Tag Archives: OKC Thunder

It Was All A Dream

“It was all a dream…” The opening line to “Juicy”, one of the greatest rap songs ever written. Christopher “Notorious B.I.G” Wallace’s opening salvo into our collective consciousness was, perhaps, the greatest conveyment of a musical rags-to-riches story. Great things always have a way of starting off small. Facebook started off as a social network for only Ivy League students and had the word ‘the’ in its original title. Microsoft started off as two friends who were great computer programmers. The Oklahoma City Thunder started off as a 23 win franchise that was in the running to be the worst team in league history for much of the season. But, oh, how things have changed. 

From a fan’s perspective, this was a celebration of the Thunder’s first trip to the NBA Finals. From the outside, this just looked like the finality of a four year run that started off very slow, but has been on a uphill trek ever since. But from the inside, this wasn’t just about the last 4 years. That collective cheer that you heard from the Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 06, 2012 at about 10:30 PM was a roar of passion. Passion, not only for the team, but for the state. A roar for ourselves. Not for each collective ‘me’, but instead, for the collective ‘we’. 

 When you are from Oklahoma, you always hark back to THAT day. April 19, 1995. The day innocence was ripped from the hearts of Oklahomans of all ages. The day we learned about evil and heartbreak. But, on April 20, 1995, we got up and started using a new vernacular. We started to live by words like RESILIENCY, COMMUNITY, SACRIFICE, TOGETHER, HUMILITY, HARDWORK. We knew the trek ahead was tough, but we knew it was a trek we would take together. 

If that wasn’t bad enough, 4 years later, the city was struck by what has been called the Monster of all tornadoes. An F5 tornado with multiple vortices, ripped through the southern part of Oklahoma City, destroying the suburb of Moore, Ok and the city of Bridge Creek, Ok. Once again, probably because of the hard lessons learned from the Murrah Building Bombing, we knew how to react to this tragedy and pulled together.  

City leaders, construction workers, politicians, and citizens all stepped up to the plate to improve the namesake city of the state. What was once a warehouse district was transformed into a sprawling entertainment district in the span of 20 years. With those improvements, came a 20,000 seat indoor sports arena originally known as the Ford Center. This would become the hub of our professional sports dream. 

Of course, with any dream, there are obstacles that stand in the way of achieving the ultimate goal. First, was the fact that we were the 44th largest TV market in the United States. While that sounds great in comparing it to the other 25,000 cities in the United States, that doesn’t bode well for any professional sports league looking for an expansion city. Secondly, was that fact that the professional sports leagues weren’t necessarily looking to expand at that time. The NBA last expanded in 2004, MLB in 1998, NFL in 2002, and the NHL in 2000. 

There’s a saying that goes, “When opportunities comes a’knocking, you better open the door.” When the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina happened in September 2005, the New Orleans Hornets were left with no place to play and hardly a populance to play for. Looking to lend a helping hand AND prove our worth as a big league city, Mayor Mick Cornett and city officials lobbied the NBA’s front office for the opportunity to host the Hornets for as long as necessary. While initially down playing the idea, the NBA decided to give Oklahoma City this opportunity of a lifetime and allow the Hornets to play at the Ford Center for what would eventually become 2 seasons. 

And Oklahoma City proved its worth, quickly growing a reputation as one of the loudest fan bases in the league for its adopted team. For those two seasons, the Hornets became synonymous with having a distinct home court advantage. It became OKC’s first foray into professional sports. Chris Paul won Rookie of the Year in his first season in OKC and David West became a burgeoning All-Star. Tyson Chandler became known as one of the best defensive big men in the league and Peja Stojakovic became known as one of the biggest free agency busts in his one season in OKC. And after two seasons, the music stopped. 

It was a bit disappointing when the Hornets left. Its like being in a 2-year relationship with someone that still had ties to their ex, and then being single again when your significant other goes back to their ex. We always knew the Hornets were going back to New Orleans, but the hope of them some how staying in OKC long-term was still in the back of most our minds. But this was no time to hold our heads down. Their was another opportunity to be had, and another team in the horizon. 

Regardless of what you think of the way OKC got the Thunder, the fact still remained that as of July 2008, the Seattle Supersonics ceased to exist and the Oklahoma City Thunder came into existence. Civic pride will make you argue the move until you are blue (Thunder blue, of course) in the face, but Oklahoma City had its team and it was time to show and prove. That first season was brutal, though. We knew we were getting a skeleton crew of a team with some young, unproven talent, but we didn’t know it was going to be this bad. 

The morning after another of our home losses, I called to the local morning sports talk radio show and just vented. I didn’t know if I could do this anymore. Living 90 miles from OKC and having to drive more than an hour each way, made driving back from the mounting losses excruciating. It’s almost like the team was stuck in a rut when it first got here and you had to wonder whether there wasn’t some karmic justice at play at how we had obtained the team. Thankfully, a coaching change and the general improvement of the young players led to a good finish and a hope for the next season. 

We all know what has happened the last two seasons. After a meteoric rise in their second season in OKC, the Thunder made the playoffs as an 8th seed and took the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of a 7th game in a riveting first round series. The team’s young stars (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) went on to be the main components for a Team USA squad that won gold in the 2010 World Championships. In the next season, we finished with the 4th seed and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals, losing in a close 5-game series to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. Suffice to say, expectations were definitely mounting.

Finally this year, in a season that was on the brink of not happening at all due to labor strife, the team exerted its dominance on most of the league and finished with the 2nd seed in the West. Two things became apparent as we marched towards this point. Number 1: This team was mature beyond its years and eschewed the notion that youth has to wait. Number 2: The home crowd was actually beginning to affect the play of the young Thunder. 

While last season, the Thunder players were the ones being criticized in the postseason, it was our turn, as fans, to be criticized this postseason. It started when the organization began playing games on the huge jumbotron TV outside of the stadium. What became famously known as Thunder Alley started as a small gathering (1000-2000) of fans that could not get tickets to the game, but wanted to experience, first-hand, the atmosphere of being at the playoff game. Eventually that small gathering turned into an all-out block party that some reports say reached as high as 10,000 + spectators in Thunder Alley. When you get that many people in a small space, bad things are bound to happen. Violence erupted after the clinching game of the 2nd round, and the postseason form of Thunder Alley was shut down. It is pretty sad when real fans have to suffer at the expense of a couple knuckleheads. Some people aren’t fortunate enough to be able to afford playoff tickets, but still want to be in the playoff atmosphere. 

Then there were the complaints that we actually wear our free t-shirts that the team supplies to each fan during playoff games. The travesty that fans would wear those shirts and cheer together as one. Who does that? Who cheers every great play and jeers every questionable call? I thought this was the norm for fans. I thought it was par for the course. But, just like everything else, we do things just a little different. We actually feel emotionally attached to our team. I saw grown men and women crying tears of joy for our trip to the Finals. People from the outside will never understand. As we venture into the unknown world of the NBA Finals, we will move forward the only way we know how: Together as one team. #TeamIsOne

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The Great Unknown:Growing as a Fanbase

Let’s imagine a scenario. You go on a blind date with this girl (or guy, you make the scenario fit to your liking). When you finally meet her, you think, “Hey, she’s easy on the eyes.” The first date is exciting, but ultimately ends a little awkwardly. She has a youthful grace about her, but can be a little immature at times. Everything goes well enough, though, that you both agree to another date. You continue to date for that month, but you constantly think about what your ex is doing and how you guys had better chemistry. The dates are good; some end up great, some disappointing. But there’s enough of a spark to continue dating. 

The next month things get even better. You start to hang out more and there are less and less “weird” moments. She even reveals to you that she trained as a world class chef before taking on her current job. She invites you over for a couple dates at her house to try out her culinary skills, and needless to say, she has “skillz”. The girl can throw down in the kitchen, and you know the saying referencing a man’s heart and his stomach. All those thoughts about your ex start to fade away and become non-existent. 

In the 3rd month of dating, you feel like you are ready to make this an exclusive relationship. There are less dates and more time together. You start to synchronize your schedules to have more time together. You start to want to hang out with this girl. Then she gives you the surprise of your life and buys you a brand new sports car. You start to turn it down, but she insists that she has been saving up a lot of money and needs to spend it for “tax” purposes. The L-word even starts to get tossed around playfully.  

In the 4th month, you hit a little hiccup in the beginning of the month. You bicker back and forth about “young-relationship” things. You begin to wonder whether you are even going to continue the relationship. But alas, you work through it and hopefully come out stronger in the end. And, this is where you are currently at. 

For the past two months, she has surprised you with something big. You begin to wonder what she has in store for you this month. Then you realize how selfish that sounds. You have a great girl that has given of her heart in the short time you two have been together and now you are expecting something from her. You begin to see that you have been spoiled, and, just maybe, to the detriment of your ethics and expectations. You realize that you have devalued the past and the present with the expectations of the future. 

Now, before you become concerned and think that my sports blog has turned into a self help or relationship blog, please realize that I used this scenario as an analogy. Change the word girl to team (namely the Oklahoma City Thunder) and change the word month to season. There you have Oklahoma City’s relationship with the Thunder in our 4 short years together. And I mean it when I say that we have been completely and utterly spoiled.

 Oklahoma City’s situation has been so rare and unique that it is really difficult to find something comparable. First off, OKC had a tryout, of sorts, with the two seasons the Hornets played at the Ford Center after Hurricane Katrina. We proved that OKC was a viable market and took advantage of our surprising opportunity. This is back when we weren’t spoiled. This is back when we were a hungry market yearning for attention and respectability. 

After a year hiatus from the NBA, we took full advantage when the Thunder came rumbling to town, selling out our season tickets in record time, and showing up in droves to the games. Then we realized we had a crappy team. Young, but still crappy, nonetheless. We longed for the days of the ever-improving Hornets who were quickly becoming the darlings of the Western Conference. But we stuck with it and started seeing results in the 2nd half of the season. At this point, we were still building a relationship with our new team. 

That improvement from the 2nd half of the previous season continued into the 2nd season, where the Thunder finally took off and never looked back. They more than doubled their win total and made it into the playoffs, pushing the eventual champs to an unexpectedly tough 6 game series. We applauded our team and cheered them on, but always kept wondering when the other shoe was going to drop on our fairy tale story. At this point we were enjoying our successes, but wondering how fragile they are. 

During that summer between our 2nd and 3rd seasons, we were overjoyed to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of our players, represent the country in their pre-Olympic tournament in which they were belittled by their own country’s media (“B-team”) and expected not to medal. Instead, led by the two Thunder players, the team took home the gold with nary a blemish on their record. We, as a fan base, puffed out our collective chests and walked around with pride in preparation for the next season. 

Heading into the 3rd season, expectations were high, not only locally, but also nationally. With a big move at the trading deadline, the Thunder did not disappoint making it all the way to the Western Conference finals losing to the eventual NBA champs. Fans were beginning to become accustomed to winning because it is all they had known with this franchise. 

Presently, the team sits tied for the best record in the league at the half-way point in a strike shortened season. We’ve seen Kevin Durant be named All Star game MVP, while Russell Westbrook performed exceedingly well in the same game. But what should be a feeling of joy and accomplishment is sometimes flipped into a feeling of anger and disgust whenever we do actually lose a game. It’s almost like we are expecting to win every game, while at the same time, expecting the clock to strike 12 and for this team to turn back into a big ugly pumpkin with some scurrying mice. 

Are we spoiled? Hell yeah we’re spoiled. Our track record has been nothing but an upward trend. In a league that is cyclical in terms of team success, we’ve been a straight line in the positive direction. But, can you be spoiled, and still be appreciative of what you are watching? That’s what worries me about this fan base. What’s going to happen to it when we hit our first big bump in the road? 

We’re an extremely young fan base that has grown with this team. You can say that we have experienced bumps in the road with the losses in the playoffs. But, expansion teams and rebuilding teams go through years of futility before they finally start to see the fruits of their labor. We haven’t had to go through the years of futility. We had one horrible year and the rest have been magical. My only fear is what happens when making it to the playoffs isn’t magical anymore. 

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a Debbie-downer (or is it a Dreary-Dougie?). I love and respect our fan base to no end. Many media pundits have called us the best home crowd in the league. And I agree whole-heartedly, as I’m one of the crazies screaming my ass off in the middle of the 2nd quarter. But, in taking in the last 3 ½ seasons, I want something malleable that I can compare it to. They say that history repeats itself, but sometimes it’s scary when you are the one making the history. I don’t know how this story will end and that’s the exciting part about all of this. We are the archetypes when it comes to a franchise that had to move while rebuilding and experienced quick success as soon as it arrived at its new location. With that said, let’s continue on with our magical season. There is still much to be written in this story.

OKC Thunder vs. Utah Jazz (Game 28 of 66)

The Oklahoma City Thunder finally got to sleep consecutive days in their own beds and will enjoy the confines of their abode from now until the All-Star break, sans one trip to Houston. This will be the second of 3 meetings between the two teams this season. The Thunder’s last game was against these Jazz, while for the Jazz, this will be their 3rd game in as many nights. The Thunder won the last meeting going away 101 – 87.

The Opponent

The Utah Jazz have the definition of consistently inconsistent. They started off the season losing 3 of their first 4. Then the reeled off 9 wins out of their next 11 games. And now they’ve lost 6 of their last 10 games. They currently sit at 14-13, good for 4th in the division and 9th in the conference. The Jazz are led by their front court of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. Together they are averaging 35 points and 18.6 rebounds per game. Though a bit undersized, they are one of the more formidable front courts in the league. Last season’s first round pick, Gordon Hayward, is rounding into a good role player providing more scoring, rebounding, and playmaking as the starting SF. The backcourt of Devin Harris and Raja Bell is veteran-laden, but a bit limited in all facets of the game. The bench for the Jazz can be inconsistent, with veterans CJ Miles, Josh Howard, and Earl Watson getting the bulk of the bench minutes. The Jazz’s defense is pretty suspect as they allow 97.2 points per game, which is 23rd best in the league. This will be the 3rd game in as many nights for the Jazz, while the Thunder haven’t laced them up since last Friday.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Oklahoma City

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

Utah

  • PG – Devin Harris
  • SG – RajaBell
  • SF – GordonHayward
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Matchup to look out for

Russell Westbrook vs. Devin Harris

When the Utah Jazz chose their poison in the last game and decided to focus all their defensive attention on Kevin Durant, it freed up Westbrook to take advantage of the smaller Harris and score 28 points on 10/20 shooting from the field. It will be very interesting to see how the Jazz choose to defend Westbrook this time around and how Westbrook adjusts to this.

3 in the Lane

Turnovers. Please gentlemen, let’s keep these turnovers to a minimum. I don’t know a good number, but the more you turn it over, the more you give the other team opportunities to score on their end. Everyone on the court is an NBA player, and eventually, if given enough opportunities, even bad teams will score on their increased opportunities.

Interior defense. Millsap and Jefferson are very similar to Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in that they aren’t overly athletic, but are very fundamentally sound and have good mid range games. For being undersized, Millsap is deceptively good on the interior. It’ll be very important that Ibaka, Perkins, Mohammed, and Collison stay with these guys at all times, as they have been know to drop 30 and 15 type games.

Offensive schema. There is no one on the Jazz that can consistently guard Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Durant is so much bigger than Bell,Hayward, or Howard. And Westbrook is so much stronger than Harris and quicker than Watson. The key will be the shooters (Cook, Sefolosha, and Harden). If they are making their shots, the defense won’t be allowed to collapse on Durant and Westbrook, as their primary defenders will need help throughout the game.

Thunder Rumblings – Week In Review (Jan 2 – 8)

Oklahoma CityThunder: Week in Review (Jan 2nd – Jan 8th

Record for the week – 3-2

Overall record – 8-2 

Games played: 

Jan 2nd (@ Dallas)

After starting the season winning their first 5 games, the Thunder were looking to stay on pace with the Miami Heat to remain the only unbeatens in the league. This was the 4th meeting between these two teams within a 2 week period, and started to take on the feel of a playoff series. With the Mavs looking to get their season on track, the Thunder came out flat and ultimately lost the game 100 – 87. The Mavs bench dominated the Thunder’s, outscoring them 47-25. The only good news of the night came with the fact thatMiami also lost their first game, and lost it, chronologically speaking, before the Thunder game was over.

 Jan 3rd (vs.Portland)

Looking to get back on track after their first loss of the season, the Thunder went back home to face division rival Portland. With starting SG Thabo Sefolosha out with an injured foot and flu-like symptoms, 6th man of the year candidate James Harden was inserted into the starting lineup. The teams played pretty evenly in the first half, with the Thunder taking a 2 point lead into halftime. Behind the great play of Lamarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant’s shooting struggles,Portland took over in the second half and won the game 103 – 93. With Harden starting, the bench scored an anemic 14 points and could not muster much when they were in the game.

 Jan 6th (vs.Houston)

Looking to get back on the winning track, the Thunder took on the Houston Rockets, who were 0-4 on their previous road games. With Thabo Sefolosha returning to the lineup, the rotation normalized and the Thunder jumped out of the gate to finish the 1st quarter up by 10 and never looked back, eventually winning 109 – 94. The starters rested in the 4th quarter, and every player that was active played.

 Jan 7th (@ Houston)

If games were played purely on paper, then this game wasn’t worth playing. The Thunder had beat the team by 15 on the previous night. The only difference was the locale. Well, the Rockets came out and gave the Thunder a good game, matching them bucket for bucket for much of it until late in the 4th quarter. The Thunder got a couple timely stops late in the game and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook worked the two man game in the 4th to perfection with Durant scoring the Thunder’s last 13 points. The Thunder escaped with a 3 point victory 98 – 95. The only blemish in the game was the loss of back up PG Eric Maynor to a torn ACL in the 4th quarter.

 Jan 8th (vs.San Antonio)

The dreaded 3rd game in as many nights. The strange thing is that every team that has played a back to back to back, has won the 3rd game. So why should the Thunder be any different? While the first half stayed pretty close, the 3rd quarter belonged to the Thunder who blew the lid off the game, outscoring the Spurs 37-21 in the quarter. The Thunder had a 22 point lead heading into the 4th quarter and the starters sat for the entire period. Rookie Reggie Jackson saw his first extended action of the season, replacing the injured Eric Maynor as the Thunder’s backup PG, and scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting with 4 assists. 

My Takes: 

  • The loss of Eric Maynor could prove to be big. If you’re are looking at it, strictly, from a statistical point of view, then Maynor’s 4 points and 2 assists per game may seem inconsequential. But from a game manager point of view, his loss could have major ramifications on the Thunder’s bench play. Maynor set the tone on the 2nd unit, and provided a change of pace to the starters whenever necessary. There will be games where this aspect of what he brought to the table will be sorely missed. Here’s to sending a get well wish to Eric Maynor.
  • Its amazing how the return of a defensive minded SG could have such a positive effect on the offense. In the two losses, the offense seemed out of sync with the loss of Sefolosha. The players, especially Durant and Westbrook, seemed unsure of themselves and the bench suffered with Harden’s insertion into the starting line-up. Here’s to Scott Brooks not messing with the lineup unless he has to.
  • Durant seems to be efficiently scoring again and Westbrook seems to be returning back to form after starting the season in a bit of a funk. Here’s to realizing that this is a weird season, and players (even superstars) will probably have more ups and downs than an oscillating wave. 

Player of the Week: 

While Durant and Westbrook both struggled a bit in the beginning of the week, James Harden remained consistent throughout the week, averaging 19.5 points on 51% shooting from the field and 43% shooting from 3 point land, while contributing 3.8 boards, 3.8 assists, and 1.3 steals. If the Bearded One continues this, I don’t just see a 6th Man of the Year award in his future, but also an All Star nomiation.

Coming of Age

Many things usually happen when a man goes from his 20’s to his 30’s. It’s a time where the rambunctiousness of his 20’s starts to turn into the maturity of his 30’s. It’s a time when a man’s professional career usually starts to stabilize and take off. It’s also a time when a man either starts to think about settling down or starts to appreciate what he already has. This has a lot of bearing on me because I just recently started my 4th decade (which means I just turned 30). While I won’t bore you with where I’m at in my life at this point, I do think it’s a good comparison for a young team that is facing mounting expectations. 

There’s a point during this transition that I call the point of no return. While in your 20’s you can still mingle with those younger than you and still get away with it. It is not uncommon to see a +/- of age difference in a dance club of 8-10 years. So while the younger crowd may be in the 18-21 range, the older crowd will be in the 26-31 range. Once you start going past that, the dynamic starts to get a little weird and creepy, and sometimes, just plain sad. It’s a point where you’re too old to go back. You can try, but it probably won’t work out that well for you. 

This is the point where the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves this year. A man in his 20’s is expected to fail as he finds his way through life. Failed relationships here. A job firing or two there. Its all part of the plan to find what really fits that person. But, if this constantly occurs to a man in his 30’s, then he is viewed as a disappointment. The run that the Thunder are currently on have seen them go from 23 to 50 to 55 wins all within a span of 3 seasons. But since we’re talking about a shortened season, let’s look at winning percentages: .280, .610, and .671. In order to achieve that final percentage, we’d have to get at least 45 wins in this 66 game season. Any regression at this point will be viewed upon as a disappointment, as we have now reached the point where at least a .600 winning percentage is expected. 

The Thunder’s young players now have to shoulder a lot more responsibility. It’s one thing to surprise everyone by going from 23 wins to 50 wins, and say that you expected to win every game. It’s a completely different ball game to be expected to win every game that you play from here on out. You literally go from attacking the target to being the target. The burden of proof lies in many of the young teams over the years that have faltered when they were expected to make that giant leap from playoff contender to championship contender. The most recent one, the New Orleans Hornets, went from taking the Spurs to 7 games in a Western Conference semi-finals matchup in 2008 to complete team dismantling in 2011. 

The leaders of the team are both 23 years of age. Responsibility is usually not something valued by most 23 year olds. But as we’ve seen throughout the last two seasons, these two are cut from a different cloth. Don’t be fooled by the number next to their ages. In terms of experience, they are about as young as a 25 year old sergeant that is serving his 3rd tour of duty in a warzone. One is a humble assassin, while the other is a fiery pit-bull. The unique thing is at certain points in a game, these two descriptions can be used for both players. It’s a thin line to walk when competition breeds results, and these two competitors set the baseline for the team to produce from. While very young, the qualities that these two exhibit will only help this team’s resolve as the expectations get heavier and heavier. 

The acquisition of Kendrick Perkins not only supplied a need on the court, but also in the locker room. The lack of accountability on the defensive end that permeated on the floor since the departure of assistant coach Ron Adams was quickly addressed when Perkins stepped into that locker room. This was a risky move by the organization that proved that they too were looking to shoulder more responsibility and take chances. 

The spotlight can be a double edged sword. Whenever HDTV’s started becoming more popular, there was an uptick in the plastic surgery performed on news anchors around the country. They loved being in front of the camera, but all of the sudden hated all the criticism concerning their wrinkles and unsightly blemishes. The Thunder became the darlings of the NBA at the beginning of last season. The team was coming off a successful season in which they made the playoffs for the first time and took the eventual champs to 6 games in the first round. Then their top two players led the B-Team to gold at the World Championships. They were given national games and the spotlight. But with that, came the constant scrutiny from the media about the relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. While the team exceeded their success from the previous season, there was an undercurrent of concern surrounding the relationship between their two star players. Both claimed there was nothing to be concerned about, but that has all been said before by divorced dynamic duos throughout NBA history. 

As we tear through this first week of the young NBA season, a word of caution as we head into this crazy season. No one knows exactly what lies ahead. Players that were around during the last lockout are like relics in a museum. While they may hold much wisdom, their usability is not nearly as plentiful. The Thunder are about as intact as any team out there from last season. They were not “humpty-dumpty’ed” like many other teams this offseason. The result has been a 3-0 start and a 1st place holding in the Western Conference. Funny, that I turned 30 a week ago and the Thunder are 3-0 a week later. While I’m not entirely set in my life, I can honestly say that I’m progressing at a reasonable rate and will enjoy this next decade of life. Hopefully the Thunder will join me on this ride.