Thunder prepare for another important offseason

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Russell Westbrook walked off the court Tuesday in Houston showing no emotion. The Oklahoma City point guard didn’t shake any hands, scream any profanities or even bow his head in dejection.

Westbrook walked defiantly back to the locker room when the Thunder season came knowing they had achieved more than anyone thought they could.

“I’ll remember just how we stuck together as a team. I think to me that’s the most important part. Like I said last night, with everything happening last summer, people counted us out,” Westbrook said. “They wasn’t sure how many games we were going to win or how far we were going to go or whatever, but I think the group of guys, we never let that sunk in our building. We stuck together, and that’s the thing I’m most proud about.”

Oklahoma City was eliminated from the postseason after losing to the Houston Rockets 4-1, but played all but one game down to the wire.

While many criticized the Thunder management for not providing Westbrook with more weapons to help him out this season, he maintained they had enough talent to get the job done.

“I honestly thought we had a team that could win just because of all the intangibles we had,” Westbrook said. “We have a group of guys that’s able to do a lot of things, and you guys seen games where you can see some little things, okay, like you guys have a team that can do what we — we play with the best of the best, and I think that’s how I feel. So regardless of who we have, my job is to make sure that we have a chance to win.”

Oklahoma City now heads into the offseason with the big decisions to make, once again. Westbrook can opt out of his contract at the end of the 2017-18 season. Even though the MVP candidate and triple double record holder says he loves being in Oklahoma City, he has not guaranteed he will be there long term.

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. I’m worried about making sure my wife is all right along with everything else. It doesn’t really matter at this point, and that’s the most important thing right now with me moving forward.”

That puts the ball squarely in General Manager Sam Presti’s court in terms of putting together a roster than can keep the Thunder in contention to win NBA titles.

While players such as Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo just signed new extension this season, others will be free agents. That includes Andre Roberson, who’s tenacious defense and poor foul shooting made him a focal point in the playoffs.

“Andre gave us an opportunity in four of the five games to be right there with his defense and things that he did. Then certainly his scoring average going way up,” coach Billy Donovan said. “But this is the point I would make: Andre is a better free throw shooter than what he showed in that series. I said that I have confidence in him, and I do. But that’s an area of focus that he really needs to put the time and effort and energy into this off-season and continue to get better in those areas. No question he’s going to put focus on all areas of his game, but certainly his free-throw shooting.”

However, the question remains whether Roberson will be back with a new contract next season.

“I guess we’ll just see how it plays out. It was my first time going through it, so I don’t really know what to expect,” Roberson said. “I just got done talking to Sam, and I’ll talk to my agent here soon and kind of get both sides, so we’ll see where we go from there. Definitely want to be back. Definitely want to do anything to work it out. I love the team, love the organization, and love what we’re all about, and I definitely want to stick around. So I’m pretty sure we can work something out.”

The other big free agent on the team is Taj Gibson. Even though he has only been with the Thunder a few months after being traded from Chicago, he says he feels at home in Oklahoma City.

If Presti can keep Gibson in Oklahoma, he will be the biggest free agent to sign with the Thunder in franchise history.

With Westbrook in or entering his prime, it will be incumbent on Presti to bring in another elite level scorer to help carry the load. If not, next year could be another replay of 2017, which wasn’t all bad.

“I couldn’t be any more encouraged with the quality of people and the character that I had a chance to work with each and every day,” Donovan said. “So improvement always takes time. I can’t tell you that the jump we’ll make will be from here to here or where it will be. But every team, maybe outside of one, is trying to get better. That’s what we’re always going to do is try to get better.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance writer with Eyeamtruth.com

COAC nice tuneup for regionals and state

(Photo by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

MOORE – Patrick Larrison wants to peak at the right time. The Moore High thrower has had his moments at some of the biggest meets of the season, but as the postseason arrives, he wants to be at his best.

Larrison is well on his way to making that happen. At the Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships Thursday, the junior grabbed gold in the discus and shot put.

“The last couple of weeks he has come down a little bit,” Moore coach Stefan Seifried said. “He is capable of throwing 195 to 200 feet. It’s kind of day to day, weather to weather so to speak.”

The weather conditions Thursday at Moore High School were not optimal conditions for throwing the disc. Throwers had to overcome high winds and temperatures in the low 60s as they battled for conference titles.

Larrison proved to be the most capable. His winning throw in the discus was 171- feet. While it was nowhere near his best, it was still 15 feet ahead of second place Alex Eichler of Edmond Memorial.

Larrison was just as impressive in the shot put. His toss of 62 feet out distanced the next nearest competitor by 12 feet.

“Today’s wind on our stuff is not good for a right or left handed thrower. A lot of it for him his mental,” Seifried said. “He has the capability to go after the state record next year.”

Larrison was just one of several athletes who had a solid day at the COAC meet.

As expected, Edmond Memorial dominated most of the relays and sprints. On the boys side they grabbed the 400 relay (42.07), the 3200 relay (8:09) and 800 relay (1:28.03). Edmond Santa Fe kept the Bulldogs from sweeping the relays by edging them by a split second in the 1600 meter relay.

Memorial also earned points in the distance races as Jed Helker ran a 9:51.15 to win the 3200 run.

Yukon’s Vernon Turner kept up his streak of winning every high jump competition he has been in this season. Turner took first with a leap at 7-foot-4. Santa Fe’s Chris Banks was second at 6-6.

Turner did try to set a new national record at 7-7.25. But the world’s third ranked high jumper was unable to get it.

On the girls side, Edmond Memorial took home the team title. However, for maybe the first time this season they found some competition.

Memorial’s Morganne Mukes had to hold off Southmoore’s Whitney Bridges to win the 100 meter dash with a time of 11.92.

But, Bridges returned to favor in the 200 meter dash. She posted a 24.28 compared to Muke’s 24.31.

Edmond Memorial also came up short in the mile relay to Moore, who is the top ranked team in the state in the event. The Bulldogs held a 20 meter lead heading into the final lap before the Lions Tianna Holmes erased the deficit and sprinted across the line two seconds ahead of Edmond. Holmes has the second best time in the 400 meter dash in 6A.

The conference meet was just a tune-up for the class 6A regional meets May 6, which will take place at four sites around the state. Larrison and the rest of the Lions will be heading to Tahlequah.

Once there and at the state meet, Seifried expects to see the best from Larrison.

“He is where he needs to be,” Seifried said. “When it comes down to state competition, big competition, he’s going to step his game up. He knows when to do what and how to do it.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer. Go to Eyeamtruth.com for more information.

Keeping it in the family

By Michael Kinney

In 1962, Park Prince Sr. asked Marjorie Franklin out on a date.

In the early 1960s, black couples could find a limited number of venues in which to enjoy a night out together. One area they were welcome was Deep Deuce, known for its great jazz and blues establishments. So 55 years ago, Park Sr. took his future wife to Ruby’s Bar & Grill.

In December, Prince Jr. opened Parks Bar & Grill, 322 NE Second St., in the same location. As he walks through the door every day, he’s greeted by a painting of his parents that hangs on the wall.

I still get chills every day. It’s a very surreal feeling,” he said. “The memories that they have in this building and the memories that I’m creating in this building. … I get emotional.”

With large couches and armchairs, flat-screen TVs on the wall and DJ Hez spinning the turntable, Parks Bar & Grill’s atmosphere is low-key. The venue offers craft beers, signature cocktails, rib tips, barbecue, sandwiches, wings and waffles and smoked chicken.

If you come in here, the bartender is going to know your name,” Parks said. “They are going to know what you like to drink, what you like to eat. They are going to make you feel at home. … This is a real, true Cheers-type bar.”

From open mic nights to karaoke and even a little country music, Prince said he caters to a wide variety of clientele.

I’m a huge lover of live music, and I love diversity,” he said. “The easiest way to create diversity is to have the country bands fans come, have the R&B bands’ fans come, and they all vibe and … everyone can get along and those cultures can intertwine.”

park G.jpg

Prince also recently added a VIP virtual reality room where guests can play Call of Duty with a VR helmet. He knows of no other bar in the city that offers that.

Parks said he worked a year and a half to ready Parks Bar & Grill — located in the former Urban Roots venue, surrounded by condos and brownstones and nestled in the opening to the Deep Deuce district — for its grand opening late last year. He said the eatery is a tribute to his family and the fulfillment of his lifelong dream to own and run his own business.

The building became available, and the opportunity to recreate their first date and that vibe,” he said. “I knew this is what I was supposed to be doing. “I’m a true believer in the growth of Oklahoma in its entirety. The only way we can do that is if we all work together. I love my city and I love my state. ”

His goal is to contribute to growing the communal feel of the downtown Oklahoma City district; to renew the welcoming and diverse vibe that drew his parents to it so many years ago.

Prince’s daughter is 10 years old and has already caught the entrepreneurial bug. Prince hopes to leave his bar and grill to her when she gets old enough.

That’s a goal, man; that’s a generational goal,” he said. “I want it to grow so much that when my daughter has this bar when she is old enough, she can say that her father started something and she kept it going. I want it to be a generational thing.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Oklahoma kid breaking national records

(Photos by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

YUKON – Vernon Turner had planned on having an easy day. The Yukon High senior had been mostly knew the competition at Friday’s Yukon Classic would be solid, but nothing to fear for the nation’s top high jumper.

However, when Turner got to Yukon High Stadium, and despite the wild blowing severely, Turner was feeling good. In fact, he felt so good, he broke the National Federation of High School record with a leap of 7-foot-6.

“I guess his legs felt better than we thought,” Yukon assistant coach Kevin Ritter said. “Because we lifted on Monday and Wednesday and jumped on Tuesday. That usually gives you deader legs because we’re trying to peak late in the season. So we didn’t expect a whole lot. If he got 7-2, 7-3, we’d be good. But by the third jump, we knew it was a good day.”

high.jpg

Turner didn’t attempt his first jump until the bar had reached 6-09. By that time, all of the other competitors had been knocked out. Yukon teammate Tallyn Brazell, took second with a personal best jump of 6-7.

Turner could have stopped there, but he said he was feeling good and wanted to continue. Already owning the best mark this year and a state record of 7-5, he slowly progressed upward. He didn’t take off his practice shorts until he got to 7-4.

By that time, the entire high jump pit was packed with athletes and onlookers. Turner began a slow clap, which everyone joined in.

“When the clap came through, that’s when I really started feeling it on my legs,” Turner said. “Once we hit 7-4, I said yep, today is the day. I let’s just do it and see what happens,”

At 7-6, Turner once again had the crowd clapping with him before he skied over the high bar and made it easily. He plopped down into the pit jumped into the air screaming, knowing he had just made history.

“It feels real special to break my record again for the Yukon meet,” Turner said. “Home town kids breaks home town record.”

While Turner’s jump was recognized as the top mark for a high schooler at a competition inside the United States, it’s not considered the best ever. That mark belongs to Andra Manson, who hit 7-7 while at a meet in Jamaica in 2002.

Knowing that, after Turner reached 7-6, he had the meet officials set the bar at 7-7.25, looking to dethrone Manson.

By that time, the entire meet had come to a standstill and all eyes were on Turner, who had three attempts to own the outright record. He came close on his very first jump. But the heal of his shoes clipped the bar. He was unable t make it in the next two tries, but Turner was not daunted that he will one day own the record.

“I thought I had it,” Turner said. “I definitely thought it when I hit the mat. I will just need the energy. The crowd definitely helps a lot.”

The Yukon Classic has become one of the biggest and most competitive track and meets in the state. With the multimillion dollar stadium being the site of the upcoming state track and field championships, it attracts the top teams in Oklahoma.

The Tulsa Union boys steamrolled to a team title with 140 points. They were 23 points ahead of second place Edmond Memorial.

Union.jpg

Edmond North, Westmoore, Putnam City, Norman, Jenks, Del City, Putnam City West and Deer Creek rounded out the top 10 of the 30 team meet.

On the girls side, it was Del City who grabbed the team crown with 91 points. That was enough to hold off a charging Edmond North, who finished with 85.

The rest of the top 10 consisted of Union, Duncan, Moore, Broken Arrow, Southmoore, Westmoore, Midwest City and Jenks.

However, the numbers are slightly skewed for the girls because the Southmoore SaberCats only participated in half the meet because they were unable to come until school was out. Most of the other teams were out of school for the entire day due to Good Friday.

Despite that, the Cats were able to do damage because of their sprints and relay teams. Whitney Bridges claimed the 200 meter dash (24.47) while Kaylee Jimboy (46.81) took home the 300-meter hurdles title.

The Lady SaberCats also won the 400-meter relay with a time of 4:00.

The Union Redskins racked up most of their points in the sprints. Along with winning the 4×100 and 4×400 relays, Keviyon Cooper and Travon Delph took first and second in the 400 meter dash, while Oklahoma football commit Tre Brown landed in fourth in the 100 meter dash.

Edmond North’s Brock Appaiah was one of the few multiple winners in individual events. He not only 100 meter dash (10.49), but also grabbed the 200 (21.22).

Anthony Riley won the boys long jump. However, the sophomore from Westmoore was more excited that he beat his two teammates who had the two top marks in class 6A this season. Well, they did until Riley hit a personal best 24-10.

“I was really satisfied with how I performed,” Riley said. “I got a PR and I am just ready to keep going. I think it was a mental thing. I had the mentality I was going to win an I did. I am trying to get the state record.”

Quietly, without any fanfare, Turner entered the long jump for the first time in his career. With no practice, he took fifth with a jump of 22-09.

Turner will probably stick to the high jump once the postseason arrives. He already plans to try for 7-8 at the state meet.

“I think he is going to get the record,” Ritter said. “I never thought I’d say that, but I think he’s going to get it.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Nuggets win, but night belongs to Westbrook

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — If not for a 35-foot last-second 3-pointer by Russell Westbrook, the Denver Nuggets would have entered the final game of the regular season with a shot at reaching the postseason.
Unfortunately for Denver, when they faced Oklahoma City for the second time in four days, nothing was on the line.
With neither team playing at full strength, the Nuggets pulled out a 111-105 victory Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“The fact we went 5-2 in our last seven games speaks directly to our guys understanding the pressure of the games we were playing,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “And, even after that devastating loss at home to Oklahoma City, we still had a job to do. Our season wasn’t over, and our young guys took it seriously.”
Nikola Jokic scored 29 points to lead the short-handed Nuggets. He went 9 of 14 from the field and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line and added 16 rebounds and eight assists. Jamal Murray scored 27 points and Malik Beasley 17 as the Nuggets ended the season with a 40-42 record.
Westbrook played just 18 minutes and ended the night with five points, eight assists and five rebounds for Oklahoma City. He finished the season averaging a triple-double — 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists — and won his second scoring title.
Taj Gibson paced Oklahoma City with 13 points and seven rebounds. Enes Kanter scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting for the Thunder, who open the playoffs Sunday night against the Houston Rockets.
After Westbrook rested Tuesday night at Minnesota, it looked like he was going to sit out the final game of the season as well. But with NBA legend Oscar Robertson in town, Westbrook played for a half.
Early in the first quarter, Westbrook knocked down his 200th 3-pointer of the season — a career high. His previous best was 101.
Alex Abrines also set a rookie record for Oklahoma City with his 94th 3-pointer, which beat James Harden’s previous mark by one.
The Nuggets put up very little resistance early against the Thunder’s first team. Playing only seven players, they allowed the Thunder to do pretty much anything they wanted.
Denver did get solid play from Jokic, Beasley and Murray. They kept the Nuggets in the game in the first half as they trailed 64-56.
“We were just trying to play as hard as possible,” Denver’s Darrell Arthur said. “My whole thing was finishing out the season strong, playing together, playing as a team, letting the young guys get their feet wet and letting the fans see what they have to expect next year.”
The Thunder went into rest mode to start the second half. Both Westbrook and Steven Adams stayed on the bench the rest of the night and let the reserves carry the team the rest of the way.
Before the postseason starts, Westbrook took a quick moment to reflect on the magnitude of the night.
“It’s never too soon to be blessed for things that you have done,” Westbrook said. “I think of it differently. I think that it is all blessings coming from them and above to put me in the situation to be here with Oscar Robertson and be here in Oklahoma City and to be able to do different things on the basketball floor.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Musicians want to make a difference with music festival

By Michael Kinney

Like most up-and-coming bands, Red Club wants to make a name for itself. In order to do that, the 2×4 blues act devotes hours to perfecting the craft of producing great music. The Oklahoma City bandmates also work hard to be the kind of group known for giving back to its community.

“The catalyst for the Bricktown Freedom Music Festival (BFMF) was a simple conversation I had with ‘Ferocious’ Steve Saak, our drummer,” Red Club’s Andy Cullen said.

The pair got to talking about bucket lists, which led to the idea of organizing a benefit concert, Cullen said.

Block party

Bricktown Freedom Music Fest opens 3 p.m. Saturday in the Bricktown Brewery parking lot, 1 N. Oklahoma Ave.

Tickets are $20 or $10 at the door for service members with a valid military ID and free for children 5 years old and younger. The parking lot behind the brewery will open to foot traffic, with a large stage located at the west end. Organizers also will close Oklahoma Avenue between E. Main Street and E. Sheridan Avenue.

Longtime country performer John Michael Montgomery headlines the event. Red Club is scheduled to perform, as will Built for Speed, Corey Kent White, Rob West and comic Zach Smith.

“This is just a great, fun family atmosphere that’s really welcoming. … You can bring out the lawn chairs and enjoy some nice weather in Oklahoma,” said Amber Moulder, Warriors for Freedom executive director. “We [also] have some food trucks coming out.”

Greater good

While the event is a great way to spend an evening, organizers said they want guests to know how important their support is for the two charities it benefits.

Warriors for Freedom is an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit that is known throughout the state and entertainment industry for its work helping those in the military as they confront depression, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and other service-oriented issues.

Water4 also provides valuable services from its home base in Oklahoma City.

Across the globe, 2,200 children die each day from lack of clean water. By providing education, expertise and capital, Water4 helps impoverished communities around the world improve sanitation and reduce disease by drilling clean water wells and improving access to safe, clean water sources.

Cullen said Bricktown Freedom Music Fest proceeds will be split 50/50 between Warriors for Freedom and Water4.

“We wanted to ensure that our efforts would help organizations in our own backyard while having an impact worldwide,” Cullen said.

And event headliner Montgomery has been a long-time supporter of veterans.

“One of his more recent hits, ‘Letters from Home,’ deals with some of the issues servicemen and women struggle with,” Cullen said. “Both organizations that will benefit provide services and help that change, improve and often save lives.” 

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Westbrook on the doorstep of history

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — While Russell Westbrook is on the verge of completing an historical achievement, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the midst of a mini-slump.
Westbrook enters Tuesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks needing one more triple-double to tie Hall of Famer’s Oscar Robertson’s season record of 41.
The point guard is currently riding a string of six straight triple-doubles, the odds are in his favor that by the end of the night he and Robertson will be co-owners of the record.
Westbrook is also just 11 rebounds and 29 assists from averaging a triple-double for a season. Once again, a feat only done once in history before by Robertson.
However, due to the recent level of the Thunder’s play, they can’t focus on the individual brilliance of Westbrook.
Oklahoma City (43-33) has lost back-to-back games and three of its last five outings. In that time span, the Thunder have almost played their way out of a No. 4 or 5 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
With only six games left in the regular season, the Thunder are looking to right their ship.
“I think guys have got to figure it out by themselves and do their own routine or ritual, whatever you want to call it,” Thunder guard Andre Roberson said. “You have just got to lay it all out on the line. It is that time of year. You have got to progress upward going into playoffs. We have got to find a more sustainable way to play basketball.”
Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan has zeroed in on his team’s energy level. After watching the Thunder lose a 21-point lead to San Antonio and then fall 21 points behind Charlotte, they haven’t played a full 48 minutes to their level in some time.
“I personally feel that I enjoy playing games like this for our team. I don’t mean this in any disrespect to Charlotte, but they are desperate,” Donovan said. “They want to play in the playoffs. They are laying it on the line their last five or six games.
“I like playing against desperate teams because what it does is exposes what you have to do in my opinion to really compete and play at that extraordinary high level.”
The Bucks are one of those teams fighting for the playoffs and playoff positioning. They have yet to secure a postseason spot but are currently in fifth place. But only three games separate them from fifth and being out of the playoffs.
Milwaukee (40-37) didn’t help itself by losing 109-105 to Dallas on Sunday. Matthew Dellavedova puts the loss on lack of defensive intensity — something the team can’t have in Chesapeake Energy Arena on Tuesday night.
“I know everyone in this locker room knows it,” Dellavedova told the Journal Sentinel. “I think it’s pretty obvious watching us that we’re at our best when we get out and play defense. We can get out and run. That’s when we’re sharing the ball and that’s our identity.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo totaled 31 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists as the Bucks remained one game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks despite a sub-par defensive showings.
“We didn’t play hard enough, we didn’t do what we usually do,” Antetokounmpo said. “That’s the game, and we move on. We know how important these last five games are for us. We’re going to play together and try to finish it off strong.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder fall to lively Hornets

(Photo by Sam Murch)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — For most of the season, Russell Westbrook’s chase of the triple-double record and his team’s success coincided. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s success rate when he reaches those magical double-digit numbers made the historical ride beyond reproach.
However, the luster is starting to come off as the Thunder have dropped three of their last five games in which Westbrook earned a triple-double. The latest came Sunday afternoon, when the Charlotte Hornets beat Oklahoma City 113-101 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook registered his 40th triple-double of the season as he posted 40 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He is now one triple-double away from tying the record held by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (1961-62).
But when asked what he feels about potentially tying the record, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about it.
“We gotta win,” Westbrook said. “That’s my thoughts.”
Kemba Walker scored 29 points to lead Charlotte (36-41). He shot 10 of 20 from the field and 6 of 12 from the 3-point arc. Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to post 18 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 points and six rebounds as the Hornets pulled within 1 1/2 games of Miami for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot pending the Heat’s night game against the Denver Nuggets.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo scored 19 points while Andre Roberson added 12. No other player scored in double figures as Oklahoma City (43-33) dropped its second straight game. The sixth-place Thunder are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings.
Oklahoma City didn’t help its efforts with 24 turnovers.
“We were just making bad mistakes, bad decisions,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself, we have to take better care of the ball.”
Oklahoma City used an 11-1 run to cut the Hornets’ lead down to 102-91. A three-point play by Cody Zeller halted the Thunder momentum.
Leading by 12, Walker drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Westbrook answered right back from the same location.
After getting a stop, Westbrook had an opportunity to cut the deficit, but he missed a layup in traffic. Marvin Williams then hit a pair of free throws to give Charlotte a 110-96 lead.
However, Westbrook knocked in a 3-pointer and was fouled. He missed the free throw and Oklahoma City trailed 110-99.
That was enough to put the game away for Charlotte.
“Every guy who played today contributed,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “Starters got off to a great start. … Then, really, it was the guys coming off the bench that really got the cushion there early in the fourth.”
The Hornets began the afternoon by spreading the wealth around. Nine different Hornets scored in the first half.
But it was the bench players who sparked the Hornets. Kaminsky and Marco Belinelli combined for 17 points in the first half.
“When our level of play off the bench is very high, we just play with a lot of energy,” Kaminsky said. “Then the starters can get more rest when we are playing well. If we can play like that going forward, I think we will be in a good spot.”
Oklahoma City turned to Westbrook and Oladipo to carry its scoring load. The backcourt duo had a slow start, but picked up the pace in the second quarter as they posted 34 points, but the Hornets still led 59-54 at halftime.
Charlotte picked up its defensive presence in the third quarter and took apart the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t score until 6:24 left in the quarter when Westbrook drove the lane and scooped in a layup.
Westbrook scored 13 straight points as he tried to take over the contest. Yet Charlotte still held a 14-point advantage going into the fourth.
“This is one of the best defensive games we played in a while,” Charlotte’s Steve Clifford said. “I know (Westbrook) had 40 and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes on him. He is such a great shot maker. He had 40, but I feel our defense on him was good.”
After the Thunder reserves cut the Hornets’ lead down to 12, Jeremy Lamb hit a string of baskets to get Charlotte’s lead back up to 21.
“It was great. We were on a string on both ends of the floor,” Lamb said. “Played good defense, did good gang rebounding. Even though Russ still had 40 and still had a triple double, we made him take a lot of shots to do it. That was good. Just an overall great win for us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Thunder on wrong end comeback despite Westbrook triple double

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — It came from the upper rafters, but a faint echo of MVP could be heard as Kawhi Leonard stood at the free throw line. It came in the final seconds of San Antonio’s 100-95 victory over Oklahoma City on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
While the MVP chant at the Chesapeake is normally reserved for All-Star Russell Westbrook, a small number of Spurs fans who traveled to Oklahoma City took it upon themselves to show their appreciation for what Leonard had done.
Leonard scored 20 his his team-high 28 points in the second half to go along with 10 rebounds as he led the Spurs back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Thunder.
“It’s what I have been seeing from him for 74 games,” San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili said. “The kid can play. He is strong and he’s hard-nosed and he’s going to keep going. In the second half, he really stepped up and made some huge plays.”
Pau Gasol added 17 points and LaMarcus Aldridge scored 14 for the Spurs (58-17).
Westbrook posted 32 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists to get his 39th triple-double of the season. He is only two triple-doubles behind Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who holds the season record with 41.
However, Westbrook was more concerned with the lesson his team can take from such a tough loss as they head into the postseason
“I think this is huge, especially so they will know what games will be like,” Westbrook said. “Every night is going to be like this and they have to be ready.”
Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half. Steven Adams added 13 points and Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 11 points for the Thunder (43-32).
With 4:28 left in the fourth quarter, the Spurs’ Patty Mills drained a 3-pointer to tie the score at 85. But Westbrook scored in the lane to put the Thunder back up by two.
After Aldridge tied the game again with a fade-away jumper, Kanter responded with his own corner jumper.
Westbrook gave the Thunder a three-point advantage with 1:46 left in the game with two free throws. But Gasol knocked in two and the Thunder lead was trimmed to 93-92.
Aldridge put the Spurs ahead by one with 56.1 seconds left after he was sent to the free throw line. Adams and Aldridge then exchanged layups and San Antonio led 96-95 with 18.7 seconds left.
After a timeout, Westbrook drove the ball into the lane and tried a difficult layup. But his shot was blocked. Leonard came up with a three-point play to close out the game.
“They were just playing with a more sense of urgency than we did,” Westbrook said. “Guys have to be ready to step up and they played with a little bit more sense of urgency than we did.”
As cold as the San Antonio stars were to start the night, Westbrook was on the other end of the spectrum. He neared triple-double status with 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists at halftime as Oklahoma City led 54-41.
But it was more than Westbrook hurting San Antonio. Oladipo and Kanter opened up the Thunder offense, and Andre Roberson’s defense forced Leonard to work harder than he may have wanted.
San Antonio could do nothing offensively in the third quarter. They looked nothing like a normal Gregg Popovich squad.
Yet led by their defense, the Spurs were still able to cut a 21-point deficit to five heading into the fourth quarter.
The run began when Roberson picked up his fourth foul and Leonard exploded. He scored 13 point in the quarter to give San Antonio life.
“We needed one like this,” Ginobili said. “We didn’t play good for 30 minutes of the game. But we bounced back, we played aggressive, we stayed together. In this league, you have to play 48 minutes, because if not, things like this happen.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer with Eyeamtruth.com