Posted on: January 8, 2012 10:37 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:40 pm
Posted by Royce Young
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three nights, three wins.
That's what the Thunder accomplished with an easy 108-96 win over the Spurs Sunday, but there was a little deeper meaning to it. It wasn't just a win over a team Oklahoma City had lost six consecutive games to. It was a testing ground for something the Thunder haven't had to deal with since their rise as a Western contender -- a major injury to a key rotation player.
A night after losing backup point guard Eric Maynor to a season-ending ACL tear, the Thunder were left to find a new answer behind All-Star Russell Westbrook. Would it be Royal Ivey, the steady veteran? Just more minutes for Westbrook? Moving super sixth man James Harden for some time out front?
Or just hand the keys to a rookie taken in last June's draft? As it is in Oklahoma City, next man up.
Reggie Jackson -- yes, Reggie Jackson, real name -- stepped in for Maynor in a big way scoring 11 points and dishing out four assists. Head coach Scott Brooks didn't baby him along either. Jackson came in right at the time Maynor normally does and played Maynor's usual fill of minutes. And in those nine minutes spanning the end of the first quarter to the middle of the second, the Thunder were a plus-10 on the Spurs.
“I thought he did well,” Brooks said. “I thought he did a really good job of picking his spots and running the team.”
Said Harden: "[Jackson] was very good. He's got a long way to go but he made all the right plays, made shots and got into the lane. Over time, he'll get better and he'll get a feel for the game."
Some of you might be thinking, "So what, a backup point guard? Call me when Kevin Durant gets hurt." Thing is, the Thunder's bench has become one of its most valued weapons. With Harden, plus-minus machine Nick Collison and Maynor, the Thunder had at least one of the top three second units in basketball. That time during the early second quarter and early fourth when both teams have most of their benches in were times the Thunder could really take control of games.
So without a major part of that group, it was a legit question to wonder if the Thunder had lost a potential championship piece. And they still might have, but the early returns on Westbrook's backup's backup were very good. Jackson played under control, played confident and played smooth. It's one game and the key to any backup point man is consistency, especially when you're doing it behind someone as erratic as Westbrook. But Jackson made a strong case for claiming that role for at least the rest of this year.
For a young group like the Thunder though, part of the question with a loss like Maynor was the psyche of the team. They battled back Saturday night after Maynor left the game against Houston and won on the road. But how would they respond on the third night of a back-to-back-to-back sans one of their closest friends? The players were clearly shaken when Maynor had to be literally carried off the floor by Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins.
"The whole season is now for Eric," Harden said. "It's a tough loss. We were all sad. We got to spend some time with him last night at his house just giving some comfort and showing him how much we care."
But injuries happen and you have to move on. Not an easy thing to do, but maybe playing a third game in three nights was a good thing for this young group. Instead of dwelling on what happened to their buddy, the Thunder just got to pick up the pieces, stop thinking and play ball.
You've got to be mentally tough to contend for trophies. Whether it's a media firestorm over your two stars having an alleged altercation on the bench or one of your key players being lost with an ugly injury, you have to block it all out and just keep playing. It's been an early test for the Thunder and right now, they're passing. The season isn't even a month old and the Thunder have already been through a lot. And so far, it looks like it might just be making them stronger.
Posted on: January 4, 2012 4:45 pm
Posted by Royce Young
There's not a ton of history between Raymond Felton and Russell Westbrook, but enough I guess for Felton to feel the need to basically call Westbrook out.
Or he just felt like piling on to poor old Russell.
Westbrook was hyper-energetic on the defensive end Tuesday guarding Felton, really trying to swipe at the ball, pressuring relentlessly in an effort to force turnovers. It had mixed results with Westbrook sometimes creating good pressure, but other times he gambled too much and forced OKC's defense to collapse and rotate after Felton got by him. It obviously didn't work enough as Portland beat the Thunder 103-93 with Felton putting up 12 points and seven assists.
Felton noticed this. And I guess he took it somewhat personally, essentially calling Westbrook out for not being a team player. Via Jason Quick of the Oregonian:
“That’s the type of guy he is, that’s his mindset, that’s how he plays,” Felton said when I remarked about Westbrook’s win-the-battle, but lose-the-war mentality. “He’s always in a one-on-one battle with all the point guards. I’m not really into that. I’m into winning. If you win, everybody gets the praises. We are not wearing ‘Felton’ on the front of our jerseys; it says Blazers. I care about the Blazers winning.”I think we can all read between the lines there. Felton is essentially saying that Westbrook only cares about showing up the man across from him, not that his Thunder win the game.
Having watched Westbrook for three full seasons though, I'd say that's entirely unfair. There isn't anyone on the roster -- not even Kevin Durant -- that cares about winning as much as Westbrook. He almost cares too much, which is why his over-aggressive style can be seen as selfish sometimes. Westbrook has always had a chip on his shoulder and has always wanted to prove people wrong.
Scott Brooks made a point to single Westbrook's performance out last night though.
“I thought Russell had one of his best games,” he said. “He left everything on the court. He made plays for us. He was moving the ball. He was defending.”
Felton saw that as being selfish, however. Which I think is just a mis-read of how Westbrook plays. Because Russ has gotten heated with a lot of other point guards -- Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Deron Williams, Derek Fisher and basically 25 others who happen to be opposing him on any given night. Westbrook plays emotional and approaches each game as a challenge to beat the man across from him. I think he sees it as if he can do that, his team will win.
And in most cases, it's true. But that's part of what the NBA is -- one-on-one battles. Games within games. Kobe wants to humiliate the defender trying to check him. Same with Durant. It's how they approach it. Does that mean they're selfish? Some certainly would think Kobe is at times but his main objective is winning. Felton is suggesting that winning the game comes second behind winning the individual matchup.
Felton and Westbrook did battle out it in the playoffs last season with Felton's Nuggets falling to the Thunder in five games. Felton had a front row seat to the beginning of the supposed ball-hog noise following Westbrook that really started with Game 4 in Denver where Westbrook took 30 shots. But at the same time, Westbrook's Thunder handled Denver fairly easily in a gentleman's sweep en route to the Western Conference Finals.
This is the type of thing you can be sure Westbrook has heard and will think about when the Blazers play the Thunder again. It probably isn't all that tough to get into Westbrook's head so it could be a little psychological warfare on Russ. Which isn't a bad move by Felton considering the events surrounding Westbrook the past few days.
Tuesday night, Felton got the better of Westbrook by playing a calm, measured point compared to Westbrook's frenzied, aggressive one. Felton's team won the game. We'll see what happens next time.
Via Thunder Rumblings
Posted on: December 30, 2011 2:34 am
Edited on: December 30, 2011 2:50 am
By Matt Moore
The Knicks wilt again out West, the Thunder rise and fire, and the Blazers win the best game of the night. Here's your nightly report card.
One day removed from a horrid shooting performance in a near-loss and after a brief altercation with Kevin Durant that subsequently became the biggest story in the league for a day, Russell Westbrook brought the Thunder back. He made all the plays late starting with a dunk and-one off a steal. He hit big shots when he needed to and grabbed a huge offensive rebound off a Durant miss late. It was a terrific job by a player with a lot of pressure on him, and showed why the Thunder believe he and Durant can be special together.
Westbrook isn't the pure point a lot of people think Durant needs. But in terms of scoring point guards, he's one of the best in the league. His fearlessness and ability to make things happen in key moments should not be overshadowed by a handful of poor shooting nights for the young player. Westbrook is a legitimate star who plays on the same stage, if not level, as Kevin Durant.
A: Los Angeles Lakers
Ball movement. Help defense. Efficiency. The Lakers won with good basketball. Not superstar power, though Pau Gasol played well. They weren't pretty or fun to watch, they just worked to create open shots and knocked them down. Even when the Lakers were losing earlier this week, they had great effort, just poor execution. Against the Knicks, they really turned the effort into execution and simply played better basketball against what is arguably a more talented team in terms of star power.
B: Houston Rockets
The Spurs didn't have it, but the Rockets also never allowed them to find it Thursday night. The Rockets ran efficient offense over and over, getting contributions from their key guys and really attacked the Spurs inside with Samuel Dalembert. It was a key win after a disappointing opener against the Magic. Kevin Martin stopped being terrible and went back to Kevin-Martin-hood.
B: Portland Trail Blazers
They won against a very good Nuggets team and kept their hot streak alive. They shot 51 perent from the field. They also turned the ball over 25 times and let the Nuggets back in it after a huge initial rush. They lost the free throw battle. In reality, they had a hot night, shooting 51 percent from the field. They also played solid defense, if allowing a number of open looks. These two teams are evenly matched and the Blazers edged them. Room for improvement, but they get a B.
C: Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks got a number of things to go their way in this game, and also played much better. The ball movement was there, Dirk was resurrected from lockout hibernation (29 and 10), JET was firing, and Ian Mahinmi and Brendan Haywood played well inside. But their defense was still several steps off of last year, and for crying out loud, the only guy in the building you have to guard with 1.4 seconds left and you give him a look? Better, Mavericks. Not good.
Dirk nabbed a technical for complaining about a call in the fourth quarter. Was just a terrible time for that kind of a tech.
D: New Jersey Nets
Missing Brook Lopez? Sure. But the effort isn't there, from any of the players. How exactly are you going to convince Dwight to come there by getting killed by him?
F: New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony, point forward is not walking through that door. Carmelo Anthony, ball-stopping shooter is. Both Anthony and Stoudemire struggled mightily against a Lakers defense that attacked their dribble whenever they got the ball. The Knicks have no creator, no initiator, no playmaker, just bullets and no gun. Oh, and defensively? Renaldo Balkman spent the most time guarding Kobe Bryant. Whoever had that idea needs to spend some time reconsidering the way he approaches the world.
Incomplete: San Antonio Spurs
Back-to-back, but after two really solid defensive games the Spurs took a giant step backwards Thursday night.
E for Effort: Orlando Magic
It's not hard to beat the Nets. But the Magic are firing on all cylinders right now. Dwight Howard with 24 rebounds, Ryan Anderson 22 points. The Magic are still a good team in the middle of all the turmoil. Again, against the Nets. But still.
Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Terry, Serge Ibaka. Steve Blake. Pau Gasol. Josh McRoberts, Luis Scola. Jimmer. Wesley Matthews.
Posted on: December 30, 2011 12:59 am
Posted by Royce Young
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook had them chanting his name. For about three minutes, he owned Oklahoma City. Chesapeake Energy Arena was all his.
And then Kevin Durant stole his Thunder.
Durant hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer to lift the Thunder over the Mavericks, 104-102. And while it was a big shot that kept the Thunder undefeated at 4-0, it was also something symbolic for the team.
"I just tried to shoot a good one," Durant said. "I'm just glad I made it, man. I'm glad I made it."The young Thunder had to endure a tough day of answering questions and hearing about how their two best players reportedly hate each other (or something like that). And with Westbrook struggling again, it looked like we might be headed for another ugly night. But Westbrook bounced back, hitting three of his last four shots and scoring seven of the Thunder's last 12. His first, a breakway and-1 dunk, had the crowd calling his name.
"RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL!"
There was a reason for it. These Oklahomans aren't stupid. They know what was going on. A night before, Westbrook went 0-13 from the floor and had a reported altercation with Durant. And he was again stuck in a rut, laboring through another tough night starting 3-9. You could Westbrook was feeling it. He wasn't himself. He wasn't playing with that normal burst of energy or emotion. But the crowd lifted him.
"I've never seen in my 20 years with the NBA what the crowd did tonight," head coach Scott Brooks said. "They knew he was struggling. They watched our game last night and he struggled. When he made the layup and the free throw and the crowd started chanting his name out, that was special. This is a special place to play. I've never seen it before."
Said Westbrook:"It's amazing what these fans would do for you. I love this city, I love my teammates. I'm just thankful."
Said Durant: "The crowd was unbelievable tonight encouraging him and I think that gave him some extra push. We can only do so much. We're always on top of him encouraging but the fans for the fans to do that meant a lot and he hit some big shots ... That shows how much they follow us out there. For them to encourage him like that was beautiful to see. I'm glad he was able to carry us in the last few minutes of the fourth and lead us to a good win."
But all of that quickly became background noise because of what Durant did. With 1.4 seconds left and OKC suddenly down a point because of a Vince Carter go-ahead 3, Durant caught a pass from Thabo Sefolosha and in his beautiful, gliding way, launched a deep 3 that hit nothing but the bottom.
"He lives for shots like that," Westbrook said. "He has come a long way and I am really happy for him."
Which seems like it might be a thing Westbrook would say through gritted teeth. For a second, he was the Thunder's man. So many times last season, Westbrook carried the Thunder. And not only was he doing it against OKC's nemesis in Dallas, but he was producing quite the story. It was quite the bounce back, what, with the crowd chanting his name and such.
But like a slap in the face, he was placed right back in his role. He was humbled once again by the Thunder's alpha dog. Maybe that's going to bother him tonight when he goes to sleep, maybe not. All Westbrook would say after the game was he was happy to win. Short, and to the point, is Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City is still in its growing pains as a young team. The supposed tension between Westbrook and Durant made the game against Dallas something of a game within a game. How would they handle it? How would they respond? And it was against the Mavs nonetheless, a team that's been known to play with the Thunder's emotions.
With the Thunder's elevated exposure comes all the outside noise that hit the Thunder over the last 24 hours. But nothing shuts it up quite like the sound of a 25-footer swishing through the net as the horn sounds.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 11:45 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2011 1:29 am
By Matt Moore
The Mavericks had the Thunder where they want them. Like last year in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavs had hit a huge shot, forcing the Thunder, who have historically struggled with final possessions, to try and hit a shot with just one second. Last time the Thunder tried this against the Mavericks, Kevin Durant was blocked on a pull-up 35-footer.
But on Thursday night? The Thunder didn't try anything silly or miss their execution. A catch and shoot for the best offensive players in the league. The result? KABOOM.
That. The Thunder should do that every time they're in a late-game situation. Durant has one of the best catch-and-shoot motions in the league and yet he almost always is put in an ISO off the dribble position. That was absolutely perfect execution and an amazing shot from one of the game's best.
It should be noted that it was Russell Westbrook nailing two huge jumpers and converting a big steal along with a key offensive rebound off a Durant miss which set all this up. Regardless of their relationship, the two need one another and on Thursday, they delivered for each other.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 7:36 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 9:15 pm
Posted by Royce Young
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder locker room is typically a pretty fun, loud place to be before games. But Thursday night, it had a much more somber, serious tone to it.
Maybe it had something to do with what happened a night before in Memphis. Or maybe, it had more to do with the story that came out after that game. Which appeared to be the case.
A day after a reported altercation on the Thunder bench against Memphis which led to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook supposedly having to be separated, the team basically did absolutely everything possible to shoot all that noise and chatter down.
Westbrook, who did not speak to the media following an 0-13 performance in a win over the Grizzlies completely blew it off.
"What happened?" he said when asked about the incident. "Oh, I don't know what you're talking about. But we got a game tonight and I'm looking forward to playing against Dallas."
Durant took a similar approach.
"I don't think nothing happened," he said. "People keep saying we had this and that happen on the sideline. Nobody seen nothing. They didn't hear anything. Somebody said that something happened. Everybody on the bench was yelling, the coaches were yelling, not at each other in a bad way but trying to get everything in order. We gave up a few points in that possession so we were trying to get back in order. We were playing a good game and slacked off a little bit for two or three minutes so everybody was yelling.
Reportedly the incident occurred with about three minutes left in the second quarter when Westbrook passed the ball to an open Thabo Sefolosha who didn't take a 3. Westbrook loudly yelled "Shoot the f------ ball!" which evidently led to Westbrook raging on the bench during the next timeout. Kendrick Perkins stepped in to try and calm Westbrook down and then Durant did, which reportedly escalated things.
"It wasn't just myself or Russell or Perk. It was everybody," Durant said. "It was nothing that people should be blowing out of proportion. It happens every single day. Teams go through emotions, things happen. It's a competitive sport man, everybody's not always going to come in and be happy.
"I think you guys should just let it go man. I know you guys like conflict but you should just let it go."
Westbrook's mood was extremely reserved as he was clearly annoyed at the line of questioning he was met with before the game. Durant had a similar tone, but was at least willing to expound on the situation a bit. But it was certainly a different atmosphere than normal before a Thunder game. Maybe that had something to do with the world champion Mavericks being in town, but maybe not.
Westbrook said at the end of last season that he wanted to do a better job controlling his emotions and temper. I asked how he felt he was doing with that this season.
"Okay. I could definitely do better," he said. "But it's early in the year. We're winning. So everything's good."
Head coach Scott Brooks did his best to just pass this off as just the life of an NBA team.
"If you don't have disagreements, that means your team isn't very good," he said. "The game before that I got into a heated debate against our bigs. They weren't doing a good job in pick-and-roll defense. I think it's debate. To me an altercation is a fight or a shove or something like that. A discussion is different than an altercation but that did not happen.
"I've been coaching these guys for four years and we haven't had one fight, which surprises me," Brooks said. "We haven't had any issues that were below the belt where I had to step in."
Posted on: December 29, 2011 4:55 pm
Edited on: December 29, 2011 9:17 pm
Posted by Ben Golliver.
Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks says that an extended verbal altercation between his two All-Stars is not a big deal.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook reportedly got into an extended "altercation" after Westbrook reportedly scolded Thabo Sefalosha for failing to shoot with an open look during a Wednesday night game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Oklahoman reports that Brooks believes the situation was "healthy" and not something to get too worked up about.
“When you have an intense game, you're going to have arguments,” Brooks told The Oklahoman. “I have no problem with it. I think it's healthy. I think you learn from it and you get better with it. That's just part of an NBA game. We have it and other teams have it. Good teams, bad teams and average teams. I have no issues with how our guys compete. At times they get frustrated. But it's always about the team.”Brooks sticks perfectly to the script here. One thing no NBA coach has ever said: "Gee, my locker room is torn apart because my players hate each other's guts. We're doomed."
This early in the season, and given the chippy Westbrook's chippy personality, he said exactly what needed to be said. If there's a legit argument between the two players, it will be become more apparent before for too long and nothing Brooks says now will matter. If it winds up being something that does blow over, then Brooks handles this correctly by preaching unity and backing his two stars.
Using the word "healthy" alongside "intense," "compete" and "frustrated" was a particularly good choice. The most damaging scenario for the Thunder is that the often-emotional Westbrook gets written off as not being a part of the team concept or, worse, he gets labeled a "hothead" who is out for self. Brooks' word choice works to defuse that thinking which is critically important, because Westbrook refused to take questions from the media after the game.
Handling this thing in-house is the best play for Brooks, but his public reassurances need to come with a private reminder to Westbrook of his obligations to the media and his team. Ducking out not only makes Westbrook look bad, it potentially complicates an already tense situation. A one-time allowance can be made given that Westbrook arguably had one of the worst games of his career, shooting 0-for-13, but much more is asked of stars in the NBA. At the top of the list is composure and accessibility, especially under the media spotlight.
Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:39 am
Edited on: December 29, 2011 1:30 am
Posted by Royce Young
Russell Westbrook labored through maybe the worst game of his career Wednesday night in Memphis going 0-13 from the floor for just four points. But maybe there was a reason for it.
According to the Oklahoman, Westbrook had a second quarter confrontation with Kevin Durant that led to the two having to be separated on the bench.
Westbrook's frustration appeared to have started with just 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the second quarter when he drove into the paint and kicked the ball out to Thabo Sefolosha in the corner. Sefolosha passed up a wide open 3-pointer, which prompted Westbrook to yell at Sefolosha “shoot the (expletive) ball.”Throughout the rest of the game Durant and Westbrook appeared to communicate well after the dust-up, giving high-fives and with Durant patting Westbrook on the head.
“We’re going to disagree sometimes, like I’ve always been saying,” Durant said after the game. “But I’m behind him 110 percent, and he’s the same way with me. And you seen when we came on the floor we clicked and everything started to work from there.”
Westbrook didn't speak to reporters following the game, but before you get too excited about that, realize that it's routine for Westbrook to skip out of the locker room quickly. Even after really good games.
Durant has tried to dispel every story and rumor about an issue between him and Westbrook saying that the 23-year-old point guard is "the only point guard for him" and different things like that. Durant has maintained quite often that Westbrook and him have disagreed quite a bit at times but that's just the nature of being teammates.
Westbrook is a very emotional player that has admitted that's an area he wants to improve in. He reacts, yells and gets very frustrated at times. It's just who he is as a player. It's what makes him great, and sometimes not so great. And Durant, as the leader of the Thunder, has to take it upon himself to calm Westbrook down, which sometimes results in a reaction. Which is what happened Wednesday.
Following the game, NBA TV spoke with Durant who reinforced his good relationship with Westbrook.
"Russell makes me so much better," Durant said. "A lot of people may say this and that about our relationship, but we always try to get better, we're always the first two guys in the gym, we always bounce ideas off each other too."
There's a hotter and brighter spotlight on the two though because of the mumblings that originated in the playoffs last season. Every time something like this happens, people will use it as a lightning rod to illustrate how the two are the next Kobe and Shaq. It's not really true at all, but it makes for a great story.
Look, I've been in Oklahoma City's locker room a lot. I've watched practices. These guys get along really well, but they're all competitive and they get mad or frustrated sometimes with each other. It happens. You probably have gotten mad at your buddy playing pickup on a Saturday morning. You just didn't have a fanbases and media ready to pounce on it to drum up some juicy, divisive story.
But the facts are that Westbrook and Durant got into it Wednesday at Memphis. Definitely wasn't the first time and probably won't be the last.