24 February 2011
They proved they can score. They proved they can rebound. They proved that converting on second chance opportunities is no problem. They proved that they can play with the best of them at times. But ultimately, the Oklahoma City Thunder proved that they are almost there.
The Thunder got off to a hot start last night against the San Sntonio Spurs, but ultimately fell to the best in the west, 109-105. While I feel that there is no such thing as a moral victory, the fact that they palyed the Spurs tight - and tough - is a positive sign.
Oklahoma City got off to a blazing start behind great shooting from Russell Westbrook, who knocked down 8 of his first 10 shots. Unfortunately, he missed 13 of his final 14 to finish the game with 25 points and 7 assists. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 30 points to go along with 9 rebounds. Once again, the team also got some solid production from a few of their other key players.
Jeff Green scored 14 points and grabbed 6 rebounds, although his shooting was a bit off last night. But James Harden also had a nice night in a reserve role, dropping 16 points. Serge Ibaka also finsihed in double figures in scoring with 10 points, but made his greatest impact with a game high 15 rebounds.
If the Thunder can play like they did last night, then they can go as far as any team in the playoffs. Make no mistake about the fact that the defense must improve, but it was nice to see Nick Collison step up last night against Tony Parker and send the message that there will be no more easy layups. The foul was not intended to be a rough one, but it was meant to be hard enough - within the rules. It was not flagrant. It was not intentional.
But it was sent with a point behind it that this team is ready for whatever their opponents bring.
With the NBA trade deadline set for 3 PM today, it appears as if the team you saw last night - and all season long for that matter - is the one that will head to the playoffs. I am not anticipating any deals of any significance to take place for this team. They do have a few pieces that could net them some solid role players, but my guess at this point is that Sam Presti will stand pat and continue to develop the current roster.
The Thunder still have a couple of more challenging games, starting Friday night in Orlando against the Magic, as well as hosting the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday afternoon. This is an important stretch for Oklahoma City, and they need to take at least one of the next two games to prove to themselves - as well as their critics - that they are here to play.
* Make sure to follow Kelley on Twitter @RobKelley24...
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