Author - Parker Burnett - Editor

Thunder fall in NOLA 118-114

Oklahoma City’s Big Three scored 65 points but it wasn’t enough to overcome Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night. Oklahoma City fell 118-114 inside the Smoothie King Center.

The Thunder fall to third in the Western Conference with the loss. Denver and Golden State remain ahead of Oklahoma by percentage points. The Thunder are now 17-9 on the season.

The Oklahoma City Thunder outshot the Pelicans from the field and 3-point line, Paul George had a double-double, four different players had 20 points or more, and the bench outscored New Orleans 36-18—but in spite of all that, it was the Pelicans who walked away with a win.

New Orleans needed only four made three’s to beat the Thunder and that’s because the Pelicans did most of its damage inside the paint. Oklahoma City couldn’t keep the Pelicans out of the lane, leading to New Orleans owning a 74-48 advantage in the paint. Anthony Davis did most of the work, dropping 44 points on 16-of-32 shooting from the field. Davis scored 24 of his points with Steven Adams as his primary defender. Davis went 12-of-16 in the restricted area against the Thunder.

Though, Thunder fans are more of the side where if Russell Westbrook took 32 shots and the Thunder won, he’d be hearing it from the cheap seats that he took too many shots. That’s not what we heard on the ESPN broadcast on Wednesday night about Davis.

The Pelicans not only dominated the paint, but they dominated the glass thanks to Davis and Julius Randle. With the two New Orleans big men going to work on the boards, they were able to keep possessions alive that led to costly second-chance points. As a team, the Thunder finished with 39 rebounds. Davis and Randle combined for 30 boards between the two. The Pelicans finished with 56 as a team.

If the points in the paint and the ineffective rebounding weren’t enough, the Thunder continued their shooting woes at the free throw line. The Thunder currently ranks 27th in the league at the charity stripe, shooting 71.2 percent as  team. Wednesday night against the Pelicans, Oklahoma City shot 63 percent, making only 17 of its 27 attempts. The Pelicans finished 24-of-30, hitting 80 percent from the free throw line.

Yet, despite how underwhelming the Thunder played for the majority of the game, the Pelicans could never quite shut the door. With two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Thunder down seven, Oklahoma City’s defense came up big. Russell Westbrook forced two turnovers on back-to-back possessions that led to back-to-back buckets for the Thunder, giving Oklahoma City hope down two points.

It would be as close as the Thunder would get, as Oklahoma City would walk away with empty possessions on its final two trips, despite getting stops and despite Randle missing a pair of free throws with 10.1 seconds left to give the Thunder another shot.

Westbrook drove the lane on the Thunder’s final possession before kicking it out to Alex Abrines for the win, who clanged it off the front of the rim.

On a night where so many things went wrong for the Thunder, it wasn’t all terrible. Paul George continued to make a case for his name to be included in the MVP discussion, dropping his ninth double-double of the season, scoring 25 points while adding in 11 rebounds and five assists. Dennis Schröder provided yet another spark off the bench, delivering 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting, 4-of-11 from deep. Steven Adams, who was nearly perfect in the first half, finished with 20 points and six rebounds. As nice as all these things are, the Thunder had a chance to win a game that it shouldn’t have lost. The schedule is only going to get harder from here. In fact, it’s the hardest remaining schedule in the league. It’s hard to swallow games like these, especially when the Pelicans were down a few starters.

But much like the Chicago loss last week, this is one you put in the rearview and move on. The Thunder travel to Denver this Friday to play the Nuggets. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m.

Keys to the Game

Limit Davis: F

Can you really limit Davis? Nah. However, you shouldn’t be giving up 44 points to the big man with the likes of Steven Adams and Co. around. Davis seems to always have a big game against the Thunder. Even if you give up 35 to him, the Thunder win this game convincingly.

Smart Shooting: D

Oklahoma City took a season high 42 three-pointers. They relied on way too many in the fourth and in the end, it was their undoing. Oklahoma City has to be smarter about their shot attempts. They seemed to be scared of attacking the paint and settled for contested threes, especially in the second half.

Good Russ: D

Russell Westbrook struggled from the free throw line (2-of-5) and turned it over a lot (seven times to be exact). While he still had a nice line (20-6-7), he took bad shots and put the Thunder in precarious situations. It’s going to happen from time to time. We’ve come to expect this. Oklahoma City just needs it to start being more consistent. We haven’t seen MVP Russ too often this season. We miss that guy.

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Thunder cruise past Knicks 128-103

Steven Adams corralled the defensive rebound before firing a full-court pass to Patrick Patterson in front of the Knicks bench. Patterson didn’t think twice as he heaved the ball into the air for a trailing Paul George, who then slammed it home before hanging on the rim for a few extra seconds.

For the first time in what feels like an eternity, the Thunder are having fun again.

Oklahoma City cruised past the Knicks 128-103 and they did so behind a season-high 35 points from George, who was every bit electric as he was efficient. George shot 13-of-22 from the field, 5-of-11 from deep, adding in seven rebounds and five assists. George poured in 17 points in the third quarter, which is the most of any Thunder player in a quarter this season.

It wasn’t just George getting the job done, the Thunder offense as a whole was as good as it has been all season. Oklahoma City continues to have fast starts and Wednesday night was no exception. The Thunder dropped a season-high 37 first quarter points. They have outscored its opponent by a combined 52 points in the first quarter in the last four home games.

“You always want out to a good start,” Billy Donovan said. “Setting the tone right from the start. I thought our guys did a great job of responding during their runs to regain control of the game.”

The hot start carried over into the second quarter as the Thunder stretched its lead 16 points at halftime, leading the Knicks 65-49.

The Knicks got it as close as 12 in the third quarter before the Thunder lead ballooned back up to 20 points to end the third quarter thanks to a 17-2 run by Oklahoma City. The Thunder never looked back, as the starters sat the fourth quarter. They never trailed.

The Thunder were able to put together a convincing win like this thanks to their willingness to share the basketball. They finished the night with 51 made field goals. 32 of those came off an assist. Dennis Schröder finished with a season-high 12 assists.

To get assists, you have to make shots and the Thunder did just that, making a season-high 16 threes. They shot 48.5 percent from behind the arc and 53.7 overall. The Thunder finished with five different players in double figures. (George 35 points, Steven Adams 19, Schröder 15, Jerami Grant 15, and Hamidou Diallo 11).

The Thunder now have the leagues best record over the last 10 games at 9-1. Russell Westbrook has been sidelined for half of them in that span. Oklahoma City will now travel to Phoenix for the start of its three-game road trip.

Keys to the Game

Free throws: A+

The Thunder didn’t have to stress too much at the free throw line in this one, but still, when they got to the line, they made it count. Oklahoma City finished 10-of-12 from the line, making 83 percent from the stripe.

Limit second chance points: B

The Thunder did a good job of attacking the glass, out rebounding the Knicks 47-36. They limit the Knicks to just nine offensive rebounds on 88 shots.

End quarters strong: A

Oklahoma City once again closed quarters strong. The biggest quarter that stood out was the third quarter. With the Knicks cutting the Thunder lead to 12 points, Oklahoma City responded by going on a 17-2 run, getting their lead to 20 points. Paul George did most of the heavy lifting, scoring 17 points by himself in the frame. Anytime the Knicks tried to make a push, the Thunder answered back.

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Thunder ruin Melo’s Homecoming; push win streak to seven

The Oklahoma City Thunder have won seven games in a row. And out of the last seven, this one might have been the most impressive. With Russell Westbrook sidelined again due to a sprained ankle, the Thunder blasted the Houston Rockets 98-80.

The Thunder were dominant in virtually every phase of the game but that was especially true on defense. Houston’s 80 point output is a season low for any NBA team this season. Outside of a shaky second quarter where the Rockets were able to find some rhythm on some corner threes, the Thunder did a solid job of defending the perimeter against the dangerous Rockets. Houston finished the game shooting 26.2 percent from three (11-of-42). After allowing the Rockets to score 26 points in the third quarter, Oklahoma City held Houston to only 35 points in the second half.

While the Thunder locked in defensively, the offense started to click. Oklahoma City finished with six different players in double figures and each player seemed to take turns in delivering blows to the Rockets defense. First it was Steven Adams (19 points), who helped OKC jump out to an early lead. Then it was Dennis Schröder (14 points) and Paul George (20 points) in the second quarter, helping the Thunder not only regain the lead, but push it out to double digits at halftime thanks to a 21-6 run. In the second half, Jerami Grant (11 points), Terrance Ferguson (14 points), and Raymond Felton (10 points) all helped the Thunder pushed the lead to 25 points in the second half.

The Thunder ruined the Homecoming for Carmelo Anthony, who was 1-of-11 from the field. His one make coming on a Jerami Grant goaltend.  His 1-of-11 shooting performance was the fifth worst of his career. His 0-of-6 from deep is the worst shooting performance in Melo’s career. James Harden finished with 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting (4-of-12 from deep). Chris Paul finished with only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

The Thunder did all of this on the second night of a back-to-back and without Westbrook. It was likely Oklahoma City’s best overall performance of the season but most importantly, it was a win that showed signs of things that could possibly come. A suffocating defense with a fast, athletic offense. An offense that believe it or not, may have some unexpected shooters starting to find rhythm.

The Thunder will look to make it eight straight when they travel to Dallas on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.

Keys To The Game

Start fast – A+

With no Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City still started fast. That was a big thanks to Steven Adams. The Thunder did a great job of switching Adams onto lesser defenders in the paint and force feeding him the basketball. The Thunder jumped out early and built a double-digit lead in the first quarter.

Stop fouling – A+

The Thunder commit more fouls than any team in the NBA. They’re committing 26.0 fouls per game, which leads to 30.8 free throws per game, most in the NBA. However, against the Rockets, the Thunder only allowed Houston to shoot 10 free throws for the entire game. Without a doubt the best performance of the season for OKC.

Hit threes – B

The Thunder are starting to find its groove from behind the arc. It’s something that is trending in the right direction, but it still leaves something to be desired. The Thunder did make nine three-pointers, but still shot a miserable 24 percent from deep. There were some bright spots, however. Terrance Ferguson had a solid night from three-point land, connecting on 4-of-9 attempts. At one point he was 4-of-6.

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Thunder use historic third quarter to blast Clippers

For 24 minutes, it seemed like the Thunder were cruising towards a disastrous 1-5 start. Then the third quarter happened.

Trailing by 13 points at halftime, Oklahoma City used a historic third quarter in which they outscored the Los Angelas Clippers 39-10 in the opening 12 minutes of the second half, flipping the momentum in a hurry. The 29-point margin represented the largest for a single quarter in Thunder history. Oklahoma City outscored the Clippers 74-43 in the second half as they cruised to a 128-110 win.

It wasn’t the fact that the Thunder dominated the third quarter–it was how they did it. For five and a half games, we have waited to see the Thunder really lock in defensively. There have been spurts, but nothing quite like this. The Thunder forced nine turnovers in the quarter, sparking fast breaks and easy baskets on the other end. Each defensive stop injected energy into the Thunder. The effort and hustle became infectious. As the defense ramped up the intensity, the offense started to click.

Oklahoma City finished the game with 38 points off of turnovers and with 20 assists. Six of those assists came in the first half. Russell Westbrook and Paul George carried the load offensively, combining to score 64 points.  Westbrook finished the night with 32 points (13-25), eight assists, four rebounds, and three steals. George, who struggled early, bounced back in the second half, scoring 32 points (9-18), 12 rebounds, and four assists.

Steven Adams returned back into the starting line up and finished with 18 points. Dennis Schröder had 15, and Jerami Grant had 12.

It was a complete team effort by the Thunder and that is perhaps the most encouraging part. This wasn’t a fluke. This wasn’t Westbrook going scorched earth and dropping 55 points. This wasn’t Paul George igniting from deep. This was just effort and hustle combined with a lot of teamwork and a little heart.

For the Thunder, the third quarter is what they thought this season would look like. A hyper-ultra-aggressive defense that in turn sparks a breakneck paced offense, that opens up passing lanes and creates open shots. For 24 minutes, it was the Thunder we’ve seen for a year and some change. Then for 24 minutes it wasn’t.

The Thunder are hoping the final 24 minutes is the new normal for this team.

Three Keys to the Game

Shooting: A-

The Thunder entered Tuesday night as the 29th best field goal shooting team in the league. The 30th in three-point shooting. Oklahoma City shot 51 percent from the field against the Clippers and hit 52 percent of their three-point attempts, making 9-of-17. Free throw shooting is still something to be desired for the Thunder, they made 71 percent from the line, missing 10 free throws on the night. While the free throw shooting is a serious concern, the three-point shooting is something to get excited about.

Free throws: D

While we mentioned this in the previous one, but it has to be reiterated here. Simply put, free throws can win and lose you games. At this rate, the Thunder will cost themselves some key games if they don’t get this fixed soon. While the Thunder did shoot five percentage points higher than their season average tonight, missing 10 free throws is hard to swallow. Especially when your two mega stars miss half of those.

Stop fouling: D

The Thunder commit the most fouls in the Association. That trend continued tonight. They put the Clippers on the line 43 times. Los Angelas Clippers were in the bonus early and often. To be fair, this game was a little different than most. It was hard to grasp how the officials were calling the game. At one point it was physical and the next it was touch fouls. Regardless, good teams figure out how it’s being called and adjust accordingly. The Thunder did not.

Second Half Defense: A+

This wasn’t a key to the game in our preview, but it would be a mistake not to mention it here. The Thunder turned the entire game in the second half thanks to the defense. From entering the third quarter trailing by 13 to entering the fourth up by 16, it was a masterful performance. One that shows this team, when it wants to, can really cause some problems for opposing offenses. If they could play a full 48 minutes with that intensity, Oklahoma City will become that team everyone thought they could be at the start of the season.

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Draft Prospectus: TJ Leaf

With only a few days to go until the NBA Draft, we’re going to break down a few mock draft selections for the Thunder. We’ve already done eight, Semi Ojeleye, Luke Kinnard, Terrance Ferguson, Harry Giles, Justin Jackson, OG AnunobyDerrick White, and Jawun Evans. We’re going to break down a couple more. Stay with us as the NBA season ends and the NBA offseason ramps up.

Who: TJ Leaf
Position: Power Forward
Class: Freshman
Age: 20
Where: UCLA
Ht: 6-10
Wt: 225 lbs.

After helping the UCLA Bruins reach the Sweet 16 in March, the 6-10 power forward from Israel opted to take his game to the next level, entering the NBA Draft.

TJ Leaf, along with Lonzo Ball and Ike Anigbogu, anchored a stellar freshman class for the Bruins that saw UCLA jump their win total from 15 wins in 2016 to 31 in 2017. Leaf led the Bruins in scoring at 21.7 points per 40 minutes, converting 64.4 percent of his 2-point field goal attempts and 46.6 percent of his 3 point attempts.

Most mock drafts have Leaf going in the middle of the first round. With his unique perimeter skills for a player his size and ability to get up and down the floor in transition, Leaf has the potential to be a steal for teams sitting outside the lottery.

Strengths

At 6-10, 225 lbs., Leaf possesses versatility on the offensive end. He is a decent ball handler who has the ability to start a fast break himself. He not only has the ability to attack opposing players out of face up situations but he can also stretch the defense with his 3-point shooting.

Leaf knocked down 46.6 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2017 with most of them coming off a pick-and-roll plays or in transition on a fast break.

When Leaf gets the ball in the post he has the ability to score with his back to the basket with hook shots over either shoulder. He is also a finesse fisher around the basket with excellent touch from mid-range.

His court awareness also makes him a valuable asset in the NBA. With big hands and leaping ability, Leaf is an excellent target in the pick-and-roll. He can flare out and shoot or roll to the basket for the lob.

Weaknesses

While he possesses a strong offensive attack, Leaf’s inability to move on defense will be an area of concern for the team that drafts him.

Leaf lacks the physicality to handle stronger players in the paint and also lacks the lateral quickness to defend on the pick-and-roll. With his inability to handle more physical players in the post and the lack of speed to guard more athletic players on the wings, it could be difficult for Leaf to find a solid role in the NBA if he can’t adjust.

Overall

Leaf’s ability to score and stretch opposing defenses provide a lot of optimism for teams late in the draft. His ability to handle the basketball and get out in transition and finish at the rim give scouts confidence that he can be solid player for an NBA franchise.

At just 20 years old, Leaf is still improving his game. The team that drafts him will have the opportunity to mold Leaf into their system as well as help him mature on the defensive end.

With a high offensive ceiling, it’s easy to see why teams will take a chance on the power forward. Leaf is projected to go late in the first round. If he falls to the Thunder, don’t be surprised to see Sam Presti pull the trigger on him.

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Why you shouldn’t boo Kevin Durant

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2016-17 NBA schedule was announced, Thunder fans everywhere frantically searched for one game in particular. The one where Kevin Durant made his return to Oklahoma City.

Many thought there was a possibility of it taking place on opening night.

Nope.” 

On Nov. 3, the Warriors logo appears.

Of course it’s in Oakland.” 

Scrolling further the Warriors logo pops up again. This time on Jan. 18.

“(Bleeping) twice? At Golden State twice before they come here?”

Thunder fans had to gloss over 54 games before they found it.

Feb. 11, 2017.

“Finally.” 

Since then calendars have been marked. Tickets have been bought. It even became a talking point at holiday parties. Chances are you’ve been asked how you would greet Kevin when he made his fateful return. I’d even bet money that the question closely followed “Can you pass the potatoes” at your Christmas dinner.

Even when OU and OSU were set to take on each other in Bedlam, the topic was at the forefront.

“Who do you think is going to win today? Well, I don’t know but at least when this is over we can all go back to rooting against KD.”

No lie, that actually happened. Word for word.

See the funny thing about the NBA schedule is that if Kevin had made his return on opening night, the reception probably would have been mixed. After all, this is the same person who did so much for the state. From the $1 million donation after the May 20, 2013, tornado to the countless donations to local schools to just the overall influence he had on the rise and recognition of Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant’s impact was immensely positive.

But since his departure from the Thunder to Golden State, countless PR moves by the superstar have been made to support his decision. In those moves Kevin not only propped up Golden State but he also delivered subtle jabs at the Thunder.

From inadvertently calling his former teammates selfish which led to one of the best phrases ever to come out of Russell Westbrook’s mouth, to getting into heated exchanges with his former teammates, the relationship between all parties involved seem to be fractured beyond repair.

Now that fans have had to wait 54 games for his return, the animosity is palpable. And Kevin knows it.

Earlier this week, in an interview with ESPN’s Marc Stein, Durant said, “I know they’re going to be rowdy in there, man. I’ve been a part of some of the loudest nights in that arena. So I know it’s not going to be the friendliest welcome, but, like I said, I can’t wait to see the people that I really built relationships with over my time there and, you know, I’m sure fans that I got to know throughout my time playing there, even though they might not cheer for me out loud, I’ll give ’em a wink and they know what we had deep down inside.”

Durant has been in the ‘Peake for the returns of OKC villains like Ron Artest, Patrick Beverly, James Harden and Reggie Jackson. But I doubt he’s been apart of what he’ll experience this weekend. There might be a few cheers, but there is no chance he hears them.

The boo’s will be deafening.

No matter what your opinion of KD is, chances are Saturday you will boo. It’s likely you will boo the whole game. But I’m going to ask you to do something different. Don’t boo. Don’t roll your eyes, yet. Just hear me out.

Kevin not only anticipates the boo’s, but he expects them. He expects it to be ruthless. I not only want fans to boo, but I want you to do it until your vocal chords give out. But I ask that you don’t boo him on one specific instance.

When the player introductions take place and they announce No. 35, I ask you to simply get out of your seat, turn around and stand in silence. While your standing there, think about all the comments about how he wanted to stay with one team for his whole career. Think about him wanting his jersey hanging in the rafters. Think about the 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals last year. Think about the alleged Draymond Green hangouts. Think about the shots at Russell. Think about where you where when you read “My Next Chapter.”

That’s why I ask you to stand and turn around in silence during the introductions.

Turn your back on Kevin just like he did to Oklahoma City.

After the game starts, let the boos rain down.

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