Kanter breaks arm, but Westbrook still too much for short-handed Mavs

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Oklahoma City grinds its way through a grueling month of basketball, any win is normally a reason to be happy.
However, there were no smiling faces in the Thunder locker room Thursday after they defeated the Dallas Mavericks 109-98 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Even though they picked up the victory, it came at a price for Oklahoma City. Enes Kanter fractured his right arm in the game. No timetable has been set for when he will return to action.
Kanter is Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder. He is also a top candidate for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award.
While Kanter’s loss will impact the team going forward, the Thunder aren’t hanging their heads.
“He’s alright, mate,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “Still alive. It was just one of those perfect things. He hit the seat, but the seat was a little up. It’s not flat? Why is it not flat? It was just one of those things, obviously.
“He didn’t mean to do it, obviously,’ Adams continued. “It’s just one of those really frustrating times, and he just did what he did. He’s already hard on himself. No one else can be as hard on him as he is on himself. … I feel bad for him, but he’s still a good man. Give him some time, he’ll be back.”
Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 45 points. He shot 16 of 29 from the field to go with eight rebounds and three assists. His triple-double streak ended at three games.
Victor Oladipo scored 17 points while Adams added 15 points and seven rebounds to help the Thunder (28-19).
“We were a little more physical,” Westbrook said. “We came out in the second half more aggressive on both sides of the ball.”
Harrison Barnes paced Dallas with 31 points on 13-of-26 shooting. Justin Anderson came off the bench to post 17 points for the Mavericks (16-30).
Dallas played without four of their top six players, including Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews. Devin Harris liked how his team responded to the adversity.
“I think we are understanding how we need to play to be successful to win,” Harris said. “Experience helps. Expectations are growing.”
With 4:15 left, Barnes scored to cut the Thunder lead to 96-90. But Westbrook answered with a midrange jumper.
Seth Curry knocked down a jumper and Dallas was back to within six with 2:45 on the clock. But once again Westbrook came to the rescue. On three consecutive possessions, he came up with clutch baskets. That included two long range 3-pointers.
On the third jumper, Westbrook spun around in front of the Dallas bench and yelled that Mavs guard Nicolas Brussino couldn’t guard him.
Barnes tried to match Westbrook in the final minutes, but was unable to make enough shots. Westbrook hit one more 3 with 25 seconds left to close out the game. He proceeded to dance up the court as the clock ran down.
“We did a great job the whole night,” Anderson said. ‘Westbrook got hot there at the end shooting threes. We were coming down answering with twos. That’s a tough battle to win. We didn’t back down. We put our nose in there and fought.”
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was asked about the Thunder having a 36-13 advantage in terms of free throw attempts.
“Trying to get me a $35,000 fine?,” Carlisle said. “I have to look at it. I thought there could have been a few blown our way. I’ll look at it and see.”
Despite being shorthanded, Dallas took it to Oklahoma City at the start as Barnes led the charge offensively. While he didn’t shoot efficiently, he was able to get his shots off and posted seven points in the first quarter as the Mavericks led 26-23.
During the month of January, the Thunder watched as their big men were able to take over games. But in the first half against Dallas, Kanter and Adams were held in check.
That put more pressure on Westbrook to pick up the scoring load. While he was able to score 15 points in the half, the Thunder trailed 55-53 at halftime.
Oklahoma City had to play the second half without Kanter, who fractured his forearm slapping a chair in frustration during a timeout. He had to get X-rays at halftime.
“It’s tough man,” Westbrook said. “Especially doing it the way he did it. I think it’s unfortunate, but he’s a strong man and he will be back better.”

Thunder wrestle victory away from Grizz

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)


By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — When Russell Westbrook strutted into the Chesapeake Energy Arena Wednesday afternoon, the Oklahoma City guard may have been sending a message to his team. Wearing a bright red  and black Judas Priest t-shirt could have been a gentle reminder to play hard and loud at all times.
Whether it was a message or not, that is what the Thunder did as they held on to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 103-95 Wednesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“That was our main focus coming,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “Memphis is known to be physical so we just tried to match that and take it to another level.”
Russell Westbrook tallied 24 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists for his 18th triple-double of the season. That is the most by any player since Magic Johnson during the 1981-82 season.
“I just read the game,” Westbrook said. “You have to read it. Makes plays and take what the defense gives you.”
Enes Kanter poured in 19 points and 13 rebounds. Victor Oladipo added 16 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Oklahoma won the rebound battle 53-39 as the Thunder improved to 24-16.
Guard Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 22 points and six assists. Chandler Parsons and Zach Randolph each scored 14 points as Memphis fell to 24-17.
“We missed a lot of shots and a lot of free throws throughout the course of the game,” Memphis guard Vince Carter said. “We are going to look back and see that bit us a little bit.”
With 4:48 left in the game, Conley came up with a steal and layup to cut Thunder lead down to 85-82. But Kanter responded with a tough basket in traffic while being fouled. The ensuing free throw put the Thunder up by six.
After Randolph knocked in a quick shot, Westbrook threw up an air-ball. Randolph came back down and hit another jumper to close gap to 88-86.
A Kanter tip in put Oklahoma City back up by four. With 1:55 left, Carter missed a pair of free throws. Westbrook turned the ball over and Conley tried to make the Thunder pay with a long 3-pointer. But Adams came up with the blocked shot.
“It was an incredible play by Steven,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Just the ability to run the floor and I give all of our guys a lot of credit. There were so many plays for our team tonight that guys had to give multiple efforts, extra efforts.”
That led to Oladipo knocking down a dagger 3-pointer with 1:13 on the clock.
Tray Daniels missed a 3-pointer for the Grizzlies. Westbrook sprinted up court and passed off to Jerami Grant for a thunderous two-handed dunk and foul. Oklahoma City went by 10 with only 46 seconds left. The Thunder put the game away at the free-throw line.
“We had a chance,” Memphis center Marc Gasol said. “It was 80-84 for them and we had a chance to cut it down even closer than that, but we never got over the hump.”
After saying he felt disrespected by the Grizzlies in their previous matchup, Andre Roberson came out of the gates ready to back up his words.
Roberson hit 3 of 4 shots, grabbed three rebounds and swatted a blocked shot in the opening quarter.
That was the demeanor of the entire team for much of the night. They wanted to take the fight to Memphis this time around.
“We talked about it this morning,” Kanter said. “The most important thing was physicality. If you look at the Memphis team, they are known as a real physical team. But I think all of bigs did a good job.”

Thunder looking to settle score with Grizz

(Photo by Sam Murch)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Andre Roberson has a long memory. But the Oklahoma City guard doesn’t have to remember back that far to recall the “disrespect” he believes the Memphis Grizzlies showed him and his team.

When the Grizzlies beat the Thunder Dec. 29 in their only other matchup so far this season, there were some pretty upset players in the Oklahoma City locker room when it was over. It revolved around reserve guard Memphis Troy Daniels heaving up a couple of late 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter of a 114-80 blowout victory. It’s something Roberson has not forgotten.
“At the end of that game I felt we got disrespected in a way,” Roberson said. “They were launching 3s at the end. I didn’t take that too kindly. It leaves a taste in your mouth after the game to be honest with you. We remember that.”

The two teams face-off again Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

While the Grizzlies won the first encounter handily, the rematch could come down to which “Big Three” shows up.

Yet, for most of this season, Oklahoma City has pretty much been a “Big One.” In many cases, Russell Westbrook has been the first, second and last option for the Thunder.
But lately, Oklahoma City has been building the foundation for their own really “Big Three.” Along with Westbrook, centers Steven Adams and Enes Kanter are becoming more consistent offensive weapons as the Thunder enter Wednesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Against Chicago on Monday, the two centers combined for 42 points and 16 rebounds. They shot 20 of 25 from the field as the Thunder earned an easy 109-94 victory. In Oklahoma City’s win over Denver, Kanter and Adams tallied 30 points and 12 boards.
Kanter and Adams’ emergence has given Oklahoma City more options to run its offense through instead of always having Westbrook initiate the plays.
“It makes it easier for everybody,” Roberson said. “That’s what we try to do all along or with Russ. Try to put two on the ball and find the open man. That’s how the game is played. They do a good job of passing out of the double team and taking advantage of it.”
Westbrook will still overwhelmingly dominate the action offensively for the Thunder. But now, he at least is gaining trust that he doesn’t have to do it by himself.
“My hand is always on the game,” Westbrook said. “I just pick my spots and see what’s open and what’s not.”
When the Thunder (23-16) face the Grizzlies (24-16) at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, they will be taking on a squad that may be one of the few teams in the league built to battle them. With Mike Conley at point guard and Marc Gasol at center and Zach Randolph coming off the bench, they have a similar “Big Three” makeup.
But that wasn’t the case earlier in the year. With Randolph coming off the bench for the first time, he has had to get adjusted to his new role.
But recent success against Golden State and Utah may mean more playing time together for Randolph and Gasol.
“I think teams are happy with the way we’re playing, taking pressure off of them honestly,” Randolph told ESPN. “Some guys told me on that other teams: ‘Shoot, we’re happy y’all guys aren’t playing together anymore. It gives us a break.’ It’s already been proven. We’ve done proved enough and showed it. I think that’s not the question. It’s just coach wanting to play different and do a different style.” 


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