Author - Autumn Mathews

The Sneaky Charm of Jerami Grant

You know when you go to a fast food restaurant, and then you unexpectedly find a gift card in your wallet for said fast food restaurant that doesn’t quite cover the whole meal but still gives you a rush and makes you feel better about your purchase?

That’s what it’s like watching Jerami Grant play basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Grant’s athleticism combined with his 6-foot-9 frame and over seven foot wingspan make him a unique and exciting player full of possibilities. In his second season in Oklahoma City, he has really blossomed into a versatile bench player.

Playing an average 20.3 minutes each game, he’s been a great source for explosiveness and extra buckets. Carmelo Anthony sat out the entire fourth quarter in an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets last Friday because Grant, who finished the game with 16 points, was doing too well to be taken out.

The lanky forward can play from almost any position, and he always knows how to get to the right spot at the right time. He’s been on the receiving end of a lot of Russell Westbrook dimes and lobs that usually end with a fantastic display of graceful hang time or rim-rocking jams.

“It’s fun to be able to play whatever position coach needs me to,” Grant said back in February. “I think it’s big for the team just to be able to kind of fill in whatever role the team needs you to play.”

Grant is currently averaging more points at 8.2 per game than any other Thunder bench player. Shooting a career high 52.8 percent from the field and being able to knock down the occasional three certainly doesn’t hurt either.

A lot of opposing defenses have a tough time guarding him under the basket because of his length and quickness. He can drive on the baseline and kick it out to the open man or use his magical body control to pull a finger roll out of a hat.

On a team that struggles to find consistency, Grant has been a steady presence lately. He shot 5-of-5 on his way to 12 points in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Easter Sunday.

We also can’t forget how well he played against Houston on Saturday night.

He’s one of those under-the-radar good players who are just so much fun. Let’s be clear though, I use the term “fun” in the sense that he plays basketball in an entertaining way, not that he is a fun person in general. As much as I love him, he seems to always be this emotionless figure with no personality. Seriously, the guy’s interview videos look like he’s being fed lines in a hostage situation.

But who needs personality when you can capture hearts on the court?

Some of Grant’s biggest moments that make fans lean way back in their seats come on the defensive side of the ball. Fast footwork and long arms prove to be effective weapons to take charges and block shots.

He’s averaging 2.2 blocks per 100 possessions this season, and he has a 4.1 block percentage according to Basketball Reference.

There’s just something about watching Grant come out of nowhere on defense to send a shot right into the stratosphere that makes me feel like I could literally climb Mount Everest without any training whatsoever in that moment.

Grant is quickly becoming a staple in Oklahoma City. His two-way impact is not lost on the Thunder and should be important in the playoffs. There are still a few kinks to work out, but at 24 years old, Jerami Grant looks to only be on the rise.

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Thunder get important win over NOLA 109-104

The best present the Oklahoma City Thunder could’ve given fans on Easter Sunday today was a crucial 109-104 win over the New Orleans Pelicans to avoid the season sweep and move back up to the fifth spot in the Western Conference with a 45-33 record.

I’d also like to think the last several brutal Thunder games were all part of an elaborate April Fool’s prank that was just revealed to us today.

Oklahoma City showed up in an aggressive way and played with an intensity that they haven’t brought in a while.

The main fuel source, especially in the first half, was Paul George. He had 19 of his 27 points by the 8:48 mark in the second quarter and shot 50 percent by halftime. George came out swinging on both ends of the court and racked up eight rebounds and three steals. During the few slow points in the game, he was always there to get the momentum to quickly shift back to the good guys.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” George said after the game. “I just tried to get into a rhythm early and sustain it.”

The Thunder shot 53 percent and outscored the Pelicans 33-22 in an electric second quarter dominated primarily by George to take the 53-50 lead at the half.

Russell Westbrook was instrumental in keeping the ball moving on offense as he secured his 103rd career triple-double and fifth straight against New Orleans. The fast paced nature of the game led him to 26 points, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists. If you like flashy Westbrook highlights of dunks, dimes, and drives, this was definitely the game for you.

The matchup between big men Steven Adams and Anthony Davis didn’t end up taking center stage even though Davis has gotten some MVP buzz over the past couple months. Davis ended with a significant 25 points and 11 rebounds, but he didn’t command control and just take over like he has been.

A tie game at 63-63 with around five minutes left in the third was the last real possible turning point for New Orleans, but they ultimately couldn’t keep up with Oklahoma City firing on all cylinders.

“I thought we did the things coming down the stretch that maybe in some of these previous games we weren’t able to do,” coach Billy Donovan said postgame. “I thought we were consistent for a good portion of the game.”

Despite getting three fouls in the first six and a half minutes on the court and having to move to the bench (where he then received a questionable technical foul to add to his resume) until the middle of the second quarter, Carmelo Anthony eventually put up 16 points on 4-of-8 from deep along with six rebounds.

There were certain moments where he even started to drive and work more in isolation than he normally does. Anthony did a decent amount of post work, and even though the ball didn’t always go in, it was still an interesting change of pace.

Donovan’s rotations tonight also saw a lot of change. For instance, George came out for about two and a half minutes in the first when he normally plays that entire quarter. George and Russ seemed to be staggered more often, and perhaps the biggest surprise was rookie Terrance Ferguson didn’t even step foot on the floor even though he’s been playing about 14 minutes lately (much to the dismay of many Thunder fans). But, hey, I’m not complaining.

More time for some bench players meant more moments for Jerami Grant, who knocked down 12 points and made all five shots he took from the field. Two blocks were also fruits of his defensive labor.

The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Golden State Warriors on TNT on Tuesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. A win clinches the playoffs for the Thunder. Brady Trantham will be in arena for the Thunder.

Keys to the Game

Three-pointers: B

New Orleans has proven an ability to get hot from beyond the arc, and they showed spurts of that tonight. They made 34 percent of their three-pointers, just outshooting the Thunder at 29 percent. Melo sunk 50 percent of his perimeter shots, but didn’t really attempt a high volume of them. It wasn’t terrible, but players who are known to be able to make those shots, especially George, could still work on their consistency.

Rebounding: A

Having to battle a guy like Davis for rebounds can be difficult, but it didn’t phase Oklahoma City tonight when they grabbed 51 total boards compared to the Pelican’s 44. They now move on to 32-10 on the season when out rebounding their opponents.

Make your free throws: C+

The atrocious free throw shooting lately didn’t turn around overnight. George was the only player to make all of his shots from the line, and the team as a whole shot 72 percent. The fact that New Orleans also struggled a bit in this department may have been a little saving grace, but the Thunder have still got to figure this mess out.

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Anthony ready for playoffs

The rocky start and rough patches throughout this season had some people questioning how far this new-look Oklahoma City Thunder team could actually go. At practice on Wednesday, Carmelo Anthony reminded everyone that it’s not how you start, but how you finish, and this team was built to finish strong.

“I think the expectations were put on us,” Anthony said. “Of course we wanted to have a better record at this point in the season with the team that we have, but our expectations was to be the best team we could be with the understanding we have the opportunity to do something great.”

With the big moves the Thunder made this offseason, the spotlight has been on the trio of Melo, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George to see if they can live up to all the hype. Anthony in particular has raised some eyebrows on whether or not he can take it to the next level in the postseason.

This would be Melo’s first time to reach the playoffs after not making it the past four seasons, and he doesn’t want to keep repeating that cycle.

“Prior to that I made the playoffs every year since my rookie season,” he said. “To have that feeling and know what that feeling is like, and then to not have that feeling; you don’t want to experience that anymore. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here to OKC because I saw the opportunity. I understand what we have. I understand what we’re capable of, so yes, it excites me to know that the last game of the season I start gearing up for another season, and not focusing on where my next vacation is going to be. It’s a different mentality.

“We have an opportunity to make a run in these playoffs and potentially play for a championship,” he continued. “That’s the goal. That’s the ultimate goal. Everything along the way, up until then, it was a little bit expected because it was something we put together so quickly. We had to make adjustments, and whenever you put something like that together, it’s going to take time for it to work. But this is a learning curve for all of us. I think in two weeks, a week and a half, two weeks, we continue to do what we do, take care of our business, and I think people will forget about the regular season and focus on the postseason.”

Oklahoma City is in the fifth spot in the Western Conference right now, but only one game separates them from the Minnesota Timberwolves in seventh. For Anthony, though, he doesn’t have any worries about possibly slipping out of contention.

“I think we’re confident enough to know that we’ll be there,” he said. “Where? We’ll see when that time comes, but I believe we’ll be there. It’s something we planned on doing when we put this team together. At the beginning of the season, this is what we were looking forward to. This is why we put this team together.”

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Thunder slip up in San Antonio 103-99

Three days off to rest didn’t seem to help much tonight, and now the Oklahoma City Thunder drops to fifth in the Western Conference after a 103-99 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

Neither team played a great game, but the Thunder looked sluggish and didn’t really play with any sense of urgency tonight. One of the main things that even kept them in the game was Paul George.

The Thunder fall to 44-32 on the season. San Antonio passed Oklahoma City for fourth place based on multiple tiebreakers.

After shooting 7-of-31 in the past two games, George started to get back into a rhythm with 26 points (3-of-6 from three), seven rebounds, and six assists. His ever-present defense accompanied by four steals continually helped Oklahoma City stay within single digits.

They struggled at the charity stripe from the start, making only 66.7 percent. Russell Westbrook shot 5-of-8 and Steven Adams went 0-of-2, but free throws weren’t the only thing that got the best of Adams tonight.

LaMarcus Aldridge was questionable for this game right up until the tip because of a left knee contusion he suffered in San Antonio’s last game on Tuesday. It didn’t seem to bother him tonight, though, when he went for 25 points (19 in the first half) and 11 rebounds. He shined in the mid-post area against Adams, who ended up with 10 points and 13 rebounds despite missing a bunch of easy buckets and giving up a lot of second chance opportunities.

“We got hurt on some offensive rebounds,” said coach Billy Donovan. “I thought we fouled too much. We probably put them to the line too many times.

Both teams kept committing lazy turnovers into the second half, but Oklahoma City led 81-77 by the end of the third quarter. Westbrook (19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists) had trouble against Dejounte Murray, who had a game high five steals. He also didn’t make any of the four three-pointers he shot in the game, and a couple of them airballed way off the mark.

“They got a lot of those basketballs,” Westbrook said postgame. “They beat us to them, got a lot of offensive rebounds. They just were playing with more sense of urgency than we did.”

Corey Brewer stayed consistent and put up 14 points and three assists, while Raymond Felton was the most impactful bench player, (but that’s not saying much) with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.

The Spurs caught back up to tie it at 85-85 in the fourth and make it a tight game for the last seven minutes, but the Thunder ultimately couldn’t get the job done in the end.

Oklahoma City will go back home to face the Denver Nuggets at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Every game in this last stretch of the regular season is so important and after tonight’s loss, tomorrow will be even more crucial.

Keys to the Game

Defensive stops: B+

San Antonio loves to whip passes around and get guys open, so the Thunder needed to slow that down and force them into some ISO situations. They forced 18 turnovers for 17 points on the other end, but still left people open every now and then and didn’t keep the Spurs off the glass.

Three point shooting: B-

Oklahoma City is best when they’re hot from beyond the arc, but tonight they shot 36.7 percent as a team. Carmelo Anthony made all three of his from downtown, however, and George looked better in this department than he has in a while.

Go out and compete: C

With the seeding in the Western Conference playoff race being so fluid, the Thunder can’t afford to lose many games, especially with their difficult remaining schedule. They should be taking every game as serious as a postseason game, but tonight they looked like they were dragging their feet for the most part. Lazy passes and a lack of hustle didn’t send the message that they needed to win.

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What will playoff Melo look like?

For the last several seasons, Carmelo Anthony has had to sit back and watch the playoffs unfold from the comfort of his own home, but this year will most likely be a different story. The Oklahoma City Thunder is currently sitting in the fourth spot in the Western Conference playoff race. Barring any sort of situation where the Thunder just decide to lay down and take naps at half court in their nine remaining games, they look destined to be playing into the postseason. This would be Anthony’s first time to make the playoffs since 2013, and it would give him an opportunity to prove that he’s still got it at 33 years old.

The lore of Olympic Melo has been hanging over this team since the day Anthony was traded back in September. Everyone knew he would be most efficient alongside Russell Westbrook and Paul George if he could resurrect his style of play from his time with Team USA, and that’s what they expected. When Oklahoma City struggled to capitalize on this new dynamic early in the season, we realized that was not going to happen anytime soon. That next-level Melo expectation quickly jumped up to the playoffs, and with that deadline approaching, we’re still wondering if he’ll be unleashed.

One of the most impressive basketball performances I’ve ever seen happened when Anthony scored 37 points in only 14 minutes in a 2012 Olympic game against Nigeria. He was absolutely unstoppable and shot 10-of-12 from beyond the arc. My extremely probable theory is that Nigeria somehow brought in Black Panther’s heart-shaped herb from Wakanda, and Anthony got a hold of it. The 2016 games in Rio were also a stage for Melo when a 31-point game on 52.4 percent shooting came at the expense of Australia.

Playing in the Olympics with a roster full of other superstars steered him away from his signature scoring form of holding the ball and staring into the defender’s soul before jab stepping him to death. He was able to do a lot less play making and a lot more play benefitting. Melo was on the receiving end of a good amount of drive and kick situations, which has now become his eventual place on the Thunder.

Melo has had to transition from being completely in control of the offense to being the third option for Oklahoma City. The man who once led the league in scoring currently averages 16.6 points per game, his lowest in his regular season career.

Another interesting factor of Melo’s new role is that he really doesn’t have any one aspect of his game that exclusively belongs to him. He could utilize various skills in his arsenal to get the job done in Denver and New York, but with the Thunder it seems like everyone else pretty much owns those skills.

Westbrook is in charge of the isolation game. Steven Adams handles business in the post. Even three-point shooting, which seems to be Melo’s most prevalent impact on this team, can often be taken over by George. This is why his part in the playoffs will probably be in the supporting cast rather than the main character.

He has proven to be a weapon from outside that can really add cushion to the score or keep the Thunder from being blown out. That will really come in handy against the Rockets or the Warriors and their high volume shooting. Oklahoma City has been picking up rhythm in the home stretch of the regular season, and Anthony has been shooting 45.5 percent from three over the last eight games ever since he sat out of the Portland game to rest on March 3rd.

“I feel really comfortable with him shooting the basketball from behind the line,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.

Even if Melo was doing nothing but standing there, he would still provide the floor spacing that the Thunder have struggled with in the past. He’s taking shots further out than he ever has in previous years, shooting from an average distance of 17.1 feet. He can get really hot really fast, and no self-respecting defender would leave a shooter as dangerous as Anthony out on the perimeter, so driving lanes will open up for everyone else.

“This is why we wanted to join forces and come together for these type of moments and to gear up for the postseason,” Anthony said last week.

If Melo does decide to turn it up a notch in the playoffs and spend more time with the ball, he could seriously benefit from Oklahoma City’s screen-heavy style of play. Switches will give him the mismatch advantage almost every time where he would have a relatively easy way to score or make opportunities for assists.

After 15 seasons in the league playing for three different teams, Anthony’s game has certainly evolved over time. He’s in a completely different situation now than he was the last time he went to the playoffs, but his goal remains the same. The guy wants to win and will do whatever he can to help this team make it far.

Will we get to see Olympic Melo this year? I doubt it. He’s probably fresh out of heart-shaped herbs, but he will definitely provide the supplemental components the Thunder need to make a serious run in the playoffs. No matter what that ends up looking like, he will surely be a key ingredient in Oklahoma City’s success.

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Thunder take out Kings 106-101

It wasn’t the prettiest game ever, but the Oklahoma City Thunder secured a 106-101 win over the Sacramento Kings on Military Appreciation Night at home.

The Thunder is now up to fourth in the standings for the Western conference playoff race. Tonight’s game puts them 11 games over .500 with a 40-29 record.

After Carmelo Anthony’s first three shots from downtown gave the Thunder its first nine points, the game quickly turned ugly for both teams. The first quarter ended with only a 19-16 lead for the Thunder, but the low scores definitely weren’t because of good defense.

The trend continued as both teams struggled to find a rhythm until Paul George finally started to heat up, scoring his first field goal beyond the arc with only 3:45 left in the second quarter. George finished the rest of the game with 21 points, six rebounds, and five assists, and he seemed to find his three-ball again after struggling since his lackluster performance at All-Star Weekend.

“My job is just to continue to keep going, continue to stay in attack mode,” George said after the game. “I’ll get in a rhythm here eventually where I’ll feel good on a nightly basis.”

Oklahoma City led 46-40 at halftime.

Corey Brewer also gained some momentum early and gathered 16 points, six rebounds, and two steals by the game’s final buzzer. His willingness to play his role and always be where he needs to be still seems to be a good fit for this team.

Steven Adams (six points, six rebounds) went toe-to-toe with his old friend Zach Randolph down low, but in the third quarter Randolph and Bogdan Bogdanovic committed what looked like an attempted mugging of Adams. Adams, who sprained his ankle in the last game against the Spurs, left the game shortly after with a left hip contusion. His status for the next game is unclear.

The Kings wouldn’t let go and mostly stayed within single digits, but Oklahoma City ended the night strong with Russell Westbrook getting his 99th career triple double (fourth most all-time) from 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Anthony put up 21 points and grabbed six rebounds and shot 5-of-7 from three-point land.

“They pack the paint,” Westbrook said. “Their game plan is to pack the paint, so we found open guys.”

The Thunder’s 44 percent three-point shooting and Sacramento’s struggles kept them in the game when they got sloppy (which was a lot of the time).

They will travel to Atlanta tomorrow to face off with the Hawks in the second night of this back-to-back. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Keys to the Game

Moving the ball: B

The ball was moving pretty good overall, but sometimes it got a little out of hand with several wild passes to no one. The first half had several bouts of waiting too long and unsuccessful drives, but the second half was more fluid and set up better shots. When they did swing the ball around, they spread the floor and dismantled the Kings defense.

Be aggressive on defense: B-

Defense was not a huge focus for the majority of the game. They got lucky in the beginning with Sacramento just not hitting their shots, but applied the pressure more towards crunch time. There weren’t very many deflections and only a couple steals from Brewer, but the Thunder was still able to protect the rim, especially in the fourth quarter.

Simply show up: A-

Oklahoma City came to play except for a couple stretches in the beginning and the middle. They took this team seriously and put forth a lot of effort to make sure they didn’t let the win slip by.

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Ranking Westbrook’s six best game winners

The lights are beaming down on the court. The fans are holding their breath. A quick check of the scoreboard says there’s only enough time for one shot. This moment needs a hero.

Sounds like a job for one man: Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook consistently goes pedal to the floor from start to finish, and it shows in his willingness and confidence to take the deciding shot when the time comes. In the last 10 seconds of any given game, he has hit seven three-point shots to take the lead or tie over the last two seasons.

To celebrate this clutch monster, here’s a ranking of Russ’s best game winners when all eyes were on him.

If you disagree, @ThunderDigest on twitter or FB.com/ThunderDigest for your picks!

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