free throws, and 11 rebounds to see if you were paying attention. No explanation was given for Russell Westbrook, who was listed as away for personal reasons rather than as injured. Go figure. (Obviously it was for the twins, but there ought to be a way to get that into the box score.)

Let’s face it, if you start the season 0-4 and find yourself 10-5 a couple of weeks later, you must be doing something right; ten and five is good enough to tie the Trail Blazers, who had the night off, for first in the Northwest. And hell, even the mighty Warriors have five losses. (Draymond? Kevin? Keep it up.) But the Kings are playing .500 ball right now, and they can be ferocious at home — and they’re next.

Comments




Knicks knuked again

It’s not often that the Knicks beat the Thunder. In December of last year, OKC was welcomed to New York with a 111-96 thrashing, giving the Knicks a season split. Tonight’s 128-103 spectacle really shouldn’t be considered payback, since both sides were missing regular starters, and I don’t want to be the guy who thumbs the scale in an effort to determine whether Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson equal Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas and Kristaps Porzingis. And the Knicks do have some firepower even in their absence: Tim Hardaway Jr. knocked down 20 points, and Enes Kanter (remember him?) came up with 19 from the bench. The Knicks bench, in fact, outscored OKC’s, 44-37. But perhaps this was the wrong night for it, what with OKC shooting 53 percent from the floor and splashing 16 of 33 treys. What’s more, Paul George hit a season-high 35 points, Steven Adams yet another 19 — seems like he always gets 18 or 19 — and the first Dennis Schröder double-double of the year (15 points, 12 assists).

Knicks to Knote: Rookie Kevin Knox — he was drafted #9 by New York this past summer — got the start at small forward, and he was mostly up to the challenge; he shot only 5-16, but came up with 15 points in his 29 minutes. And Emmanuel Mudiay started at the point, scoring seven and delivering five dimes.

The second NY/OKC game will be at Madison Square Garden on the 21st of January. At 11:30 am. In the absence of any rational explanation — at least, any that I’ve heard — I’m going to chalk this one down as a Stupid Scheduler Trick. And I kind of hope Porzingis is back; he’s always fun to watch. For now, though, the West is calling, and for all I know, they may be calling collect.

Comments




A game of runs

Nobody wins a basketball game by swapping baskets with the opponents: you have to put together strings of unanswered buckets. This is how the Thunder was leading the Suns after the first quarter, 32-13; they took a 24-point lead into the locker room, and maintained it for about seven minutes in the third. Then Phoenix struck back, outscoring OKC 35-22 in the quarter; early in the fourth, they’d pulled to within seven before the Thunder remembered how to score points. It wasn’t instantaneous, exactly, but within five minutes they’d reestablished a 20-point lead. At the end, it was a 17-point spread, 118-101, and the Suns go home empty-handed. (Though they’ll get another shot at OKC this weekend, in their own house.)

Still no Westbrook. But OKC is learning not to be utterly dependent on Mister Whynot; they actually did not embarrass themselves from the 3-point line (13-27, 48 percent) or from the charity stripe (19-20, 95 percent). The Suns were a little more efficient from the floor, but they got twelve fewer shots. That said, their sharpshooters were pretty sharp: T. J. Warren clocked 21 points, and Devin Booker 19, while Mikal Bridges and Jamal Crawford each tapped in 13 from the bench. (Crawford’s 38 years old; he’ll probably be good for 13 points when he’s 48.)

Paul George paced (sorry) the Thunder with 28; Dennis Schröder tacked on 20, and Steven Adams managed 18. This should be enough to deal with the Knicks on Wednesday; but then it’s back on the road, and if they can get past the Suns in Phoenix, they still have to deal with Sacramento and Golden State, both of which beat OKC the first time around this season.

Comments




Subtonic for the troops

The Thunder, if nothing else, nailed down their position as the Worst 3-Point Shooters in the Association; then agaih, they didn’t shoot worth a darn for two points, and started sliding into the Dumpster in the second quarter, where Dallas had a one-point lead at the beginning and a twelve-point lead twelve minutes later. No progress was made in the second half, and the lightly-regarded Mavs picked up their fourth win against eight losses, 111-96. It was a sub-par offensive performance for the Thunder, but it was also a sub-par defensive performance as well; the Mavs shot 56 percent and nearly 50 percent from outside. (OKC: 39 percent, 27 percent on treys.) And all this without Dirk, yet; the Dallas offense was paced by Luka Dončić (22 points) and J. J. Barea (21).

Something to point to in the box score: Barea’s 21 points just about equaled the total point production of the entire OKC bench (22). Both Paul George and Steven Adams posted double-doubles (20 points/13 boards each), and Dennis Schröder managed 19, but there wasn’t much left for anyone else Billy Donovan threw into the mix, with the possible exception of Jerami Grant, who did a reasonable job of finding the rim for 13 points. The Thunder got the lion’s, or at least the panther’s, share of rebounds, 53-38, although it should be noted that 26 of those came off the offensive glass, which should give you an idea how poorly they did on the first shot of any random possession.

So the seven-game win streak is history. The Thunder go back home tonight, or maybe tomorrow morning, and face the Suns on Monday evening. Phoenix is not doing well so far this season. Then again, neither were the Mavs, until tonight.

Comments




Nor any red glare

Given the sheer firepower Mike D’Antoni has at his command, there was probably good reason to be chary of a game against D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets, especially with Russell Westbrook still sidelined. Had I said that within earshot of any member of the OKC Thunder, though, I’d probably draw something like “Screw that” for a response; the Thunder soundly thrashed the Rockets, 98-80, with all the starters in double figures and at +20 or better. Yes, even Terrance Ferguson (14 points, +24). The only way this could be sweeter would be if Chris Paul drew a technical. Which, come to think of, he did.

James Harden, as expected, led the Rockets’ scoring with 19. Clint Capela added 17 more. (Oh, and Carmelo Anthony had 2.) One can grumble that the Thunder, returning to one of its bad habits, jacked up 37 treys and making only 9; then again, Houston put up 42 and made only 11, which isn’t what anyone would call a major improvement. And Houston was seriously outnumbered in Backboardland, the Thunder pulling down 52 rebounds to the Rockets’ 39. And this impresses: CP3 was good for six steals — he’s as adept a ball thief as there is in the NBA — but so was PG-13. And Paul George outscored Chris Paul, 20-10.

As short homestands go, this is about as short as they come: one game. The Thunder now hit the road for Dallas, where the Mavericks are suffering through a 3-8 start. And it probably is not wise to get cocky with that seven-game win streak, which is, yes, let it be said, the second-longest in the Association. Three guesses who has the first.

Comments




Just jake on the lake

The LeBronless Cavaliers earnestly lost nine of their first ten games, and being without Kevin Love isn’t the sort of thing that helps. Still, longtime Thunder watchers were murmuring “Trap game, trap game,” and they got louder in the fourth quarter when the Cavs took an 82-80 lead. Wasn’t going to happen, though, and if this is only the second time in NBA history that an 0-4 team won the next six, well, a W is a W no matter how it looked. The role of Russell Westbrook was played by Dennis Schröder, and if he had an unWestbrooky line — 11-19 shooting for 28 points, no treys (three attempted), no assists, and seven rebounds, all defensive — he does seem to take well to starting. And once Alex Abrines delivered a trey to reclaim the lead, the Thunder slid back into lead-management mode and won it 95-86.

Interestingly, only one Cav — backup center Ante Žižić — rolled up 10 points and nine rebounds in not quite 17 minutes, becoming the only Cleveland player on the plus side of the scale. The guy who started where Žižić ended, Tristan Thompson, had the only double-double for either side, not counting the bucket he scored for the Thunder on a goal-tend. The Cavs did not shoot well, at 37 percent, but the Thunder turned in a prosaic 42, and Cleveland outrebounded OKC 51-44, not an inconsiderable achievement.

If there was anything horribly wrong here, it’s that this is the first leaf of a back-to-back, and nobody among the starters got much rest: Paul George was out there for 38 minutes collecting his 18 points. And Houston, the Thursday-night foe, doesn’t figure to be a patsy. Do not expect Westbrook back, though: the more you see of the moment his ankle hit the floor, the worse it looks.

Comments




There’s always another Diallo

Just when I was getting used to Thunder reserve Hamidou Diallo, who’s put forth some serious effort this year, I get to see New Orleans reserve Cheick Diallo, who is no relation. (C.D. hails from Mali.) Weirdly, both Diallos played about 10 minutes and scored four points. But this is the sort of thing you do when Russell Westbrook disappears into the locker room with a sprained ankle. And Anthony Davis was back for the Pelicans, but mostly he confined himself to avoiding getting called for fouls; most of the New Orleans scoring came from Jrue Holiday (22 points/14 assists), Nikola Mirotić (16 points/16 rebounds), and especially sixth man Julius Randle (26 points/8 boards). If these sound suspiciously like Thunder lines, well, things were close most of the night. It was 63-62 Birds at the half, though OKC jumped out to a 100-86 lead going into the fourth, despite losing Westbrook two-thirds of the way through. Then horribility ensued. The Pels pulled close; Dennis Schröder and Paul George swept through four free throws, and on the last New Orleans possession, Schröder took the ball away from Davis. OKC 122, New Orleans 116, and suddenly the team that dropped four games to start the season is now over .500, with the tenth game yet to come.

Before coming down hard in the third, Westbrook had 17 points and nine assists; PG-13 brought forth 23 points; Steven Adams (+22 for the night) had 18, and Schröder came up with 22. The Pelicans outrebounded the Thunder, 45-41, and very slightly outshot them (by 0.4 percent). Statistic worth noting: the Pelicans had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half — and none in the second.

The schedule now gets weird. Wednesday at Cleveland; at home Thursday against Houston; Saturday at Dallas; out to Phoenix on Monday. Too early to make any predictions, though I seem to recall saying that one year in Game #79.

Comments




And then they were .500

You might have figured before the season began that the Thunder would be 4-4 at this point; you might not have figured that they’d get two of those four wins from a back-to-back on the road. Yet there it is. They came back from a 19-point deficit to edge the Hornets in Charlotte last night, and tonight they upended the Washington Wizards early and held on. OKC had a 35-30 lead after the first quarter, which is a fair chunk of scoring, but probably no one was expecting the Thunder to pile up 44 points in the second quarter. (You may remember that it took them the entire first half to score 44 against Charlotte.) It was 79-50 at halftime; the lead swelled to 32 before the Wizards started putting together some runs. Still, despite occasional lapses late, the Thunder won it by twenty-three, 134-111, and all of a sudden a team that had been struggling to score points is now looking, for the moment anyway, like a powerful offensive force. Not that the Wizards have a killer defense.

With Washington, it’s Wall and Beal, Beal and Wall, game after game. All-Stars, and they play like it. What you weren’t counting on was the return of Dwight Howard, and the younger Dwight Howard at that; there’s Bradley Beal with 27, there’s John Wall with 19 — and there’s Dwight Howard with 20. On 7-8 shooting. Of course, to be the real Younger Dwight Howard, he’d have had to block a shot here and there, but he didn’t. Still, the fact that he can still contribute in his 15th season is heartening to some of us old folks.

And isn’t it amazing how much more productive Russell Westbrook is when he isn’t jacking desperation treys? Ten for sixteen tonight, and 23 points, plus a dozen dimes. Jerami Grant tossed in an unheard-of 22 points. In fact, four of five Thunder starters showed up in double figures, and Terrance Ferguson, with nine, barely missed. (The Fergster put up five shots, all from three-point range, and made three. This from a guy who’d made one trey all season up to tonight.) From the field, OKC shot 57 percent — which one must do to beat the Wiz, who checked in with nearly 52 — 15-32 from outside the arc, and, get this, 21 of 26 free throws. Respectable, that.

Now comes a weekend off, and then a Monday greeting of the New Orleans Pelicans, who may or may not have Anthony Davis back from his elbow injury.

Comments




Mehnessing

Really, the Thunder excelled only in one quarter in that Clippers game: the third, which OKC dominated to the tune of 39-10. For most of the remaining 36 minutes, you could be forgiven for shaking your head and muttering “Meh” under your breath. There’s a lot of meh still hovering over this club: down 48-44 at the half, they found themselves 19 points behind the Charlotte Hornets halfway through the third. Much meh surrounded the three-point arc, from behind which OKC took 37 shots, making only eight. The Hornets weren’t much better, but more might have been expected of Charlotte, which was one of the best long-ball teams in the Association. And more was expected of Kemba Walker, one of only a handful of players averaging 30 points a game; he churned out only three in the first half. He finished with a still-respectable 21, as did second-year guard Malik Monk. The real shocker, though, was seeing Tony Parker (!) in Hornets garb, coming off the bench with 17 points. Still, the Thunder pulled this one off, dragging their dismal 30-percent shooting up to the lower 40s, and claiming a 111-107 win, their third after four opening losses.

If we’re going to harp on treys, we can suggest that they let Alex Abrines shoot them all: he hit five of ten, versus zero for whatever from Russell Westbrook, Patrick Patterson, and especially Paul George, who produced ten long-distance bricks but who still managed a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds.) Westbrook wound up with 29 points and 10 assists, missing the triple-double by two boards. The Hornets did have an edge in rebounding (51-49); uncharacteristically, they turned the ball over 17 times. (I’d have believed 10; it was a little harder to believe OKC with only 10 turnovers.)

Tomorrow night in the District of Columbia, where Scott Brooks’ Wizards are an unlikely 1-6 so far. Then again, who would have figured the Thunder for 3-4 at this point?

Comments




The joys of payback

It was halftime at the Big C, and glumness was in the air: the Clippers were out front, 67-54, and most of the mistakes OKC had made in Los Angeles, they made on their home court. Radio guy Matt Pinto, apart from raising his voice now and then to complain about the officiating, seemed unusually taciturn.

Then something happened, something no one was anticipating, something that for all we know involved Doc Rivers pissing off a deity. The third quarter opened with a Thunder run. A 21-2 Thunder run. By the time twelve minutes had passed, OKC had swept up 39 points, leaving only ten for the Clippers. And the Thunder maintained a double-digit lead right down to the horn. It was 128-110 at the end, and if you heard some vague meteorological phenomenon towards the end there, you might want to ask Doc if the curse had been lifted.

And yet. Danilo Gallinari, always a threat, rolled up 27 points to lead the Clips. Sixth man nonpareil Lou Williams was his usual methodical self. Yet the two of them in aggregate were minus-30 for the night. There were technical fouls galore: to absolutely no one’s surprise, Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook split a pair. But Beverley got rung up for a flagrant after trying to hatchet Westbrook’s kneecaps, and he just wasn’t the same after that. Meanwhile, Westbrook was piling up 32 points without getting a double-double. (Paul George did get one: 32 points, 12 rebounds. Steven Adams got one too, with 18/10. And while the Thunder are still below par at the charity stripe, they did knock down 23 of 32 for 72 percent. (The Clippers hit 33-43 for 77 percent. If this sounds like a hell of a lot of fouls, well, it was a hell of a lot of fouls.) OKC shot 51 percent from the field, and good things happen when you’re not constantly jacking up treys: nine of 17. Too often we’ve seen this club hit nine out of 30, or worse.

Anyway, that’s the first payback of the year so far. Now comes a quick trip to the East, and the word that OKC has picked up the third-year option for Terrance Ferguson. It didn’t hurt that the Fergster was +34 tonight. Damned few players can do that while making only one shot.

Comments




And finally

There’s a lot to be said for not going 0-5, and Loud City was busy saying that tonight while the Thunder finally got most of its ducks in a row. They still can’t make free throws to save their lives, but at least they unlocked the field-goal achievement, and apart from a late-fourth-quarter lapse, they managed to keep the Suns at a safe distance most of the night, or at least safe enough to let Terrance Ferguson run the point for the last 60 seconds or so. Oklahoma City 117, Phoenix 110, and if there’s a hero to be called out, it’s backup center Nerlens Noel, who started in the middle after Steven Adams complained of calf stiffness; Noel came up with the team’s one double-double, 20 points and 15 rebounds, plus a block and four steals.

Given the Thunder’s scoring woes this year, it was something of a relief to see six n double figures. Both Paul George and Russell Westbrook checked in with 23, with George hoisting a third-quarter buzzer-beater from beyond mid-court. Shooting over 50 percent never hurts, and there was enough garbage time to allow Abdel Nader and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to get some actual activity. The Suns were led by two reserves, Elie Okobo and T. J. Warren, both with 18. Phoenix actually outrebounded the Thunder by a hair, 44-43, and was vastly superior at the foul line, knocking down 26 of 27; OKC made 24 out of 35, far enough below 70 percent to make even Billy Donovan take notice.

Still, it’s a win, and a badly-needed one at that. One last game on this homestand, against the Clippers, who’d already beaten OKC out West. That’s Tuesday; Thursday and Friday will be spent taking the measure of two Eastern teams, the Hornets and the Wizards. Maybe something good will happen during those three games.

Comments




A visit from the Green Sox

Boston’s baseball team is on the way to the Left Coast. Meanwhile, their basketball team has come to Oklahoma City, and while the Celtics are considered something like Eastern Conference elite, the Thunder pounded them nicely for twenty-four minutes, taking a 50-34 lead at the half. The Beantowners weren’t about to give the game away, and put together a 40-23 third quarter to go up by one with twelve minutes to play. OKC responded, and then seemed to stop responding: after pushing the lead back to nine, they saw the Celtics tie it up in the last minute, and then take a three-point lead on a Marcus Morris jumper with 27 seconds left. Morris then sank a free throw to put it out of reach; Al Horford, fouled in the waning moments, dropped in two more, and that was the end of that. Celtics 101, Oklahoma City 95, and the Thunder have the kind of 0-4 opening that makes you wonder if maybe P. J. Carlesimo is hiding in the arena somewhere.

OKC failed to shoot 40 percent; perhaps worse, they failed to shoot 60 percent from the free-throw line. (Fourteen of 25; that’s 56 percent.) Paul George put up 22 shots for 22 points; Russell Westbrook, 20 shots for 13 points. Westbrook, in fact, had his second double-double in two games. But none of those points came in the last four minutes of the game, in which the only Thunder scoring was a single Steven Adams free throw. Meanwhile, Marcus Morris, off the Celtic bench, was scarfing up a 21/10 double-double; Jayson Tatum popped up 24 points, and Al Horford added 19 more.

The Suns will be visiting Sunday. Phoenix has not been exactly rolling so far this season; then again, they’ve actually won one of four games so far. Meanwhile, there’s still baseball.

Comments (3)




So much fail

So far, the Thunder have played an elite team, a middling squad, and a cellar-dweller; they’ve lost to all three. The part that hurts most, most likely, is dropping that third game in front of Loud City (population 18,203); this club has never started a season 0-3 since those halcyon days in the Pacific Northwest. And this was only the Kings’ second win in OKC since, well, ever. But they earned it; at pretty much every point in the game, they were outexecuting the Thunder. All five Sacramento starters scored in double figures, as did two of their reserves; they shot nearly 55 percent, and knocked down 10 of 22 treys. (The Thunder attempted a whopping 39 three-pointers, but only nine of them actually cleared the net.) Iman Shumpert’s 26 points was only one short of his career high; De’Aaron Fox picked up 20 and 10 assists. You look at these numbers and you start to wonder how it is the Kings only won by eleven, 131-120.

Westbrook? He was back. And he was playing up to his standard: 32 points, 12 rebounds; eight assists. It didn’t matter. Paul George knocked down 29, and might have done more had he not gotten his fifth foul in the third quarter. (Nerlens Noel then got his sixth and his walking papers.) Dennis Schröder went scoreless in the first half, but came back to finish with 14, though it took him 16 shots to get them. And if the Thunder were terrible shooting for three points, they weren’t appreciably better shooting for one; they made only 19 of 30 free throws, while the Kings were connecting on 21 of 28.

Oh, well. Nothing else can happen between now and Thursday, when the Celtics come to town. Maybe. We still don’t know what happened to Alex Abrines, who disappeared after five minutes. Then again, he was +5 for the night, better than all his teammates.

Comments




Area man buys house

One year, Daughter and I were cruising around town looking at houses, and after one too many mansions, she asked: “What sort of millionaires buy these places?”

17408 Hawks View Ct

This little starter home sold for $715,000 last month to Terrance Ferguson, age 20 and almost a half, shooting guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He is paid $2,118,840 a year, and is under contract for the next three years, with a team option for the fourth.

Comments




Out through the in door

Okay, being blasted by the Warriors was pretty dire. But at no point that night did Golden State lead 16-0, something the Clippers inflicted upon the Thunder right after tipoff. OKC stabilized, led by six (87-81) a third of the way through the fourth quarter, and then completely went to pieces. And I mean “completely”: the final, a mere 8:36 after that six-point lead, was a sixteen-point loss. Symmetry of this kind we can do without, right? But that’s what happened: Los Angeles 108, Oklahoma City 92, meaning the Clips finished up on a 27-5 run. It didn’t even matter that Paul George fouled out in the waning moments; PG-13 was shooting only 7-27 anyway. (Still better than Dennis Schröder, who was 2-15.) At least the Thunder remembered how to rebound, something they seemed to have forgotten in Oakland.

So it was left for Steven Adams to carry the OKC banner; he got decent numbers — 17 points, 12 rebounds — but still -16 for the night. In fact, every Thunderman was minus for the night except Nerlens Noel (0) and Hamidou Diallo (+1). It’s perhaps a shame we didn’t get to see Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who drew a DNP-CD, if only because it would have been fun to have TLC out there with Clippers backup point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Just imagine the potential Gilgeousness. (In 22 minutes, Shai had two points, two boards, and four assists.)

Tobias Harris and Danilo Galinari were the starting L.A. forwards, and they earned their pay, each collecting 26 points and Harris sweeping up ten rebounds. Trusty sixth man Lou Williams put up 17. And it didn’t take long to remember “Oh, this is where Patrick Beverley wound up.”

So nothing accomplished on this trip to the West Coast; you don’t see experience points on the box score. Will the Thunder do better in OKC? We’ll find out Sunday, when the already-struggling Sacramento Kings show up at the funky C Arena.

Comments (1)




Opening naught

So we knew early on that neither Dre nor Westbrook would be active tonight. Okay, fine. But Steven Adams was a gametime decision? Now we worry.

Adams did play, and didn’t seem to be particularly rusty, though his back seemed to bother him at times. Dennis Schröder and Paul George were less than wonderful early on, but stabilized; down 10 at halftime, the Thunder, paced by 15 from PG-13, briefly led, finished the third quarter down only four, and tied it up again early in the fourth. But Golden State routinely swept the boards clean, and outshot the Thunder almost every way it’s possible to shoot; on balance, it’s sort of amazing the Warriors won this one by only eight, 108-100.

Weirdly, there were only two double-doubles all night: Adams got one (17/11), and Kevon Looney (!) got the other (10/10). Steph Curry delivered 32 points as effortlessly as only he can, Kevin Durant (remember him?) followed with 26. Leading the OKC charge: George (26) and Schröder (21). But look at these GS numbers: Rebounds, 57-46. Free throws, 17/18 versus 23-36. Then again, neither side did much from the three-point line: the Warriors went 7-26, the Thunder 10-37, neither of them on the good side of 30 percent.

Good news: OKC only has to play the Warriors three times this year. Bad news: two of them will be in Oakland. Next game is Friday against the Clippers, or what’s left of them anyway.

Comments (2)




And that was the name of that game

The Bucks figure to be tough this year, especially since their B-team stymied the Thunder almost all night, and presumably much to the dismay of both coaches, the game wound up going into overtime. It was, no surprise, the fastest overtime you might ever see. And when the preseason ground to a halt, OKC had salted this one away, 119-115.

Mamorize this name: Deonte Burton. A two-way signing by the Thunder who played last year in Korea, Burton got 11 of his 16 points in that five-minute overtime. And pay attention to Hamidou Diallo, tonight’s shooting guard, what with Andre Roberson still unhealed and Terrance Ferguson still de-concussing, who knocked down 19 points, second only to the mighty Paul George.

One week away: a trip to Oakland to visit the defending champions. And that’s the beginning of the real season, folks.

Comments




Meanwhile in Tulsa

Once a year, the Thunder plays a preseason game in Tulsa’s BOk Center, and the T-Town crowds are always appreciative, especially if OKC does well, which they did today, struggling a bit at first but settling down in the third quarter to the task of waxing the Atlanta Hawks, which they did to the tune of 113-94, pulling OKC’s somewhat meaningless preseason record up to 2-1.

The NBA requires that a team play at least four of these exhibitions in October, and OKC insists on playing the minimum, presumably to minimize exposure to injuries. They’ve been down that road before, and they may be headed that way this season: Terrance Ferguson, starting at the two in the place of still-ailing Andre Roberson, got bopped on the head early in the first quarter and is now on the NBA’s official Concussion Protocol. That said, the Thunder managed to find holes in the Hawks’ offense, forcing a startling 28 turnovers. (Admittedly, they gave up 21 themselves.) And the zebras were finding excuses to call holding whenever they could, leaving several players in what, were this not the preseason, would be foul trouble.

One more of these to go, Tuesday against Milwaukee.

Comments




More of a grip

Halfway through the preseason, and the Thunder looked a bit more cohesive on defense on the way to a 113-101 win. The Timberwolves, assuming they can solve the Jimmy Butler problem, should provide some serious competition four times in the regular season, especially if things keep going wrong with Andre Roberson’s rehab, but the Wolves’ specialty, drawing fouls, didn’t help as much as it usually does; OKC, at least in this incarnation, seems to have learned more about defending without fouling.

Paul George was back, and he was up to Paul George levels of ferocity. Perhaps more entertaining, though, was the Thunder bench, which rolled up more than 50 points and kept the Wolves from catching up. Tulsa fans should enjoy the Sunday matinee against the Atlanta Hawks, though we’re still in the preseason and probably shouldn’t expect a whole heck of a lot.

Comments




Callous thenics

NBA preseason, as always, means Not Much in the grand scheme of things. The Pistons came to town with one new weapon — head coach Dwane Casey, dismissed by the Raptors after last season — and one finely-tuned old one, the busy Andre Drummond, who poured in a game-high 31 points as Detroit won it by six, 97-91.

We did learn one thing: Dennis Schröder makes a good pick-and-roll partner for Steven Adams. (Schröder led the Thunder scorers with 21; Adams dropped in 17.) It’s difficult to say anything much beyond that, though you really can’t go through life missing two out of every three dunks. The rhetorical exercise continues in the Twin Cities on Friday.

Comments




Capped off

The Friar is not joining whatever Warriors bandwagon might be forming:

Neil Paine at Fivethirtyeight outlines how the Golden State Warriors are playing games with the National Basketball Association salary cap in order to stock players that will increase their immense chances of winning another NBA title.

I’m looking forward to when this detonates in the face of the millionaires who’ve thrown the rule book out the window along with their checkbook balances. The NBA already puts a product on the floor that’s not worth watching unless you have an interest in one of the teams playing. As the Warriors render the regular season increasingly meaningless, at some point people will quit watching the way they do when you know the end to a story you’re not enjoying all that much anyway.

The second paragraph is agreed to. The first one is literally true but perhaps misleading: the Warriors are making room for all these high-zoot players by getting them to take less. This is how the Miami Heat did it when LeBron took his talents to South Beach: King James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all could have made more money elsewhere. (Then again, Florida has no state income tax, and you can’t tell me these guys didn’t know it.) The biggest of the big spenders, at least once all the new contracts go through, is Oklahoma City, which is obligated, barring some rather startling moves, to fork out three hundred million dollars in luxury tax and payroll and more luxury tax. Old-timers on the Thunder beat will recall that the entire franchise was obtained for only $350 million.

There is, yes, a problem, but it’s geographical: all the superstars seemingly have migrated to the West. If DeMar DeRozan makes noise about DeParting the Raptors, it’s gonna be pretty dire for every team east of Minnesota. (DeRozan isn’t going anywhere — Toronto has his name on a contract through the spring of 2021 — but who else is there in the East?)

If the Warriors are truly making a mockery of the salary cap, well, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in spring 2024, though either side can opt out the year before. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, is done to curb the Dubs.

Comments off