Dean: Thunder’s Win No Fluke, Sign of Things to Come

Thursday, May 26th 2011, 12:16 pm
By: News On 6

Originally Published: Mar 16, 2011 10:8 PM CDT

Dean Blevins
Oklahoma Sports Sports Director - Oklahoma City

Did you think it was over when KD hit the early fourth, beautiful catch-and-shoot 20-footer to put OKC up on Miami 78-66? Well, wasn’t over yet, even though Miami’s Big 3 had gone 2-for-17 in the second half. With seven minutes left, it seemed Kendrick Perkins had been out with four fouls for about a month.

Incredibly, KD went to the line for the first time at 5:50 of the 4th. His two makes got it back to an 11-point lead. And when Perk came back in, it was game on. If they couldn’t hold on to an 11-point lead when momentum was all Big Blue and they had their prime-time players on the floor, then they may never beat Miami. At least not in the Land of Humidity.

It wasn’t over until DWade got the T after thinking he’d been fouled and after OKC’s 3-on-1 resulted in a 3 by Harden. KD missed one of two but the Thunder led, by eleven, 89-78 with 3:11 to play. Was it over? Not yet. This is the NBA. Perkins fouls out. But KD goes splash again. The fans that showed up late are leaving early. Nothing like winning on the road.

OKC got 15 offensive rebounds and made nine 3s. Big 3 go 4-for-24 in the second half. There’s your game. KD now 1-6 against LeBron. Don’t look for that to get to 1-11 before another KD win. Asked about the 1-6 against LeBron after the game in a live ESPN interview, KD calmly swished another one: “It was a great team win.”

This was a big game for the confidence of OKC. But it was more important for Miami. A loss to the Thunder meant they were back on their nightmare track of losing to the really good teams.

Last year it was by a wide margin. Again this season, Russell Westbrook leads the lead in turnovers. That’s one of the few things you could say after “leads the league in” that would not be good. But it’s no surprise. The extraordinarily athletic point guard continues to push the pedal to the metal into the paint where he either finishes or turns it over. There’s very little middle ground.

Westbrook’s dunks make ESPN’s Top 10 list game-in, game-out. But his turnovers often result in run-outs and transition baskets for the opposition. Westbrook is not finishing drives against teams like the Heat the way he does against the Wizards and the Cavs. And those big games are where he’s needed most. His slow start from the field against the Heat kept OK from jumping out to a 10-15 point first-quarter lead.

BTW, Miami wins on the sloppy points that can go either way. But you need them to go your way when you come in a TD dog. No names on their roster picking up loose balls and throwing them in over their head. Howard with a full-gaited left-handed hook-fling. Nothing but net. Strings. Cord. Tickled the twine. Or the locally-overused “splash.” Personally, I just go with “vomit.” LeBron, LeBosh, and DWade don’t need any help. Bet if you broke down the film, Miami won the sloppy points 10-2.

It was amazing the Thunder led a team as good as the Heat by 10 in the second quarter on their own court with Westbrook picking up his third foul (two offensive) with three minutes till intermission. But the turning point came when Westbrook went out with that third foul - an immediate 10-0 run. The 3 by Maynor with 12 seconds remaining stemmed the tide—for awhile. 46-45 at intermission.

HORRIBLE and LATE fourth foul on Perkins at 48-46. Collison’s a horse but no Perkins. It changes everything you try to do on both ends of the floor. But a key to the game was how the Thunder actually added to the lead AFTER Perkins went out.

When he returned, Miami was in big trouble.

Kendrick Perkins has apparently taken on a role most of us did not expect; certainly not this early. Team spokesperson. You can tell he’s lost 15 pounds as he moves better than he did in Boston. He just looks better in the uni. Maybe it’s just the colors and name on the front! ESPN reported before the game that KD pulled Perkins aside and asked “what’s it like to win a championship?”

Good news with Perk: knees feel fine. No swelling. That’s big. The Green/Perkins trade orchestrated by OKC G.M. Sam Presti was terrific; even if Perkins ends up getting hurt. The Thunder did its homework and found that Perk was not damaged goods when he arrived at Will Rogers and was picked up by none other than Presti. Sefalosha is bad enough on offense without missing shots from a foot out. He missed a put-back when he didn’t have to rush in the third quarter. That particular miss was followed on the next possession by a one foot put back miss at 4 minutes of the 3rd, 61-56. Thabo had missed two gimmees earlier. His misses would have been ten inch pick-me-uppers at Oak Tree. Sefalosha had better be great on defense as bad as he is in big games on offense.

OKC used a 4 for 8 beginning from 3-point-land to take a 12-point second quarter lead. And that was without anything from James Harden. He stunk it up and Hubie let him have it. Hit just a couple and they’d have been 6 for 8 and put Miami in a bind.

The Thunder proved in this game that it can play defense when it wants. Big game? Usually they bring big defense. We can point to the loss of Ron Adams to the new Eastern Conference heavyweight Bulls. And how that has hurts them. But the truth is with the addition of Perk, and with Mohammed joining the second unit, and with the length and athleticism, this team can still get after you. Perk’s emergence will put Ibaka on the backside blocking shots like crazy. It’s a grrrr88888t situation.

If you want watch a game and chill, an entertaining analyst like Barkley or Rafferty are good. If you want to watch a game intently, Hubie Brown is one of the best. But Hubie can call the alleged pick “clean” in the second quarter when he clearly decked Duran. His definition of clean is different from mine. Howard cheap-shotted KD. No doubt. This game was played at a serious pace and with serious intensity from opening tip to final horn. KD’s verbal shot at Bosh after the Thunder loss in their earlier meeting in OKC helped turn up the thermostat too.

Hubie reminds us Ibaka is 21 and KD and Westy are 21 and “are supposed to playing in the NCAA Tournament.” Hubie on how good can OKC be: “They can be a great defensive team and they can score the ball especially when Perkins and Mohammed get worked into the spacing in half court offense. You do NOT want to play them in the first or second rounds. They are long. Really, really long.”

How can James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha not know the shot clock is winding down when 10 million Americans do? It is UNACCEPTABLE to not get off a shot in crunch time! Especially in a big game like this one. Is that choking? And as far as I’m railing, how about this statement: As far as I’m concerned, in a big game like this, any shot by Mohammed is a bad shot unless it’s a dunk.

You don’t see many games in this era where on the court at one time you see more stallion athletes, gamers, and Hall of Fame caliber players. In a game like this with all these long, lean, leapers, the hardest shot is often from three feet in. Blocks, alterations and missed shots outweigh dunks and conversions two to one.

Twenty one games over .500. Still, lots of flaws. Combine those facts and to me it results in lots and lots and lots of upside.

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