Westbrook closing in on history as Thunder fight for playoff positioning

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The chants of “MVP, MVP” rang throughout the arena as Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook engineered an overtime comeback victory on Wednesday night at Orlando.
While that is nothing new in Oklahoma City, it is becoming the norm during road games as well for the MVP candidate.
During the win over the Magic, Westbrook displayed every skill needed to be MVP-worthy. The 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists gave him his 38th triple-double of the season. He recorded the highest point total in a triple-double in league history.
Westbrook and the Thunder return home to face the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.
“That is definitely a blessing,” Westbrook said of stunning statistical season. “I definitely don’t take this game for granted, and I try to come out each night and try to compete at a high level. That is definitely something that is a blessing and definitely something that I can be proud of.”
However, for Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan, it was an intangible that Westbrook put on display that has stood out this entire season.
“Some people get freaked out about, ‘I don’t want to be the guy who misses, I don’t want to be viewed that way,'” Donovan said. “Then there are guys who don’t think about that. They go for the win. Russell always plays to win. There’s a mindset you have to have for that.”
With eight games left in the regular season for the Thunder, it is hard to imagine what else Westbrook can do to separate himself from the rest of the MVP contenders, in particular, Houston Rockets guard James Harden.
Westbrook can start by racking up a few more wins against the top-tier teams. After getting run off the court twice in the past two weeks by the Golden State Warriors and Houston, a win over the Spurs at the Chesapeake Energy Arena could bolster Westbrook’s resume.
But more important for the Thunder as a team, a victory would aid their bid to grab home-court advantage for the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Sixth-place Oklahoma City (43-31) is 2 1/2 games behind the fourth-place Utah Jazz (46-29) and 1 1/2 games back of the fifth-place Los Angeles Clippers (46-31), with the top four securing the home-court edge.
The Spurs (57-17) are also playing the seeding game. But after a crushing loss to the Warriors on Wednesday, they now trail Golden State (61-14) by 3 1/2 games for the No. 1 overall seed.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has never voiced too much concern over seeding. He likes to give the impression that as long as his team is in the playoffs, they have a chance to win the championship.
With a lock on No. 2 in the West, there is no guarantee that Popovich won’t rest some of his starters.
However, the combination of the loss to the Warriors and a loss the last time San Antonio came to Oklahoma City, and the Spurs could be aching to get back into the win column as soon as possible.
“It’s the NBA. You can’t dwell on any of them,” Spurs forward Danny Green told NBA.com. “You learn from it and move forward, be more professional, and try to get better.
“In the past, that’s where Timmy (Duncan) was good for us, or teams in the past just collectively. We wouldn’t let things like that happen. It might happen, but rarely. But I think it’s happened more often than it should here at this time and this year.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

NBA star attacks illiteracy by making reading cool

 

By Michael Kinney

Throughout his basketball career, Russell Westbrook has played one way. Whenever the Oklahoma City point guard touches the floor, he plays not just to win, but to decimate his competition.

So it should not be a surprise that Westbrook would have the same mindset when faced with off the court adversaries.

In 2015, Westbrook decided to take on illiteracy in America. That was when the first Russell’s Reading Room was opened in Oklahoma City at North Highland Elementary.

Two years later, Westbrook’s motivation hasn’t wavered as he continues to spread the message that reading is important with his reading rooms.

Westbrook and his Why Not? Foundation launched 10 new Russell’s Reading Rooms throughout Oklahoma City March 21. That brings the total number of Russell Reading Rooms to 16 in Oklahoma City and three in Los Angeles.

“With the support over the years of people all over the world supporting my foundation, they’re finding ways to help me make these things possible for the kids,” Westbrook said. “It’s important to be able to constantly keep giving back anyway I can, in as many places I can at the same time.”

Russell’s Reading Rooms are former classrooms that were transformed into a

Russell’s Reading Room is a literacy initiative created by Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation. They provide students access to more than 1,200 books and a safe environment to read.

The books are provided by Scholastic Books and come in a variety of genres, subject matters and age levels.

When the first reading room opened, students could only come in and read the books at school. Now students at all 19 schools can also purchase books to take home and keep.

“Literacy is very important to me and my foundation and what I believe in,” Westbrook said. “It starts young, in elementary. I think kids, once they get a room like this, they feel excited about it. Something new. New books. You get an opportunity to take the books home, share with their family, come back here, I think it makes it fun for them.”

 

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Joining Adams in the newest group of schools to open a reading room in Oklahoma City were Arthur, Bodine , Britton, Edgemere, Green Pastures, Gatewood, Greystone, Oakridge and Pierce elementary schools.

“It means a great deal to our community to our families for Russell to come I and give some attention to our kids here on the southside of Oklahoma City,” Adams principal Heather Zacarias said. “It encourages reading, it encourages that community feel that he is a part of Oklahoma City. Just really appreciate what he did for our school.”

Westbrook was only able to attend the ribbon cutting at Adams. There he was greeted in the new Reading Room by a group of students who read the most books over the school year. As he helped them pick out books to take home, one of the kids found “Year in Sports: 2016,” which had Westbrook in it.

“Man that’s crazy. I have ever seen myself in a book like that,” Westbrook said. “I tried to play it cool in front of the kids. But it’s pretty cool to be able to see that. When I was a kid and go to the library and look at Kobe Bryant, Shaq Shaquille O’Neal) and other people in the little sports books. It’s pretty cool to see it here in the reading room.”

The Why Not? Foundation, in partnership with Scholastic Books, sponsored school-wide book fairs at each of the 10 schools that opened up a reading room in March. The students received a gift certificate from Russell’s foundation that entitled them to one free book.

“The proceeds from that sale go back into the school and we can use it to buy more books for this room, furniture for this room,” Zacarias said. “Scholastic has partnered in a way that not only allows us to give the student a free book, but also receiving some profit for that.”

For Chris Mueller, the Scholastic Field Sales Manager, the Russell Reading Room book fair is a great way to encourage independent reading among children with their families.

“The key here is it talks about family engagement,” Mueller said. “We stress at scholastic all about independent reading. That’s what book fairs are all about. Independent reading is when they do it on their own. If they do it on their own, they’re going to become better readers. And when the families get involved, like with Russell’s Reading Room, we encourage that independent reading will grow even more.”

The fact Westbrook has 19 reading just two years after he opened his first still comes as a shock to him. But he is far from being satisfied.

“I was just hoping I could constantly keep growing it and growing it,” Westbrook said. “Now I am here, about to be at 20, which is great. I will keep going until I can go anymore. Keep trying to find ways to reach out to different communities.”

Story ran in The Yukon Review. Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

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Thunder pound fight out of 76ers

(Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Philadelphia coach Brett Brown almost thanked the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
Despite his 76ers losing 122-97 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, Brown seemed in awe of the lesson the Thunder taught his young squad.
“I think it’s a fantastic example for our young guys on the physicality of playoff type teams,” Brown said. “That physical side of it stood out to me more than it has in a long time. You look at (Steven) Adams, you look at (Enes) Kanter, Taj Gibson, and the discrepancy on the boards. It’s a reminder that if you want to play late in April and May, maybe June one day, that’s the physicality that the playoffs bring.”
Russell Westbrook recorded his 35th triple-double of the season to lead Oklahoma City. He scored 18 points — going 6 of 6 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line — in 27 minutes. He also recorded 14 assists and 11 rebounds. According to Elias, that is the first time in NBA history a player had a triple double while not missing a shot.
Westbrook didn’t attempt a 3-pointer for the first time since March 14, 2016 — a span of 83 games.
“I was just playing, trying to take my time,” Westbrook said. “Watched film and tried to pick my spots better. I wanted to continue to get my teammates involved throughout the game. It just happened that way.”
Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter wasn’t perfect from the field, but he was close. He scored 24 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds off the bench. Victor Oladipo scored 18 points for the Thunder (41-30).
The 76ers were paced by Nik Stauskas, who came off the bench to score 20 points. However, 15 of those came in the first half.
Shawn Long scored 13 points, and Dario Saric and Robert Covington each posted 12 points for Philadelphia (26-45).
After scoring only 15 points in a loss to Golden State on Monday, Westbrook made sure he was going to surpass those numbers Wednesday. He hit all four of the shots he took in the first quarter on his way to 12 points.
“Westbrook really did a good job,” Brown said. “Look at the stat line and it’s an interesting stat line, isn’t it? It was eye-popping and he just doesn’t go away.”
The Sixers used the 3-point shooting of Stauskas to keep within striking distance. He hit his first five attempts from behind the arc.
But it was Kanter’s ability to come off the bench and score at will in the paint that really disrupted Philadelphia’s defense. He was guarded by Jahlil Okafor, who provided little resistance.
Kanter played only 12 minutes in the first half, but racked up 19 points to give the Thunder a 63-50 halftime advantage.
“He knows how to play,” Westbrook said of Kanter. “He is very effective at that position, so I just watch and let him go to work.”
Oklahoma City went on a 15-2 run to start the second half. That essentially closed the book on the young Philadelphia squad.
“Those bigs were so tough,” Saric said. “It was a game against a team who was really ready, who is really tough, who is really strong. It was like a bar fight, but they were like the only guys in the bar who could really destroy us.”
NOTES: The Philadelphia 76ers confirmed Wednesday that C Joel Embiid will have season-ending knee surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus. … Oklahoma City G Russell Westbrook said he is not a fan of sitting out games when healthy. He missed only one game for rest during his entire career. “(To rest), that’s their own opinion. I like to play basketball so I like to go out and compete and have fun,” Westbrook said. “I think for me I look at it differently from being hurt and missing a lot of games, I embrace everything moment I have to play basketball and enjoy the time I can play, so that’s just how I think.:
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Warriors reject Thunder once again

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Golden State’s Klay Thompson loves playing in Oklahoma City. Thunder fans remember all the way back to Game 6 of last season’s Western Conference Finals when he single-handily sunk the home team with a barrage of 3-pointers.

Thompson had a de ja vu type performance Monday night as the Warriors rolled to an 111-95 victory over the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Thompson poured in 34 points on 12 of 21 shooting. That included knocking in 7 of his 15 shots from 3-point range.

I don’t think it’s anything particular,” Thompson said. “I’ve been playing well the last few games. Got a lot of great looks today. It’s as simple as knocking them down.”

The Warriors have snow wept the season series with the Thunder 4-0. Even more impressive, they have won each by an average of more than 20 points.

Steph Curry also buried seven 3-pointers on his way to 23 points for the Warriors. Javale McGee posted 10 points and four blocked shots as the Warriors raised their record to 56-14.

To go on the road in a tough environment and play the way we played, it’s good for us,” Golden State’s Draymond Green said.

Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo scored a team-high 17 points. Russell Westbrook had a subpar night for the MVP candidate. He was held to 15 points on 4 of 16 shooting to go with eight rebounds and eight assists. Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 11 points and Taj Gibson added 10 as the Thunder dropped to 40-30 and ends a five-game win streak.

Just one of those nights, Westbrook said. “Shots didn’t fall. They made shots as well. A few mishaps defensively. But we’ll be all right.”
Curry had his shot falling from the outset. With Westbrook guarding him, he dropped 11 points in the first quarter.
Conversely, Westbrook started the night shooting 1 of 6 from the field. Even though he had four assists in the quarter, his mindset was to attack and get his offense going. That seemed to fall right into the Warriors’ game plan.
While Golden State was far from at its best offensively, defensively it was able to take the Thunder out of their game and frustrate Oklahoma City.
Late in the second quarter, Westbrook and Curry got into a shoving match and the rest of the players on the floor got into the action as the teams had to be separated.

“Ain’t nothing going through my mind but to protect my teammates,” Westbrook said. “That’s what was going through my mind.”
Technical fouls were called on Westbrook, Curry, Draymond Green and Oklahoma City’s Semaj Christon before the teams had a jump-ball situation.
The Warriors won the tap and Thompson snagged the loose ball. He zipped it up to a wide open Curry, who drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer. As soon as it went through the net, he sprinted off the court with Golden State leading 59-39.

“I used to play quarterback,” Thompson quipped. “Don’t underestimate my arm. It was kind of a lucky pass. Going up 20, it was demoralizing to the other team.”
Led by Westbrook and Oladipo, Oklahoma went on a 13-5 run to start the second half. It looked like the Thunder were back in the game.

“We knew it was coming,” Kerr said. “We’re on their home floor. Russell did not have a great first half. We knew he would come out attacking. He attacked the rim a couple of times. We just weathered the storm.”
It was McGee who turned the tide with his work on the offensive glass. While he didn’t pull down the rebound, he was able to tip the loose balls out to Thompson, who made the Thunder pay with several shots from behind the arc.
Those plays broke Oklahoma City and they were unable to make a run the rest of the night. Westbrook stayed on the bench in the fourth.

I am pleased with the way we played overall,” Kerr said. “Defense was solid. I thought JaVale McGee came in and had a huge impact. Getting his hands on a lot of rebounds, deflections. He just got his hand on the ball and created extra deflections for us. Obviously, we had Steph and Klay going from 3-point land.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder get one more shot at Warriors

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The last time Golden State paid Oklahoma City a visit, it was the biggest spectacle of the NBA season. With Kevin Durant making his first trip to Oklahoma City in a visitor’s uniform, it spawned cupcake chants that rang throughout the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But the one indelible image that came out of the Feb. 11 confrontation was Durant standing on one side of half court going back and forth with his former teammate Russell Westbrook, who was yelling, “I’m coming. I’m coming” and Enes Kanter pats him on the chest.
It was the most exciting moment of what ended up being another blowout win by the Warriors over the Thunder. However, when Oklahoma City (40-29) hosts Golden State (55-14) Monday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, both teams will look drastically different than their previous confrontations. But that hasn’t changed the intensity of the contest.
“The most important thing is not worry about them,” Kanter said. “Just worry about us. If we play our game, then we’re going to be fine.”
For the Warriors, they will be without Durant, who torched his former team in each of their three wins. He is still recovering from a grade 2 MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise that has sidelined him since Feb. 28.
However, Durant will be in the building as he makes his first road trip since his surgery.
The Warriors picked up Matt Barnes to replace Durant. He has started to fit in to what the squad is doing as of late.
“He’s not a great shooter but he’s a guy who you have to honor if you’re out there defending him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told the Associated Press. “He doesn’t have to make shots to be effective. He does everything else so well. He’s already picked up our offense, like that. He’s been a tremendous addition.”
What hasn’t changed is how dangerous Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are for the Warriors. They are the core that guided the Golden State back from a 3-1 deficit during last season’s Western Conference Finals. So the Thunder players and coaches know exactly what they are capable of, even without Durant.
“They are not much different,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “They still pose a threat. They are really unselfish with the ball.”
Oklahoma City has also made wholesale changes since their Feb. 11 defeat. Almost two weeks later, the Thunder added Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott.
This will also be the first time against Golden State that Oklahoma City will be healthy. Kanter missed the last game with a fractured arm while Adams sat out the game before with a concussion.
Having both bigs in the lineup along with Gibson could provide the Thunder with a physical advantage they will look to use.
“When you re-post, the defender is relaxing,” Kanter said. “That’s when the bigs should bury their defender. My teammates are doing a really good job of reading that.”
But it’s defense Oklahoma City will need to make sure is on a high level. Golden State is still the No. 1 scoring team in the league.
However, one of the least noticed elements of the Thunder during its recent win streak is the defensive improvements. They are holding teams to 99 points a game over their last five contests.
On the season, the Thunder have been one of the best in not allowing opponents to take 3-pointers. They are fourth in the NBA with 24.4 3-pointers attempted by opponents. However, during their current win streak, they brought those numbers down to 20.8.
Golden State takes 31 per game.
Oklahoma City have also cut down the amount assists they allow during games. They went from 21 to 16 over the past five contents.
“We’ve made strides in a positive direction,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “There are more to be made. The only thing you can do is come in here intentionally every single day and be committed and focused on how you want to play offensively and defensively and be committed to doing those things and not get to a place of complacency.”
NOTES: A report came out late Sunday night detailing from anonymous sources how upset the Golden State organization is with Oklahoma City over its treatment of Kevin Durant during the Feb. 11 matchup. According to the report, the team sources blamed Thunder officials for letting the fan base get riled up and treat Durant badly.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder dismantle Kings

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — On March 7, Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 58 points for Oklahoma City. It was one of the best individual performances the NBA has seen this season.

However, the Thunder lost that game as the team stretched its skid to four games at that point.

Since then, the Thunder seemed to have turned the corner. While Westbrook is still the focal point, his teammates have found their roles and their contributions have increased.

That was the case in Oklahoma City’s 110-94 victory over Sacramento on Saturday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We know we have the talent to score the ball inside or outside,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “We just need to focus on the defensive end, play with an edge.”

Westbrook led all scorers with 28 points, making 9 of 20 shots from the field, and had eight rebounds and 10 assists. He was two rebounds away from his 36th triple-double of the season.

Westbrook was asked if triple-doubles ever cross his mind late in games when he’s close.

“I just play bro,” Westbrook said.

Doug McDermott came off the Thunder bench to score 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor. Steven Adams added 16 points and 13 rebounds.

Enes Kanter contributed 14 points as Oklahoma City won its fifth straight game and improved to 40-29. The Thunder are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth in the Western Conference.

Georgios Papagiannis led the Kings with 14 points and 11 boards.

“I’m in a rhythm right now. I started with 11 minutes and then started to get more, so I am just starting to get used to it because most of the time I have been playing for the D-League and when I got here the last few games it was a lot different,” Papagiannis said.

“So just every game and every practice I am trying to get used to the players because most of the time I had been in Reno and everything works right now.”

Skal Labissiere added 13 points and Buddy Hield scored 11 points as the Kings dropped to 27-42.

In the opening minutes of the game, the Kings looked like they might give the Thunder a fight. Led by Darren Collison, Sacramento opened a quick 10-9 advantage.

That was the last bit of hope the Kings had. The Thunder outscored them 20-9 the rest of the quarter to grab a double-digit lead.

The Oklahoma City bench continued to cause problems for Sacramento. Kanter wore out the lighter Willie Cauley-Stein in in the paint as he racked up 10 first-half points.

While Westbrook didn’t have to explode for big numbers, he made enough signature plays to leave an imprint on the game. That include draining a jumper in the final seconds of the first half to give Oklahoma City a 63-41 halftime lead.

Sacramento could never get its offense rolling. Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson played suffocating defense on Hield. Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein, Collison and Labissiere couldn’t buy a basket.

“It’s hard to come back on a great team like that,” Hield said. “They have been playing together for a while, Russ is always great and then add the pieces of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who are playing really well.

“We are a young team, so we just have to keep learning from these losses and keep getting better.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

Thunder to host Hield & new-look Kings

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

The Oklahoma City Thunder can’t seem to make up their mind. Just under two weeks ago they were mired in a four-game losing streak and seemed on the verge of seeing their season come apart.
However, since a six-point loss to Portland March 7, the Thunder have rattled off four consecutive victories, each one by bigger margins than the last.
Entering Saturday’s afternoon contest with the Sacramento Kings (27-41), Oklahoma City (39-29) finds itself just a half a game out of fifth place in the Western Conference standings. It’s an impressive move up the standings considering where they were one week into March.
One of those four wins came Thursday with a 21-point victory over Toronto in which Oklahoma City led by as much as 30 in the fourth quarter and Russell Westbrook didn’t have to leave the bench in the final 12 minutes while still picking up a triple-double.
With 14 games left in the season, Westbrook is seven triple doubles away from tying Oscar Robertson’s record for most in a season and eight away from holding the record all to himself.
Westbrook’s chase of triple doubles caused a stir on social media Thursday and Friday when Kevin Durant’s brother, Tony, sent out a tweet seemingly mocking Westbrook.
“Main man chasing the hell out these triple doubles lmao,” Tony Durant tweeted Thursday night during Oklahoma City’s game with Toronto.
This caused Westbrook’s wife, Nina, to respond with a sub-tweet Friday afternoon.
“@LifeOfTonyD35 and it seems like you are chasing the hell out of some attention. You got it,” Nina Westbrook posted.
Neither Russell Westbrook nor Kevin Durant responded to the back and forth.
Most of the credit for the Thunder surge has been given to Westbrook. He posted a triple double in each of the last four wins. Whether they have been at home or on the road, he has played at an MVP level. But his Oklahoma City teammates deserve their share of credit as well.
In its win over Toronto, seven players reached double figures in scoring. It was six in Brooklyn.
One of those who has stepped up is forward is Taj Gibson, who was traded to Oklahoma City in February. He was inserted into the starting lineup after the loss to Portland and Oklahoma City is undefeated since then.
“The biggest part I think for Taj that he has helped that first group with is Taj is a great talker, great communicator,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “For a guy like Russell, Steven (Adams) and even Andre (Roberson), having Taj out there defensively, he is constantly talking. So it allows that group to collectively be on the same page.”
Buddy Hield is looking to have to same type of impact on his new team that Gibson is having.
Hield was part of the mega-trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to New Orleans. In 11 games with Sacramento, Hield is averaging around 14 points
However, what stood out during the Kings win over the Suns Wednesday wasn’t Hield’s offense. In fact, he scored a total of seven points. It was Hield’s defense that made a statement. After being maligned much of the season for his defensive tenacity, he helped hold Devin Booker to 6 of 26 shooting on the night.
The last time Hield visited Oklahoma City, it was not a good time in the season for him. The rookie from the University of Oklahoma was enduring a subpar campaign when the New Orleans Pelicans came to town Dec. 4.
While the Pelicans lost to the Thunder, Hield had a solid showing with 16 points in only 15 minutes. He later credited the trip back ‘home’ to turning around his season.
Hield is now teamed with a young group of players looking to turn around the Kings franchise. Along with Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, Hield and the Kings seem to be on the right path. They enter Saturday winners of two straight.
“They are playing a lot of different guys right now,” Donovan said. “I would say with Cousins being out that their front court (players) have maybe had more of an opportunity. I think the guys they put on the floor can create and generate offense on their own. They’ve taken a lot of 3s. They are a very aggressive team.”
Michael Kinney is a freelance writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder continue mastery of Jazz

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook really doesn’t like to talk about his triple-doubles. Whether the Oklahoma City point guard is being modest or would just rather focus on the team, he won’t elaborate in how much his triple-doubles are affecting his team’s success.
But it was hard for his teammates not to delve into it after Westbrook compiled his 32nd triple-double of the season to lead Oklahoma City to a 112-104 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook posted 33 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds to break a tie with Wilt Chamberlain (1967-68) for second place on the triple-double list. Westbrook continues to average a triple-double and lead the NBA in scoring. Oklahoma City is 26-6 in games he records a triple-double.
“It doesn’t surprise any of us in this locker room,” Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said. “But it’s still historic, man. It’s unbelievable. I’m honored to be able to play alongside him.”
The Thunder are now 3-1 against the Northwest Division-leading Jazz and Westbrook has had a triple-double in each victory. .
Oladipo added 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 16 points while Taj Gibson finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Oklahoma City improved to 37-29.
Dante Exum led the Jazz with 22 points. Alex Burks added 21 points and seven rebounds. No Utah starter reached double figures in scoring or rebounds as it fell to 41-25.
But coach Quin Snyder liked how his reserves stepped in when they got their chance to play.
“The guys came in and competed,” Snyder said. “And that’s really all you want is for them to come in and compete. Usually when you do that, you can make some good things happen.”
Led by their reserves, the Jazz trimmed Oklahoma City’s 23-point advantage down to seven when Exum drove to the basket with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter. But Westbrook nailed a pair of free throws to give Oklahoma City a 105-96 advantage.
Westbrook then stole the ball and Exum was called for a clear path foul. He hit both attempts and the Thunder kept possession of the ball with 2:29 on the clock.
That led to Oladipo being fouled while driving to the rim. His free throw put Oklahoma City ahead 108-96.
Joel Bolomboy and Burks scored the next four points to get the Jazz to within eight points.
Andre Robertson missed two free throws and Utah’s Raul Neto came down for a layup to get deficit to six.
Westbrook hit another pair of free throw then came back with a one handed dunk to close out the game.
“We tried to pick up where we left of in the Spurs game,” Roberson said. “Just tried to be physical, use our length and athleticism to get out and run in transition and do what we love to do.”
With Rudy Gobert (leg) out of the lineup, Utah’s offense revolved around All-Star Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson to start the afternoon.
Coach Billy Donovan tried to match up his best defender, Roberson, on Hayward through the game. Whenever Hayward was on the court, Roberson was in game shadowing him and limiting his touches.
The same could not be said for Oladipo, who had the Jazz defense running in in the first half. He drained three 3-pointers and attacked his defender with strong drives down the lane for dunks.
Westbrook reached his triple-double in the first few minutes of the third quarter. He went on to end the quarter with five points and five assists before he was taken out and Oklahoma City leading by 20.
Westbrook now has 16 games left to collect nine more triple-doubles and catch Oscar Robertson, who has the all-time record with 41.
“It’s amazing what he has done,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s like they are historic numbers you are talking about, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson, two of the greatest players to play the game. They are impactful in the game. And I think when Russell’s career is done… he is a guy that you are going to look at and say what he has done throughout his career is historic.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

Thirsty Thunder take down Spurs

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The San Antonio Spurs came into Thursday night as one of the hottest teams in the league. Riding a nine-game winning streak, they had crept to within a game and a half of the best record in the NBA.
However, waiting on the Spurs in Oklahoma City was a squad thirsty for a victory. With their own losing streak in tow, the Thunder needed to stop the losing momentum they had acquired.
That was enough incentive for Oklahoma City. Led by Russell Westbrook’s 31st triple-double of the season, they pulled out a 102-92 victory over San Antonio at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I thought we did a good job, especially defensively,” Thunder guard Westbrook said. “Making an impact on the ball for 48 minutes, it was good. It means that were on the right track. Obviously throughout the season there are times you go through adversity. The strongest teams stick together through adversity. Tonight was one of those nights when we stuck together.”
Westbrook scored 23 points to go along with 13 assists and 13 rebounds. He is tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the second-most triple-doubles in a season. It was also his first triple-double against the Spurs.
“He says he plays every game like it’s the last game of his career,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I really, really admire that and respect that. Because tomorrow is not promised. He is just focused on right now. What do I have to do right now to help the team right now in this moment. ”
Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo scored 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting in his second game back since missing six with back spasms. Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 14 points and grab 10 rebounds as the Thunder (36-29) ended a four-game losing streak.
Kawhi Leonard finished with 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting for San Antonio. However, he was held to two rebounds, two assists and sat out the entire fourth quarter after being hit in the mouth area. No word on if he will play Saturday against Golden State.
Pau Gasol scored 18 points while LaMarcus Aldridge posted 17 points and six rebounds as the Spurs (50-14) saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end.
“In general, (the Thunder) were the more aggressive team,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Nine out of 10 times, that’s what wins basketball games. Besides making shots and not making mistakes. I thought their aggressiveness took us out of a lot of stuff.”
One game after it seemed Westbrook had done all the scoring for Oklahoma City, Steven Adams made sure his presence was felt on the offensive end to start the night. He made 3 of 5 shots as the Thunder took a 29-28 lead after one quarter.
The rest of the Thunder roster got involved as the half went on. Eight players scored at least four points in the first half. That included Doug McDermott, who came off the bench to knock in a quick seven.
Along with Leonard, Gasol carried the Spurs in the second half. They were the only San Antonio players to reach double figures in scoring. Gasol hit both his 3-point attempts in the first half to keep his average just above 50 percent.
The Thunder held a 56-49 advantage at halftime.
The game took on a feisty tone in the third quarter. A shoving match broke out between Adams and Danny Green, who were hit with double technical fouls.
The pushing and talking continued the rest of the game, but it was the Thunder who seemed to feed of it as they never let the Spurs get into the contest.
Popovich said the loss of his MVP candidate had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.
“They’d beat us anyways,” Popovich said. “If Kawhi had played in the fourth and they continued to do what they were doing and we continued to do what we were doing, they would have won anyways.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth

 

 

Thunder look to end slide with Spurs in town

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — When the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder meet Thursday night, it will be a matchup of two MVP candidates going in different directions when it comes to public perception.
The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is picking up steam as fans and media seemingly are just discovering the talents of the sixth-year forward, who was recently named Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 32 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.0 steals in 39.4 minutes. It was the fourth time in his career he had earned the honor.
“I hope (the MVP voters) understand,” San Antonio’s Pau Gasol told NBA.com. “I hope they see. It’s not hard to see if you really watch. I think he’s very much deserving of getting the MVP this season. The way he’s playing, the way he’s contributing on both ends of the floor, he’s not the guy that just puts up 30 points and that’s it. He makes huge plays defensively. So, to me, he’s my MVP.”
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook has been an overwhelming MVP favorite for much of the year, averaging a triple-double, but many of his critics point to OKC’s record and say it doesn’t compare to the team success of other MVP candidates.
Even when Westbrook scored a career-high 58 points and handed out nine assists Tuesday, it wasn’t enough to prevent Oklahoma City from going home with a 126-121 loss to Portland.
However, Thunder coach Billy Donovan maintains that Westbrook’s true worth isn’t just in the numbers.
“I think what you have to do when you look at the MVP is you look at the whole totality of the team and what’s happened to the team,” Donovan said. “Who’s the guy playing with? What’s happened inside the team? Who’s been hurt? Who’s been out? What has he done to try to put the team in the best position to win?”
One thing both Westbrook and Leonard have in common is that neither will campaign for the MVP award. Both seem more concerned with how their teams are doing and putting themselves in position to win titles.
However, just like their star players, the Thunder and Spurs are going in opposite directions. While the Spurs have won nine straight and are looking to make a move on the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Thunder have lost their last four and are losing ground in the Northwest Division. During the losing streak, the Thunder have allowed 115 points per game.
“Those stretches, it would be good if they didn’t happen, but that’s a part of the game. It’s going to happen anyway,” Thunder center Steven Adams said. “The main thing is: Even though they got that stretch, now they’re hot and we can’t stop them. Our defense still has to put them out. We’ve done it before. We’ve done it plenty times over the year.”
The Spurs are coming off a 114-104 victory in Sacramento on Wednesday in which neither LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) nor Leonard (rest) played. That could mean both will be in uniform against the Thunder.
However, with San Antonio playing its sixth game since March 1 and then facing the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, there is no telling whether coach Gregg Popovich will rest any of his players.
The Thunder can worry only about what they have to do, regardless of who is in the opposing uniform.
“It’s just our communication, that’s our biggest thing,” Adams said. “The bigs, we have to be up higher in pick-and-rolls and take more efficient routes to them. It’s all the small things. It ain’t scouting at all; it’s our discipline to our defensive system overall.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com