Originally Published: Apr 24, 2011 5:42 PM CDT
We're here at the Pepsi Center Sunday afternoon as the Thunder finishes its light day-off workout. Media access granted to Scott Brooks, Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins. Each spoke of the challenge of closing out a team that is down 3-0 and a team that "does not want to go home."
I'm not so sure about that, especially if the Thunder starts the game strong. A couple of nuggets for you:
*Serge Ibaka came through Saturday night the way Thunder GM Sam Presti expected when he made the Perkins-for-Green and Nenad trade. Perk was limited to just five minutes in the first half after getting into foul troubleagain. Same for back-ups Collison and Mohammed. So it's time to surge with Serge. What do you get in the first half? 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
*Most impressive number for Serge was not the 22 points or the 16 rebounds or the 10-for-10 at the line or the four blocked shots. The most impressive number from Serge is 21. That's how stinkin' old the guy is! Start a franchise with Kevin Durant, have Russell Westbrook emerge into an all-star, sign an enforcer in the middle to a long-term deal in Perk and now see the early stages of what has the potential to be an all-star power forward and you get the strong feeling OKC is in this for the long haul.
*I was struck by a postgame comment Brooks made when talking about the big night from Serge. It was kind of a throwaway line but one that could make Serge and the Thunder all that much better this season and in the future. Brooks said, "Serge is our best mid-range shooterby far." Denver decided to give Serge good lucks because of their defensive strategy against KD and Westy. Ibaka made them pay. Apparently that did not come as a surprise in the Thunder locker room.
*I've watched some serious 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 games with young big men Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullins going at it. Mullins has gotten the best of Bill Self's first-round pick in last year's draft. He hit several shots with good form from 15-22 feet.
Assistant coach Mark Bryant was working with him in shooting drills and he told me Mullins can really shoot it. Maybe Aldrich will come on at some pointalthough there is a decided difference in their true height (edge Mullins at seven-feet to the 6-9 Aldrich who came advertised as taller). Right now it looks like Mullins will find playing time at some point. But this is a deep team right now. Maybe replace Mohammed in a couple of years.
*Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla clearly doesn't care for the Thunder or its coach.
In today's Denver Post, he writes, "as a championship contender, Oklahoma City is a fraud. A collection of soft jump shooters and irritable hot heads. This team has a lot of growing up to do." He went on to say that OKC cannot beat San Antonio or Memphis, much less LA. email@example.com pieces have appeared in the OKC paper and been received like a lead balloon--has basically labeled the Thunder as a bunch of soft, arrogant, overrated punks. One fellow close to the organization told me he's followed the writer for quite awhile and that he's "never let facts get in his way." I don't know about that but it seems time to take another angle on some of the storylines of this series.
It's one thing to naturally hope your hometown team wins. It's another to trash the opponent which quite frankly has a humble coach, good kids/young men and tremendous potential. And a team that might just finish off a 4-0 sweep of his Denvers Monday night.
*Interesting point spreads in Games 3 and 4. Denver favored by 5 and a half Saturday and has opened as a 3 and a half fave for Monday's game. I sort of felt Denver might win Game 3 but believe they will be ready to fold if OKC comes ready to play. I don't expect much action on the Nugs in the Monday game.
*Spent some time with Doug Collins on a cruise years agono, we didn't travel together. Was happy to see he was just as I'd hoped, and just as I thought he was: interested and interesting; friendly and unassuming; and genuinely a good guy. Happy to see his undermanned Sixers finish strong sending Take-My-Talents South back to the beaches of Miami. Clearly Doug can coach. It's fun to see him interact with his players and take a hands-on approach without seeing himself as bigger than the game and more important than the players. He knows better than any, that like the NFL, this is a player's league.