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. .