Thunder Notes: Westbrook wants team to have fun

Photo by Torrey Purvey

By Michael Kinney

The Oklahoma City Thunder head to Orlando for a Wednesday night tilt with the slumping Orlando Magic. While facing a team that has lost nine straight would seem like the perfect slump buster, the Thunder can’t afford to look at it like that.

After losing two straight since beating the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City is once again trying to find its way out of the losing skid they have put themselves into.

For Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, there is one trait he wants to see from his squad when they take on the Magic.

“Go have fun and compete,” Westbrook said. ‘That’s it. Win the game. The other stuff is cool, you just have to win the game. “

Tough stretch nothing new for Melo

During his long career, Carmelo has experienced many different aspects of the game of basketball. So the Thunder going through the type of skid they have been missing is not new to him.

When Anthony was asked if he has ever experienced a team not meeting expectations, his response harkened back to his New York days.

“Did you watch the last couple of seasons,” Anthony said with a laugh. “There goes your answer. I haven’t had the talent in defense of that. But I have been in these situations plenty of times. These situations can start something, they can be a trickle-down effect, it can be a domino effect. Or you can use it as a launching pad to correct some things and try to get a road win. If you can get that win, on the road, it makes it a little bit more special because it’s on the road.”

Defensive foundation

While Oklahoma City’s offensive woes are no secret, what they are doing on defense has come as a surprise to many. The Thunder are second in points allowed, seventh in opponents field goal percentage and first in turnovers created.

“We just need to continue doing what we’re doing,” Westbrook said. “Being disruptive, rebounding the basketball.”

Anthony believes the key to Oklahoma City’s defensive presence has been teamwork and everyone playing their role.

“Paul 9George) does a great job of spearheading that. Andre (Robertson) does a great job of spearheading that,” Anthony said. “I think as a team, we do a great job of sticking to our principals, things that we work on. As a result, we get good results out of it.

Donovan has Fizdale’s back

Late Tuesday afternoon, Memphis fired head coach David Fizdale. Thunder coach Billy Donovan, who has known Fizdale from their days of working in Florida at the same time, was not happy to see his friend let go.

“I’m disappointed. He’s a great guy, a terrific coach. It’s unfortunate. I don’t know all the things that go on in those type of decisions,” Donovan said. “But I know as a man, a guy, a friend, he’s a really good guy. A really good coach. To me, it’s unfortunate that a guy who was there not even a year and a half has had a decision being made on him. That’s unfortunate.”

Because reports claim Memphis center Marc Gasol had issues with Fizdale, Donovan was asked do coaches need to have a good relationship with their star players.

“I don’t want to comment on his relationship with Marc. That’s between those two,” Donovan said. “I think every coach in the league always wants to have a good relationship with their players. So for me to sit here and say they didn’t have a good relationship, that’s not for me to say. I think every coach wants to go in there wanting to work with the players, have it be a partnership and a joint effort to work together. Because there are a lot of challenges that come up through the course of 82 games that you’re trying to figure out and work through to help one another. So I think every coach is striving and looking for those kinds of things.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Mayfield, Sooners stomp down on Mountaineers

By Michael Kinney

Through out the season, Baker Mayfield’s post-game celebrations have taken on must-see status. From planting the flag at Ohio State to wearing the gold hat in Dallas, they’ve become a part of the Mayfield legend.

But Saturday night, Oklahoma fans saw a different Mayfield post game. After rolling over West Virginia 59-24 in his final home game of his career, he took a slow lap inside Memorial Stadium, giving high fives to the fans who stood behind him throughout his career.

I try to give back,” Mayfield said. “It doesn’t justify, it’s not equal, but I try to do as much as I can after all they’ve supported me through.”

The odds were stacked against West Virginia. Going on the road without their starting quarterback and facing a high powered team like Oklahoma was not the easiest game they could have picked to end the regular season. But then throw in a highly charged and focused Mayfield and, the mountain was just too steep to climb.

.“I knew they were good offensively going into this thing,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I don’t want to beat up our defense. We’ve played real good defense around here the last three or four years. I like what we’re doing. They obliviously had their way with us tonight.”

After being held out of the starting lineup due to his actions at Kansas, Mayfield didn’t enter the game until the Sooners (11-1) second possession. Already trailing 7-3, WVU (7-5) found itself in a deeper hole when Mayfield connected with CeeDee Lamb for a short touchdown pass.

I just decided I was going to do it one series, regardless of whether it was a 10-play drive – I didn’t want to have to make the decision in game,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “So I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make a decision and I’m going to stick with it no matter what happens.’ And so, the first series went a little bit quicker than I thought, but it worked out fine.”

The Mountaineers had no problems moving the ball early on. The offensive line blew open holes in the Sooners defense and the WVU backs found wide running lanes into the secondary.

But when they got into the red zone, they fell apart. After settling for a field goal on the first possession, tailback Justin Crawford fumbled on OU’s 11-yard line the next time WVU had the ball.

With quarterback Will Greer suffering a broken middle finger last week, Chris Chugunov got the start. But as effective as the running game was in the first half, he wasn’t asked to do too much early.

WVU put the game on the backs of Kennedy McKoy, Justin Crawford and the offensive line as they manhandled the Oklahoma front seven,

On the third straight possession, the Mountaineers found themselves deep in Oklahoma territory. This time they put the six points on the board when McKoy plowed into the endzone on a fourth and one call. The deficit was closed to 21-10.

WVU attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kick-off. It almost worked to perfection, but a Mountaineer touched the ball before it went 10 yards.

OU took over on the 45-yard line and drove into the WVU red zone. The Mou8ntaineirs forced the Sooners into a 4th and one. But after several near fights and brawls, Rodney Anderson scored his third touchdown of the half to put OU up 28-10.

The Mountaineers kept shooting themselves in the foot offensively. Without Greer under center, they couldn’t produce a consistent passing game. This allowed Oklahoma to concentrate on the West Virginia running attack, which they shut down in the second quarter.

Oklahoma scored 17 more points to close out the first half and take a 45-10 halftime advantage. The was essentially over.

This is going to be short and sweet,” West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “Defensively we sucked up front, we sucked at linebacker, we sucked at DB. Dana should probably fire me after that.”

Mayfield played only two quarters, but still managed 281 yards and three touchdown passes. Rodney Anderson had his second four-touchdown game of the season for the Sooners.

Honestly, it is one of the better wins that we have had,” Anderson said. “It was a full complete game with both sides playing complimentary ball. It was awesome to see, especially this time of the year. It was good to see.”

In his first start, Chugunov finished 8-of-13 for 107 yards passing. McKoy rushed for 140 yards on 21 carries. That included lining up as the quarterback in the wildcat set.

David Sill led the WVU receivers with 55 yards on two catches.

The win sends Oklahoma into next week’s Big 12 Championship game riding a seven-game win streak and looking for a spot in the College Football playoffs.

How loud they got when I first went in was something I’ll never forget,” Mayfield said. “It means the world to me, I’ve said I’ve always dreamed of playing here so the moment it settled in for me was when Coach (Lincoln) Riley told me, ‘You’re going to take the first play right here, then be ready to come out.’ It kind of settled in there and made it tough, but the good thing is we have three more games.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Warriors provide Thunder with much-needed spark

(Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

For the past two seasons, the Golden State Warriors have tormented the Oklahoma City Thunder. In 2016 it was the Warriors who knocked the Thunder out of the postseason before snatching Kevin Durant off their roster. Last season, Golden State swept Oklahoma City in three highly charged contests that all ended in blowout victories.

Even after the Thunder added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in the offseason, very few believed they could mount a serious challenge to the Warriors. And the way they played through 16 games, they seemed to confirmed that theory.

But at some point, if Oklahoma City was going to be taken seriously, they had to make a stand. They had to play up to their potential.

If it was going to happen, it might as well have been against their tormentors. Golden State came into town Wednesday looking to continue their dominance over Oklahoma City and the Thunder had other ideas as they rolled over the defending champions 108-91.

“It just us making up our minds that we’re not losing no more,” said Oklahoma City’s Raymond Felton. “We’re going to come out here and give it everything we got for 48 minutes. Once we put our mind to do that, once we play the way we played tonight, I think things will go up for it. So hopefully this right here starts a run for us. Can’t go backward from this.”

In the days leading up to the game, the Thunder tried to act like the game had no other significance than just being the next one on the schedule. No matter how many times Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams or coach Billy Donovan were asked, they said playing the Warriors was just another game.

However, late in the second quarter, it became obvious none of that was true as they showed the entire nation that these two teams are not fond of each other. Westbrook, Kevin Durant and the Warriors bench got into a shoving match with lots of barking in between. It seemed to be especially heated between Westbrook and Durant.

However, even after the show Westbrook put on (34 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists), he asserts there was nothing different about the game.

“This is how I play every night,” Westbrook said. “Whether it’s against Kevin, whether it’s against Detroit, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Smith on Saturday, it doesn’t matter who it is. On the court, I don’t got no friends. Only friend I have is the basketball and obviously my teammates. I go out to compete, I play at a high level like I’ve been saying since day one. That’s what I do.”

Regardless, it’s that type of intensity Oklahoma City fans have been looking from the Thunder for the past month. While the team has been trying ‘to put things together,’ the fans just wanted to see some fight from them for 48 minutes.

“Just 48 minutes of playing hard,” Felton said. ‘Forty-eight minutes of playing team defense, moving the ball, staying aggressive, attacking. So we had our best game tonight.”

The fire and emotions Oklahoma City played with Wednesday night could have only been brought by a team like the Warriors. One that has the hardware Oklahoma City wants and the player Oklahoma City used to have.

Wednesday night was the first taste of the conterminous rivalry for George and Anthony. And they responded to the moment. Along with Westbrook, the trio combined for 76 points, 26 rebounds and nine steals.

“It was fun,” George said. “It’s going to be like this every time, whether we are here or there. It was fun, the intensity was great. I thought we played up to expectations.”

It was the first time in 17 games that Westbrook, George and Anthony looked like more than individuals playing one-on-one ball. They actually looked like a group who collectively decided to accept the challenge of stopping the bully who had taken their money for the past two seasons.

“It felt good,” Anthony said. “Just to be a part of that. I know the history, but I don’t really know the rivalry, But it feels good to be on this side of it. Coming back from the East Coast where rivalries are everything, you know what that’s about. So tonight it felt good to get out there and get this win against a great team, playing on our own court.”

Unfortunately for the Thunder, they can’t play the Warriors every single game this season. They have to find a way to bring the same defensive effort, ball movement, passion and fight every time they take the floor. If the Thunder go out and lose to Detroit Friday, then this win means nothing.

As for now, for one night, Oklahoma City showed they are a team that has to be reckoned with.

“It was a great team win,” Anthony said. “I think tonight we showed who we can be, who we want to be and who we think we can be. We did it for a full game rather than a half or a quarter. We put together a full game. Tonight is our identity and who we want to be.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

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