Author - Brady Trantham

OKC drops Game 2 102-95

This game had the makings of an exciting fourth quarter showdown between some of the NBA’s best athletes. The problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder was that only Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz were the only ones to make plays down the stretch.

After a 19-0 run to take the lead late in the third quarter, Russell Westbrook and company looked prime to steal a game at home that they had frankly been outplayed in.

Then Donovan Mitchell happened once again.

The “rookie” entered the fourth with 15 points, noticeably not as explosive as he was in Game 1. With a few days of dealing with a minor toe injury, Mitchell was able to find his feet late and drop 13 points in the final quarter.

On the other side, Westbrook, who finished with 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting, 13 assists and eight rebounds, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined to go 0-for-14 in the fourth. Not the performance you want out of your stars in a tight playoff series.

“We just missed shots,” Westbrook said in the postgame. “We got the looks we wanted, they just didn’t fall.”

“I don’t really know what happened or have any excuses as to why we missed so many,” Anthony added. “Fourth quarter, we just didn’t shoot the ball well.”

Much of that is true, but a substantial amount of credit needs to go to the Jazz defense. In Game 1, “Playoff P” stole the show, scoring 36 points on 8-for-11 shooting from three.

After that performance, Mitchell was very precise as to what his wishes were for Game 2.

“I hope he doesn’t go 8-for-11 again,” Mitchell said afterwards.

Tonight was a much different story. George went 6-for-21 from the field, including 4-of-12 from three. “Playoff P” played like “Post All-Star Break P.”

Obviously a large emphasis was put on making George have a difficult night. Utah did the things necessary to make it happen. It was all the more impressive considering George’s first two made threes were and-1 opportunities.

“I think the way we locked in defensively,” Mitchell said after Game 2. “These two (Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert) really played well, and we came ready to play and took turns on it.”

Much of the blame will rest upon the Thunder’s inability to keep the Jazz off the offensive glass. A big turning point came at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter which saw Steven Adams pick up his second foul. After going to the bench, Favors and company went to work.

The Jazz finished with 15 offensive boards but grabbed seven of those in the 12 minute absence of Adams. It snowballed from there. Gobert grabbed five offensive boards and Favors finished with eight.

“We felt like Derrick offensively was really good in Game 1,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said after the game. “He was really good on the offensive glass during that run for sure.”

Utah opened the game on a 9-0 run. After a Billy Donovan timeout, OKC responded with a 9-0 run of their own. With the 19-0 run by the Thunder in the third, and the Jazz 14-3 run to close the third and begin the fourth, it is obvious both teams struggle with maintaining their consistency.

With the series tied 1-1, the Thunder look to respond on Saturday night in Salt Lake City. In the last two seasons, Oklahoma City is 2-2 at Utah. Game 3 tips off at 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 21 on ESPN.

Three Keys to the Game

Paint scoring: F

OKC finished with 40 points but surrendered 50 to Utah. It is apparent that Steven Adams is dealing with some discomfort. Billy Donovan was not willing to say he is injured but that all players “are not 100 percent at this point in the year.” With Adams in foul trouble, the Thunder’s small lineup was no match for the combined efforts of Gobert and Favors

Rebounding: F

This was the main culprit of tonight’s loss.

Share the ball: B

There were moments of great ball movement. The problem was most of it occurred during the runs the Thunder went on. In the middle of said runs, Oklahoma City would settle for bad shots, and stagnant in the half court.

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George shreds Utah as Thunder take Game 1

“You haven’t heard of Playoff P,” Paul George asked yesterday in practice.

Some scoffed at that statement. Rightfully so considering George’s play since the All-Star break. Others lumped this into the long list of statements this wildly inconsistent Oklahoma City Thunder team has said since being formed in the offseason.

Well “Playoff P” showed up.

George was Mt. Vesuvius to the Utah Jazz’ Pompeii all evening as Oklahoma City beat Utah 116-108. He finished with 36 points on a ridiculous 13-for-20, including 8-for-11 from three. Step-back threes, in-rhythm shots and some silly heat checks were all falling for the All-Star forward.

“You tip your hat to guys that make shots like that,” Utah Jazz coach Quinn Snyder said during the postgame. “He’s a great player, and when you’ve got a guy like that, you’ve just got to do the best you can.”

Utah tried multiple coverages and defenders on George. The Jazz’ bread and butter drop defensive coverage allowed George to find openings early and catch fire. Then Utah resorted to trapping him when he refused to miss a shot, but he was able to make pristine passes to open shooters.

The Jazz simply had no answer.

“It was as big as the fish I posted (on his Instagram),” George said when asked how big the basket seemed all evening.

Despite this, the Thunder could not pull away and bury Utah. The paint was walled off thanks to the defensive exploits of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert. Oklahoma City finished with 32 points in the paint but didn’t crack 20 until late in the third quarter.

“I hope he doesn’t go 8-for-11 from three next game,” Donovan Mitchell said. The exciting rookie finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

An early 16-4 start for the Jazz brought on feelings of anxiety throughout the packed Chesapeake Energy Arena. Easy Jazz buckets and George and Carmelo Anthony’s combined 0-for-4 start was all too a familiar scene.

Then the Thunder got rolling. A 12-0 run after the initial timeout in the game sparked the team and the crowd. From then it was the “Playoff P” show. Westbrook had the offense rolling and the Thunder handled their 5th-seeded opponent rather well.

The middle of the game was an onslaught of Thunder jumpers falling and pesky defense being played by guys like Anthony and Corey Brewer.

The end of the game also brought back memories of late-collapses. A comfortable Thunder lead dwindled into single digits with under a minute to go in the game. Alec Burks exploded off the bench for 10 points in two quick minutes.

“Obviously we need to do a better job collectively closing as a group,” Billy Donovan said. “Game 2 will be tougher.”

With that, Oklahoma City takes a 1-0 advantage in the series. Westbrook wasn’t overly impressed with the win, taking the route of “we did what we were supposed to do.”

“We didn’t do anything special,” Westbrook said at the podium. “We won one game at home. Game 2 is Wednesday.”

Oklahoma City host the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on NBATV or on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Our own Brady Trantham will be in arena for that one.

Three Keys to the Game

Paint scoring: C

The Thunder were forced away from the paint all evening. Westbrook didn’t get going downhill towards the basket, rather opting for his back-to-the-basket turn-around jumpers — which were falling. Finishing with 32 points in the paint is nothing to sneeze at, this is what Utah does.

Rebounding: A

Anytime you can out-rebound the Utah Jazz you’re doing soemthing right. Adams had his hands full with Gobert but was able to hold his own. Westbrook finished with 13 boards while the trio of Adams, Anthony and George each registered seven.

Share the ball: B

The Thunder mainly relied on George hitting tough shots. When the ball was moving, the passes were crisp. Anthony in particular was swinging the ball around getting OKC better looks. Westbrook finished with eight dimes.

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Thunder beat down Grizzlies as Westbrook makes history

Many saw the final game of the 2017-18 regular season for the Oklahoma City Thunder as a foregone conclusion.

They had already proven to be mentally tough by winning on the road in Houston and Miami and earning a spot in the playoffs. A matchup with the lowly Memphis Grizzlies had little to do with this game’s pregame hype.

That of course rested with the will-he/wont-he Russell Westbrook grab those 16 rebounds to clinch averaging a triple-double for the second consecutive season. A feat no other player has ever accomplished.

“It’s amazing,” Billy Donovan said afterwards. “Last year everyone tracked it and this year no one did. It just speaks to how great of a player he is.”

The reigning MVP did not disappoint as the Oklahoma City Thunder used his ability to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 137-123 on Wednesday night.

“It’s an unbelievable blessing,” Westbrook said in the locker room. “To have teammates that support me, and I support them. To succeed at a high level like this. It’s special.”

Westbrook finished with a career-high 20 rebounds, 19 assists and a meager six points. There was some fair share of conceding by Westbrook’s teammates to allow their point guard to gobble up a rebound or two. But this was a game where Westbrook’s rebounds led to explosive outlet-to-fastbreak points for Oklahoma City.

“He (Westbrook) really surveys the floor well,” Donovan said. “When our team is shooting the ball like that, he tries to read the game to the best of his ability and it resulted in some easy points.”

With the Thunder up 27 at halftime and Westbrook only five rebounds away from the 16th board, everything seemed to be going according to plan. A few minutes into the third quarter Westbrook grabbed rebound number 16 to a loud Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd, and then it seemed Oklahoma City stopped playing focused.

“We didn’t do a great job,” Donovan said. “But we took care of business when we had to.”

Memphis went on to outscore the Thunder 39-28 in the third quarter. The deficit was cut to nine. We have all seen this movie before.

But it ended up being Oklahoma City’s night. A Terrance Ferguson three followed by two Raymond Felton buckets kept the Grizzlies from mounting a serious comeback and the Thunder were able to leave with a victory.

Lost in all this was the fact that Paul George decided not to miss a shot for most of this game. The recently struggling George dropped 40 points on 13-of-20 shooting (8-of-14 from 3) and looked like the player prior to the All-Star break.

The Thunder now know their foe in the playoffs — the Utah Jazz. Currently, the Jazz are playing Portland on the road. Depending on that game will determine whether the first playoff game will be in Oklahoma City or not.

Three Keys to the Game

Bench: A

40 points is great any night. Ferguson was great from three, dropping 12 points. Jerami Grant did his usual solid stuff. Felton was a welcome addition.

Efficiency is key: A

Oklahoma City shot over 55 percent for the game. They scored a season high 77 points at half. All this without their leading scorer attempting to score much.

Rebound: A

For obvious reasons. 

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Russ does his thing, but OKC falls 111-107 to GSW

In a game that the Oklahoma City Thunder desperately needed in order to further secure a playoff spot, Russell Westbrook did all that he could in order to help the cause.

Sadly for the Thunder as Oklahoma City lost 111-107. There was little efficiency from the other two stars, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony — who combined to shoot 9-of-35 and score 32 points. You add the minimal production from the bench — 14 points — and you find yourself seeing the Thunder drop another pivotal game.

“Those are shots we want,” Anthony said in the postgame. “We want those opportunities, they just haven’t been falling. We need to do a better job.”

Don’t ask Westbrook if there are things that still need to be tinkered or figured out however.

“We figured it out,” Westbrook said in the locker room afterwards. “We’re good. As long as we’re good in this locker room, it really don’t matter.”

Westbrook was sensation throughout but achieved MVP form in the third quarter, where he scored 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He finished with 44 points, six assists and 16 rebounds.

Oklahoma City needed every bit during the third quarter too.

The Thunder came out firing on all cylinders in the first quarter until Durant got the ball rolling with eight straight points to close out the first. From there the Warriors ran their offense beautifully and stretched their lead to 10, a lead they carried into the third until Westbrook came alive.

The Golden State Warriors were already shorthanded coming into tonight with the injury to Steph Curry. They only went 10 deep and forced Steve Kerr to reach into the bench and use Damian Jones to counter the physicality of Steven Adams (seven points and 13 rebounds).

“We knew we were shorthanded coming into tonight,” Kerr said after the game. “But I thought we played well against a great team. It’s certainly tough going against guys like Russ and Adams even at full strength.”

The Thunder and Warriors traded buckets in the final quarter but some untimely misses from George and Anthony ultimately doomed any chance for Oklahoma City to secure a win. Durant, who was abysmal from beyond the arc (2-of-9), did most of his damage from the free throw line, where he sank all 14 shots. In the end, the Thunder could not get over the hump.

The loss moves to the sixth seed where they only hold a half-game lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves. For Oklahoma City, they must win two more games to reach the postseason.

Oklahoma City now takes their journey on the road to play the Houston Rockets on Saturday night on ABC. This will be the 10th of 11 straight games against teams .500 or better. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Three Keys to the Game

Force turnovers: D

In the two wins over the Warriors, the Thunder forced 22 and 25 turnovers respectively. Tonight they only forced 13. Against an injured Warriors team playing with 10 guys is more than disappointing.

Make your free throws: C

OKC sank 28 of their 37 free throws. Not bad considering the season, but not well when you lose a game decided by a few possessions. Adams and Corey Brewer combined to go 2-of-8 in a game the Thunder lost by four.

OK3: C

Westbrook alone keeps this from being an F. His 44 points gave the Thunder a chance, but George’s and Anthony’s lack of shooting continues to haunt Oklahoma City in tight ball games.

 

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Why Not? charity bowl event shows another side of Russ

By now you are all familiar with the ferociousness that is Russell Westbrook the basketball player. The intimidating, at times abrasive supernova of an NBA point guard.

But like all professional athletes, he is a human being as well.

The human side of Westbrook is a fascinating case study in its own right. His history prior to the NBA is well-known to an extent — nearly missing out on a basketball scholarship out of high school, considered a math scholarship to Stanford prior to his ultimate destination at UCLA for basketball.

Since his entry into the league in 2008, Westbrook’s elevation into the upper-echelon of the NBA has given him a platform to give back to the community.

He famously gave the Kia he won as the 2015 All-Star Game MVP to an Oklahoma City single-mother. His Why Not? Foundation has set up multiple reading rooms across Oklahoma City public schools in an attempt to encourage reading amongst children.

Yesterday’s event marked the eighth Why Not? Bowl. A time where Westbrook is joined by his family, teammates, coaches and other Why Not? Foundation employees can sit back, relax and have fun with the accomplishments of Why Not? by enjoying some bowling.

From Why Not?:

This event will celebrate the foundation’s accomplishments including the Russell’s Reading Room initiative. The Russell Westbrook Why Not? Foundation is dedicated to support community based education and family service programs while encouraging youth to believe in themselves. The foundation strives to empower children to ask “Why Not?” when told they cannot succeed or when faced with adversity

The entire Oklahoma City Thunder team — minus Patrick Patterson and Corey Brewer — attended along with Westbrook’s wife, Nina, his son Noah, brother Raynard and his parents.

Westbrook admitted that when he was originally drafted by Oklahoma City (technically Seattle during the draft) he didn’t have much to do.

“When I first got here I didn’t have much to do,” Westbrook said during a brief media scrum. “I needed to find a hobby and I had never bowled before.”

Cred: Zach Beeker

After watching Westbrook bowl for an evening, it is safe to say he has made vast improvements in his game. The always confident Westbrook made everyone very aware who the best bowler on the team, and in his own family, was.

Among the sights that stood out — none other than the seven-foot mammoth that is Steven Adams.

Adams, in a bowling alley that was rather warm, continued to wear his camouflage rain jacket over his Why Not? shirt. He also chose to deny bowling shoes for his orange custom slide flip-flops with a cartoon face of Adams on them.

Westbrook doesn’t believe he could pull off bowling in slides like Adams.

“Steven can do whatever he wants. Flip-flops, shoes without socks,” Westbrook said. “I’m just thankful he is here and being apart of the night.”

It was a nice breath of fresh air for a team currently fighting for playoff positioning. With three days off before their trip to San Antonio on Thursday night, Westbrook and his teammates were able to enjoy an evening celebrating the reigning MVP’s charity work.

Cred: Zach Beeker

For more information on Westbrook’s Why Not? foundation, click here

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Thunder roars in the 4th, beat the Heat 105-99

It was tough for the Oklahoma City Thunder offense the entire evening.

Two days after the collapse in against the Celtics, the Thunder appeared to be in a bit of a Boston hangover. Both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City obliged to shoot in the mid-thirties percentage from the floor. Needless to say, the game was a hard watch.

That is save for animal-lover, Steven Adams.

The seven-footer was sensational in about every facet of basketball. Finishing with a double-double, 24 points and 13 rebounds, Adams kept the sluggish Thunder offense above water throughout.

“Steven had a size-advantage all night,” head coach Billy Donovan said in the post game. “I felt that the matchups called for him to have a big game. Russell (Westbrook) didn’t take too many shots in the first half and it allowed Steven to have a lot of opportunities.”

It was the second game in the last three that Adams had a big night offensively — the most recent in the win against the Toronto Raptors where he scored 25 points.

“Steve-o is underrated,” Paul George said in the post game. “When we need an easy bucket or a maybe a breath on offense, Steven is always there for us.”

If not for the Thunder’s plot twist of hitting their free throws in the first half, Oklahoma City may have been in danger of being behind for the entire half. The Thunder shot 12-13 from the charity stripe despite shooting 34.4 percent.

The Heat were able to find some productivity on offense late in the third quarter. Behind James Johnson’s 23 points and Goran Dragic’s 20 points, Miami gained a slight lead heading into the fourth.

“I knew it was going to be a hard game for us,” Donovan said. “Erik (Spoelstra) does a fantastic job and our guys had a few days off after a disappointment in Boston.”

All this was due in large part to George and Carmelo Anthony shooting a combined 5-of-24 and finishing with 18 points.

Then Raymond Felton did that thing where he owns the beginning of the fourth quarter inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

With the Thunder down 66-64 to begin the fourth, Felton opened up with a three. He then followed that shot off with five points, capped off by a drive and layup and-one against Dwyane Wade. It was an 8-0 Thunder run and it fueled the Oklahoma City offense until the final buzzer.

Westbrook took it from there.

“I just took what the defense gave me,” Westbrook said in the locker room. “It’s as simple as that.”

The reigning MVP scored 17 points to close out the Heat and pick up a much needed win. He finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Oklahoma City crushed the Heat in the fourth, outscoring the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference 41-33.

In addition the the scoring exploits of Felton, the Thunder bench had a much-welcomed solid game. The reserves combined for 30 points and were a combined +29 in the +/-.

The Thunder now move to 44-30, currently tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the fourth seed.

Oklahoma City will host the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday evening. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. in a crucial Northwest Divisional showdown.

Keys to the Game

Transition: A+

The Thunder pushed transition and scored 18 points on the break. It’s the recipe for a Thunder victory. Oklahoma City needed to find their way to basket on the break and it worked well tonight.

Bench Production: A+

The bench scored 30 points tonight and more importantly they were a combined plus-36 tonight against the Heat bench. Oklahoma City’s bench has been lackluster all season but really shined tonight. Raymond Felton scored 10 points to lead the Thunder bench.

Rebound: A+

Oklahoma City’s rebounding skills were stellar tonight. Steven Adams and Russell Westbrook combined for 25 of Oklahoma City’s 51 rebounds. The Thunder improve to 31-10 when they out rebound their opponent on the season. The Thunder out rebounded the Heat 51-41 tonight.

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OKC falls late in Washington 102-96

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s (30-21) NBA leading eight game winning streak came to an end tonight in Washington D.C. as the Wizards (28-22) made plays in the end to win 102-96.

Russell Westbrook had an up-and-down game which saw the reigning MVP record a flagrant foul, a technical foul and shoot 28 percent from the floor. With the Thunder’s leader having an inconsistent night, the burden fell on Paul George to pick up the slack.

The newest addition to the 2018 All-Star Game did not disappoint. George was magnificent in the first half, scoring 28 points on 8-12 shooting. Whether it was spot-up shooting, handling the basketball or defending, George kept Oklahoma City afloat after a sluggish start.

Sadly, that was going to be all.

George only attempted two shots after halftime and zero in the fourth. The Thunder offense went stagnant late when Oklahoma City held a two-possession lead under four minutes. Carmelo Anthony (19 points on 7-of-21 shooting) and Westbrook couldn’t get to the line or make a shot late.

“I thought the difference in the game was that we didn’t execute well down the stretch,” Billy Donovan said in the postgame. “We just didn’t have very good quality of possessions and it got us in the end.”

The Wizards were playing without All-Star John Wall who underwent a knee scope procedure today. Bradley Beal scored 21 points and Otto Porter, Jr. added 25.

Oklahoma City was bad from deep, finishing the game 9-for-32 from beyond the arc.

The Thunder turned the ball over 20 times and only notched 19 assists. The Wizards took care of the ball, only surrendering the ball 12 times and adding 27 assists.

“We turned the ball over too much,” Donovan added. “Overall we just didn’t execute well.”

It was an uphill battle from the start. The Wizards hit their first four three pointers in the first quarter and led by as many as nine. It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that the Thunder were able to tie or take the lead. From then, both teams would go on small mini-runs.

Limit Threes A

The Wizards hit their first four shots from deep but only made three the rest of the game. Forcing their opponent to 28 percent is nothing to sneeze at. Josh Huestis, George and Jerami Grant did a fantastic job of closing out and forcing the Wizards into tough shots.

Bench B

The Wizards won the bench battle 23-20 but Oklahoma City’s bench was greatly hindered by Raymond Felton having a bad shooting night. Felton was 0-for-4 and finished with four points and three assists. Huestis, who played great defense for most of the night, had a bad ending to the game where he committed a turnover and fouled the ball-handler in the bonus. From there, Washington never looked back.

Rebound A

OKC won the battle on the boards, notching 52 boards and 14 offensive rebounds — Steven Adams had six offensive boards. The Thunder lost this game due to poor offense late, turnovers and some inconsistent officiating. Rebounding, perimeter defense and bench production had little to do with it.

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Why Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is important for Oklahoma

Today Americans remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We will remember his fight, his dream, his tragedy. Today we will also be dazzled, awed and entertained by the athletic exploits of fantastic NBA players like Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

While we sit cheering in the Chesapeake Energy Arena, or in our own homes with eyes glued to the TV screen, the importance of today must not be forgotten.

The life and works of Dr. King have been romanticized and ingrained into our cultural psyche so much that you would be hard pressed to meet someone who has not heard the words, “I have a dream…” By now, these words are as American as “Oh, say can you see,” or Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father.

So, on this national holiday commemorating solidarity, tragedy, and civil rights, what does basketball have to do with any of it? More specifically, why–in Oklahoma–is it important that basketball be played today?

Let me first commit the writing sin of putting myself in the article. If you’ve heard our ‘Peake & Roll Podcast, you know my story. I have lived all over the map due to being an Air Force brat, and have been fortunate to meet and see many different people and places. I always knew however, no matter where I was in the world, that Oklahoma was my home.

With that knowledge came some hard truths, some factual and others downright ignorant.

Yes, Oklahoma is sometimes referred to as a “fly-over” state. It lies in the middle of the country with no exotic beaches, no media-heavy metropolises, no ultra-desirable climate bringing outsiders in droves. Oklahoma is also, according to the 2010 U.S Census, 72 percent white. Having been recognized as a state post-Civil War, I once thought–as many people I know still do–that Oklahoma is somehow only proxy or tangential to the major Civil Rights events.

It is true that the history of Civil Rights in Oklahoma is not as well-known as monumental events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the murder of Emmett Till. Even to a native like me, some of these historical events that involved the harsh and brutal treatment of black men, women, and children in Oklahoma are not well-known. But that does not mean they did not happen, or that it is acceptable to remain ignorant of them. King died for his dream. The least we can do is live with his reality.

I encourage many of you to check out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s book Writings on the Wall.

In the book, Abdul-Jabbar quotes The History Boys, his favorite movie. Though the author and former NBA player was not referring to MLK day, his chosen quote seems particularly apt for this day as well:

..there is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it.”

Some may view Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a date on the calendar. An extra day off work. A day to sit and enjoy a game. A reminder of the poor treatment of black-Americans in other states years ago. A day where we try to forget the terrible past in a feeble attempt to move forward.

Contrary to my ignorance earlier in life, Oklahoma has a rich history of Civil Rights events. Both tragedies and important wins. Let’s not forget them.

1921: the Tulsa Race Massacr. A deplorable mark on our state’s history that incurred the murder of as many as 300 Tulsans and left over 10,000 homeless, according to the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, OK.

1958: a sit-in organized by a local school teacher named Clara Luper at the Katz Drug Store at 200 W Main in Oklahoma City saw 13 of her school children courageously endure verbal threats, slurs and physical attacks in a non-violent act of protest. After two days of alternating turns at the counter, an employee finally served a hamburger to one of the kids, which opened the door for desegregation.

1961: the Dowell v. School Board of Oklahoma City Public Schools lawsuit in which Alphonso Dowell took legal action to allow his son, Robert, to attend Northeast High School.

These are but three examples. However, most of these I did not learn of through schools or any official histories. What else is there? How can we know? There are certainly countless testimonies of experiences from black Oklahomans that have been forgotten or kept silent. It is important to acknowledge those voices with Oklahoman kindness and compassion, lest we forget.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day does not solely apply to the South. It is not exclusive to large, urban areas like Chicago, New York City or Los Angeles. It is an American holiday that applies to Americans, no matter the color of your skin or your cultural background. It applies to Oklahoma and Oklahomans, too.

What the NBA does by playing games on this day is bring awareness. This is a league that is populated by 74 percent black players, and 82 percent players of color according to the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports. Many of whom have experienced prejudice in both direct and more subtle ways. While basketball is entertainment for fans, it is important to remember that is a league played by human beings with real experiences.

I challenge you to think.

Read the state’s local history and engage with your neighbors and fellow Thunder fans. Help bring about a better understanding of the state’s past with its black citizens and residents of color so that future generations can be spared the ignorance many of us grew up with today and never repeat these tragedies.

Look no further than NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s comments in a recent piece fromESPN. “Sports continue to be a unique opportunity to unite people, and it is a place where there is a rare sense of equality,” Silver said speaking to reporters at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, “The 50th anniversary of King’s death is an impetus to continue pushing forward.”

Lastly, this piece is not here to shame anyone.

No one should look to the past in shame, for if you categorize your community’s history as such it could prove difficult to push forward, improve and become a better person/community as a result. This includes whites, blacks… simply Oklahomans.

By commemorating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, in addition to enjoying the Thunder take on the Sacramento Kings, let us not forget that there is still work to be done by all of us.

Basketball has brought us together. Now let’s take the home court advantage and become a better people as a result.

 

 

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Thunder crumble in 2nd 104-88 to Minnesota

For the third game in a row and the second night of a back-to-back, the Oklahoma City Thunder (22-20) failed to make the plays necessary to win in the second half.

After losing by 11 to Portland on Tuesday, the Thunder stumbled on the road in Minnesota (27-16) by 16, 104-88. The second half woes that Oklahoma City was able to overcome in December seem to be coming back to haunt the team this month.

The Thunder ran even with the Timberwolves in the first half, tying the game at 47 after being down 12-2 early in the 1st quarter. The 3rd quarter saw the same Oklahoma City team from the previous night, outscored 34-25 by the Trailblazers, being outscored 29 to 18 to open the second half. Minnesota never looked back.

Russell Westbrook finished with 38 points, on 15-of-23 shooting, 10 rebounds and only five assists. The reigning MVP, who left the arena prior to media responsibilities the previous night, played with obvious frustration and didn’t look for teammates as often as he has been since the beginning of December.

Paul George logged 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting, while Carmelo Anthony scored 15 points.

Karl Anthony-Towns, who has been woeful in his attempt to defend Thunder center Steven Adams did a fantastic job in the paint, stifling the New Zealand big by scoring 18 points and holding his counter part to eight.

“We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well,” Billy Donovan said. “At the start of the game, we started 1-for-7 and we had good looks, we just dug ourselves a whole. We fought our way back but couldn’t sustain in the second half.”

Jimmy Butler was sensational with 26 points, seven rebounds, eight assists to go along with four steals and two blocks. Oklahoma City, who is still missing defensive stopper Andre Roberson, continues their bad stretch of defensive performances.

Like Tuesday night, there wasn’t anything in particular that stuck out individually that led to such a dominating loss. Regardless, the Thunder still lost, and lost badly. After finishing December 12-5, the momentum gained has seemed to run out. Oklahoma City will need to seriously reevaluate their team defense.

The Thunder were outscored 57-41 in the second half after scratching and clawing to simply tie the game at the half. Of course, the second night of a back-to-back will yield sloppy results at times, but the Thunder will be preparing for their two-day rest before their match with Charlotte frustrated.

Other than the big three, Oklahoma City’s bench scored 11 points and did little to help the starters. Terrance Ferguson, filling in for Roberson, added only three points.

Saturday’s game against Charlotte becomes more important with each loss dating back to the Phoenix disaster. The Thunder currently sit at seventh in the Western Conference. They will need to get back on track quick.

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With more opportunities, Abrines has yet to take next step

Alex Abrines has long been a favored piece of the Oklahoma City Thunder and when the Thunder’s General Manager Sam Presti selected the promising Spanish shooter in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Thunder believed they had found their dazzling guard in the vein of a Manu Ginobli. Oklahoma City’s dealings with Abrines, or lack thereof, prove as much.

There have been opportunities to move Abrines over the years. With the NBA evolving to a more perimeter based game, even raw, stashed talents like Abrines could have been an intriguing bargaining chip for most GM’s. Still the Thunder remained committed to their pick.

Their commitment and strong belief in the young guard may be starting to show some cracks.

With Tuesday night’s game against the Portland Trailblazers signaling the numerical halfway point of the regular season, Abrines’ lack of progress has raised some questions among Thunder fans on if the shooting specialist has a future with the franchise.

It is no newsflash that second year players will play more than they did in their rookie campaigns. Abrines is no different. However, with the extra opportunities, the positive return has yet to come for the Spanish guard.

In 40 games thus far, Abrines has logged a total of 567 minutes and shot 39 percent from the floor (38 percent from three). Compare that to his first 40 games last season where Abrines played nearly 100 less minutes (477 minutes) and shot 42 percent from the floor and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

Abrines actually had more field goal attempts in those first 40 games of 2016-17 (147 attempts) than this season where he has shot 134 times. His three point attempts are down this season from last, 116-94.

Billy Donovan has also trusted Abrines more so than in his first year. In the 69 games, the first 40 last season and this entire year, Abrines saw the floor for 25-plus minutes only eight times. Six of those opportunities have come this year. Most notably his career-high 42 minutes logged against the Memphis Grizzlies, which also saw him drop a career-best 20 points.

Comparing these two sample sizes draws the conclusion that with more trust and opportunities, Abrines has been unable to take that next step in his development.

Even if you stretch out the sample size to his entire career with Oklahoma City, Abrines only logged 25-plus minutes five more times after the 40 game mark last year. Still below his total in 2017-18.

Of course, it is important to remember that Abrines did not have a true preseason as he was dealing with an injury.

“It’s been hard for Alex,” Donovan said. “I don’t think he’s in rhythm. Physically, he’s still trying to get back to where he was maybe a year ago. I think for people that watched him play last year, they can see that he’s not really physically the same level he was at.”

While Donovan is right to an extent, the opportunities have been plentiful for Abrines. With a roster that now includes Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and subsequent role changes for the rest of the team, the numerical opportunities are also mirrored by the “open-look” opportunities caused by having better teammates.

With higher team expectations, and a desperate need for scoring off the bench, at some point Abrines has to be better.

This is all paramount as the Feb. 8 trade deadline looms large. Presti and the Thunder have traditionally been very active as a franchise. While Abrines was always an untouchable in trade scenarios in the past, with those higher expectations, that tag has been removed by some.

It will be interesting to see how active Oklahoma City is for the deadline.

With a stacked roster, the Thunder have historically been reluctant to make any big moves via trade. The Finals team in 2011-12 was silent on the trade deadline, opting to add veteran free-agent Derek Fisher. The 60-win team the following year saw a similar course of action. Kevin Durant’s final year also saw the Thunder go the veteran free agent route.

The rosters that needed help due to youth or injury, the 2010-11 squad, 2014-15 and last year’s team, all saw the Thunder make big moves via trade, Kendrick Perkins, Dion Waiters/Enes Kanter and Taj Gibson/Doug McDermott respectively.

How Presti sees and foresees this roster will be the deciding factor. It has been reported that the Thunder will not seek to move Paul George at the deadline which opens the door for other trade scenarios, maybe some involving Abrines.

While the franchise still values Abrines and has high hopes for the Euro guard, it is undeniable that year two has been a disappointment for a plethora of reasons. Higher expectations and a lack of quick development may force Presti’s hand. Specifically, that opportunity will be there if a trade is desired.

There is still plenty of time for Abrines to bounce back. Donovan is right in that with more consistency, Abrines can bounce back and perhaps take that leap in development that many foresaw. Critiquing his game and future with the added consistency would also be more fair.

“I think he is moving in the right direction,” Donovan said during the Trailblazers pregame. “Coming off the road trip, he hasn’t been able to practice much but we will see how the game goes from here.”

The future with a talented roster, higher expectations and the ever active Sam Presti as GM open the door for many possibilities. Some that may include Abrines.

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