Oklahoma City reeled off 15 straight points in the closing minutes of the game, as Kevin Durant’s hot scoring stretch continued with 6 of 7 threes in his 46 point effort, as the Thunder rallied to beat visiting Portland 105-97.
Check out my recap and post-game sound on KOSU-FM Wednesday morning – and please listen to my SPORTS TALK segment with Michael Cross on KOSU.org.
If you miss the recap and the sound on KOSU, here it is…
No long description is needed of this one. For three-plus quarters the OKC Thunder was a very, very good basketball team and head and shoulders better than the Portland Trail Blazers. But in the 4th, the Blazers raised their level of play – and the Thunder stumbled, and Portland pulled out a 98-94 comeback win. Kevin Durant had 37 and 14 boards, but missed a shot he admitted he should have made that would have sent the game to overtime. OKC and Portland play at Chesapeake Arena January 21st. The Thunder and Blazers still have the two best records in the west (San Antonio is tied with Portland, a half game back of OKC for the best Western Conference mark.)
I say – listen to Scott Brooks and Kevin Durant – who manned up and took responsibility for the loss, which they did not go overboard in feeling sorry about. Mature attitudes – a mature team, who gave credit to a good Portland team they may see in the closing days of the post-season.
Fear The Beard? Superman? Lin-Sanity? Life without Russell Westbrook? No problem for any of the above. (And clearly the last item is the most fearsome.) The OKC Thunder played a blanketing defense in the opening period, as Houston missed their first 12 shots from the floor and never were in the 117-86 route. With the win, the Thunder retake the top mark in the NBA, with the league’s third-best team – and second best in the west record-wise – Portland coming to town on New Year’s Eve. It was the team’s second win since their all-star guard and second-leading scorer Westbrook underwent a third surgical procedure on his injured knee. He is not expected to return until after the all-star break.
Durant scored 33 with 13 rebounds and 5 assists, as the Thunder handed out 28 as a team. Jeremy Lamb came off the bench to score a career best 22 points, and OKC held Houston to 36.5 % shooting from the floor. Stats didn’t matter in this one – Durant looked like he could have scored 50 with ease. James Harden (aka The Beard) was a non-factor against his old team (8 points, 2 of 9 FG). Dwight Howard had 9/9 and was troubled with fouls (and the specters of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins on his hips). Jeremy Lin? Are you insane? OKC’s Ryan Gomes equalled Lin’s output of 6 points and he has barely played all season.
You can hear my recap with post-game sound below… and please remember to tune in to KOSU-FM for your news weekday mornings – and sports updates which will resume after the first of the year.
In the latter weeks and months of a professional sports season, the concept of “the grind” is cliche. The long professional sports seasons take physical tolls on every team, regardless of the sport. So in a sense, it’s obvious to make such a claim late in the year.
Great teams, championship professional teams, however, understand the grind is a year-long process. Managing the grind in November is perhaps even more important to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s championship hopes than any of those late-season off days that Derek Fisher or even the minutes monster Kevin Durant will be given by head coach Scott Brooks.
Case in point: Sunday night’s visit from the woeful Utah Jazz to Chesapeake Energy Arena, game three of a six game home stand that spans the Thanksgiving holiday. Russell Westbrook, still regaining his conditioning after overcoming major off-seaosn knee surgery, was given the night off. Derek Fisher, the 100-year-old backup point guard, played Westbrook’s minutes early, then took a seat. (OK, relax – he’s only 39. Geez.)
The Jazz played along, looking a lot like a D-league team for the better part of three quarters in OKC’s 95-73 win. The Thunder led 75-43 after three quarters.
Here are some things that help at this – or any time – of a long season. Kendrick Perkins got to play hard, early. The big center has been grieving over the death of his grandfather, and in the opening half he and the Thunder as a team were dominant in the paint. It didn’t matter that Perkins was mostly racking up fouls. He played lane-spacing defense and showed his scowl for a bit, and I’m sure those 21 minutes helped him focus on hoops.The Thunder outrebounded Utah 46-33 and shot 50.7 percent from the floor.
We mentioned Fisher and his early 9:29 of court time, but more importantly Steven Adams stayed on the floor for extended stretches, something the young player needs to gain - and earn – confidence when the grind games roll around later in the year.
And then there is Perry Jones, the former Baylor Bear now in his 2nd season. the 6-11 Jones made the most of 19 minutes, hitting 5 of 7 from the floor including three of three from the three point line, scoring a season high 13 points. It’s tough to prove to your coach and teammates you can help down the stretch when you’re a forward playing behind Kevin Durant.
Of course, Durant led the team – and the game – with 19 easy points. The Thunder improved to 9 and 3, with three more home games, including two sandwiching Thanksgiving Wednesday night against the Spurs and Friday versus Golden State.
Listen to Sports Talk on KOSU-FM Wednesday morning at 6:30 am (and throughout the morning). Here’s the wrap from the Thunder-Utah game as heard on KOSU, plus some extra cuts from the post-game. .
For the second straight game the Oklahoma City Barons (2-3-0-0) relied on their power play late, as Linus Omark wristed the game winner over the glove of Cristopher Nilstorp early in the first extra period for a 2-1 OT win. The game winner was technically an even-strength goal as a penalty had just expired.
Richard Bachman turned aside 22 shots in earning his first win of the season. The Barons outshot the Stars 16-3 in the third period but failed to score until the extra period with Omark’s first goal of the season.
OKC hosts a pair of games Friday and Saturday night at Cox Convention Center against the Abbotsford Heat, AHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames.
Oklahoma City had earlier failed to cash in on a power play opportunity at 6:01 of the third. The Barons continue to struggle at even strength, outscored 9-4 through the first five games with the penalty boxes empty.
After killing off their 4th penalty through the first 50 minutes, the Barons seemed to find some energy, testing Nilstorp who made back to back stick side saves, including one on a point-blank rebound try by Matthew Ford.
The Texas Stars drew even at 4:32 of the third period when Colton Sceviour shoveled home a loose puck on the doorstep after his backhander hit the post and couldn’t be cleared by a sluggish OKC defense.
The Barons had a good chance in deep about a minute into the third, as Taylor Fedun found a closing Anton Lander, who’s wrist we was deflected top shelf-high by the shoulder of goalie Cristopher Nilstorp.
2nd Period Intermission
Just :50 in to the second period Andrew Miller’s power play goal gave the Barons a lead on home ice for the first time this season, 1-0 over visiting Texas. C.J. Stretch and Joel Broda assisted. It was Miller’s first goal of the season.
A fast-paced exchange of 3 on 2 rushes in the period produced a pair of shots on goal for each team in less than a minute, as well as a sprawling defensive shot block by big left-winger Ben Eager.
Each goalie, Richard Bachman for the OKC Barons and Cristopher Nilstorp of the Texas Stars, turned aside 10 second period shots.
The Stars sent a scare through the Cox Convention Center crowd with a 3 on 2 shorthanded break in the closing seconds, but Richard Bachman turned aside the 10th Texas shot of a scoreless first period. The OKC Barons have yet to score an opening period goal this season. Todd Nelson’s Barons put 9 shots on goal in the 1st period.
For the past two seasons, Tony DeFrancesco came over from the A’s organization and had little choice but to learn the Astros organization from top to bottom, and at times his team has seen all of those same spots in the standings as skipper of the Triple-A OKC Redhawks. I certainly don’t blame him for last year’s difficulties (when the Astros began trading guys in a reconstruction of their system) and I certainly expected he’d have a hard time keeping this year’s club atop the standings in the PCL as more of the same has occurred, and other organizations have stayed their course.
But it should be noted that when he had a talented core group of young talent and a few veterans mixed in for the first half of this season, the Redhawks were a top flight club. As Tony De joins the Astros to replace Brad Mills, who was clearly not the choice of the new franchise leadership, I wish him well and expect that with some positive moves, he can be a solid manager and get the Astros back into contention in a couple of years. With, of course, a lot of help in letting this round of acquired talent develop a bit on the farm and from the new ownership.
He’s interim for now, but who hasn’t held that role in the past?
Wish you luck Tony. Here’s the presser when he was hired in OKC and below that is today’s press release.
RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco has been named interim manager of the Houston Astros for the remainder of the 2012 season. Astros Roving Infield Coordinator Tom Lawless will assume managerial duties for the RedHawks.
In two seasons with the RedHawks, DeFrancesco led the team to a 135-135 record. After finishing last season 68-75, the RedHawks have improved to 67-60 this season. His career record in the PCL 713-564, and he guided the Sacramento River Cats to three PCL Championships (2003, 2004, 2007).
“We are extremely happy for Tony and his family for this wonderful opportunity,” RedHawks President/General Manager Michael Byrnes said. “Although we are sad to see him go, we’ve been proud to have him lead the RedHawks the past two seasons.”
Lawless will join the RedHawks in Round Rock, Tex. on Monday. Earlier this season, he served as acting manager for the RedHawks during three games in May.
Prior to becoming a roving instructor this season, Lawless managed each of the past three seasons in the Astros system with Lexington (2009), Lancaster (2010) and Corpus Christi (2011). He has nine years of managerial experience and his career record stands at 617-763.
Lawless spent eight seasons in the Major Leagues playing for Cincinnati, Montreal, St. Louis, and Toronto.
The RedHawks are in the middle of a nine-game road trip and will return home Monday, August 27 when they face the Albuquerque Istotopes . Tickets for the final homestand of the season are available through the RedHawks ticket office at (405) 218-1000 or by visiting okcredhawks.com.
#WCWS Oklahoma City – A nearly three hour rain delay was no problem for the Alabama Crimson Tide and their energetic fans. Unfortunately for OU, a drizzly WCWS finale will be remembered as the championship that slipped away.
Alabama took advantage of a rain-rattled junior lefthander Keilani Ricketts for a four run fourth inning that erased a 3-0 Oklahoma lead and changed the tide of the 2012 NCAA Women’s College World Series, claimed by Alabama 5-3. It is the first softball title in Crimson Tide history.
The 2012 collegiate softball Player of the Year, Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts came out throwing strikes and looked unhittable for three innings, one day after her wildness (a WCWS record 5 hit batters) cost her dearly in an 8-6 loss to Alabama. In the first, she threw thirteen pitches, eleven for strikes, to sit down the side for the Tide.
Ricketts’ big bat also ignited the crowd. She crushed a 1-0 pitch from Bama sophomore Jckie Traina for her 17th home run of the season and a 1-0 Oklahoma lead.
After lead-off hitter Javon Henson singled to start the third, a fielders choice and a grounder to the mound brought all-American slugger Lauren Chamberlain to the plate. With the left fielder playing Chamberlain almost on the warning track, the freshman firstbaseman showed why – ripping a line drive homer ten rows up in left to give OU a 3-0 lead. It was Chamberlain’s 29th homer, extending her school record for a single season. She would add her 30th in the seventh. Oklahoma led the nation in home runs this season with 102 as a team.
A pair of infield hits in the third didn’t faze Ricketts, whose defense turned in a couple of nice defensive stops on infield grounders, including the unassisted out at third by Henson to end the frame.
A light rain began to fall again in the fourth, and OU coach Patty Gasso apparently had her eye on the ball. In the first three innings, Ricketts had not gone to a single three ball count, but a slick ball changed things. Kalia Hunt worked deep in the count and delivered a sharp single to left to open the inning; it was Bama’s first hard hit ball of the game.
Clearly uncomfortable with her grip, Ricketts bounced a pitch to the plate that catcher Jessica Shults couldn’t corral, and the wild pitch moved Hunt to scoring position for the Tide’s cleanup hitter, Jackie Traina. But Traina fouled out to right and Reilly-Boccia struck out before a wild pitch moved the runner to third and Ricketts walked her first batter of the game to put runners on the corners with two out for Amanda Locke. Again the ball seemed to get away from Ricketts, scoring Hunt and bringing out OU head coach Patty Gasso, who complained to NCAA officials about the wet softball. After the uprising crew and NCAA officials gathered, a rain delay was called.
While Tide players and coaches remained on the field in front of their dugout, even joining in cheers with their fans, OU players and coaches were out of sight in the dugout waiting out the rain.
After a 14-minute delay, the crew returned and Oklahoma returned to the field with Ricketts facing the tying run at the plate and two outs. Amanda Locke worked the count full before bouncing a single to left that scored Kendall Dawson to trim the Sooner lead to 3-2.
Courtney Conley again worked a full count and drive a line shot to center that Destinee Martinez initially came in on but eventually sailed ver her head for a run scoring double that tied the game at three.
What appeared to be the final out of the inning turned into a throwing error by shortstop Jessica Vest, allowing Coney to score from second and the Tide to take a 4-3 lead. Ricketts was charged with four wild pitches.
The rain had passed, but damage was done. Three innings of championship momentum swung from Oklahoma to Alabama heading to the top of the fifth.
Oklahoma was a breadth away from retaking the lead. After Chamberlain walked and Ricketts was hit with a pitch, Shults drove a deep fly to right that Lunceford caught near the track for the third out.
The boisterous Tide and their fans willed another run across in the bottom half. A bunt single by Jennifer Fenton, passed ball and infield out set the stage for the cleanup hitter Traina, who singled sharply to right to plate Fenton for a 5-3 lead.
With a two run lead, Traina seemed to be pitching with renewed confidence, striking out Katie Norris on three pitches to open the sixth before Georgia Casey’s solid single to right. But Sampson popped to short and Henson struck out to set the stage for a historic seventh.
Oklahoma was fired up in the top of the seventh after Martinez was called out for runners interference for the second out. Lauren Chamberlain followed with a crushing home run to right centerfield to narrow the margin to 5-4 and briefly raise the spirits of the Oklahoma fans.
But Keilani Ricketts was called out on strikes to end the game, and Alabama’s players mobbed their sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina in the circle.
Traina finished with an NCAA best 42-3 record; Ricketts (37-9) capped her All-American campaign with 7 strikeouts to break her single season mark with 457 Ks.
Lauren Chamberlain, Destinee Martinez, Jessica Shults, Brianna Turang and Keilani Ricketts were named to the all-tourney team as we’re Alabama’s Kayla Braud, Jennifer Fenton and Amanda Locke while Jackie Traina was named the tourney Most Outstanding Player.