Roll with the Thunder | 2017 All-Star Blog
Westbrook Stands Out in Sixth All-Star Appearance – Sunday Feb. 19 – 10 p.m. CT
In a game that featured 374 total points, it was a shock to see that the first time Russell Westbrook’s touched the ball in his sixth All-Star appearance came on the defensive end. Westbrook rose up and swatted a Kyrie Irving layup attempt, and until the fourth quarter, that was just about all the defense that was played in this 192-182 Western Conference win.
“I always have fun,” Westbrook said. “You have to embrace the moment. It’s something you don’t take for granted and you enjoy it.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 20, 2017
“I enjoy the heck out of it,” Westbrook added. “As a young child you never think you’ll be on a stage like this to experience something like this. I enjoy it every time.”
Westbrook was in the middle of a number of highlight plays, including alley-oop passes to Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan, and a spectacular give-and-go with Kevin Durant that ended in a Westbrook alley-oop dunk. He also initiated a back-and-forth, shot-for-shot exchange with Isaiah Thomas, which featured a Westbrook turnaround, banked-in three-pointer. In the third quarter, Westbrook hit four threes in a five possession span, then knocked down another three early in the fourth quarter.
“I was the season was like All-Star and I would hit some threes in the season,” Westbrook said, self-deprecatingly with a chuckle.
On the night, Westbrook finished with 41 points, five rebounds and seven assists. These games always have inflated statistics – the more impressive aspect of the whole spectacle was seeing Westbrook playing with and against 23 of the league’s very best players. The opportunity to be selected to the All-Star team, to be honored amongst peers and put on a show for the fans is one that Westbrook never takes for granted.
Watch: All-Star Recap
Westbrook has now scored at least 31 points in each of his last three All-Star Games, including 41 points in 2015 and again this year. Although he didn’t come up with his third-straight All-Star MVP, Westbrook was all smiles and laughs on the court and dazzled the fans with his three-point barrage and some high-flying dunks.
Dakari Johnson, Reggie Williams Represent OKC Blue – Saturday Feb. 18 – 4 p.m. CT
All season long, Oklahoma City Blue players grind out a challenging NBA Development League schedule – connecting flights on back-to-backs and battling to develop their games in pursuit of an NBA opportunity. So for all that hard work, there’s a reward, just like there is for the NBA’s best and brightest.
On Saturday afternoon at the Superdome, Blue guard Reggie Williams and center Dakari Johnson represented Oklahoma City at the D-League All-Star Game, getting to show off their skills with other players who are on the precipice of bursting onto the NBA scene. Their Western Conference All-Star squad didn’t get the win, falling 105-100, but both enjoyed the experience playing amongst the best at their level.
Williams, a 30-year-old veteran, is an NBA journeyman who has played for the Thunder in addition to four other NBA teams. This season with the Blue, Williams is averaging 18.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 39.5 percent from three. This was his second D-League All-Star appearance, and he came off the bench to pour in 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting to go along with six rebounds and three assists.
“It was great to play with some of these guys from the other teams that we play against,” Williams said. “I’m a fan of a lot of these guys’ games. Being able to play with them and see how they play was pretty awesome.”
Watch: D-League All-Star Recap
Johnson, at this point in his professional career is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the old hand Williams. As a 21-year old, Johnson was the youngest competitor in Saturday’s game. In his second season with the Blue, Johnson has made a name for himself, averaging a team-high 18.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game while shooting 56.0 percent from the field. In today’s contest he joined Williams in a reserve role and added four points and three rebounds to the cause.
“From last year to this year I feel I’ve really improved. All the coaches down there (in Oklahoma City) do a good job with me,” Johnson said. “Reggie has done a good job with me this year. He’s like my vet.”
Westbrook Joins Western Conference at Practice, a Show for the Fans – Saturday Feb. 18 – 1 p.m. CT
All season long, fans around the NBA flock in droves to get the chance to watch Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Crowds on the road often feature Thunder jerseys, and Westbrook’s introduction elicits cheers from fans from other cities. The excitement, the anticipation and the thrill of seeing a superstar is unmatched for a kid.
Now, imagine being that child, and getting to see 12 superstars on the same floor, at the same time. That’s Saturday’s All-Star practice. Westbrook joined the 11 other Western Conference All-Stars on Saturday morning in the loose, fun practice session at the Superdome.
“The fans are the best part,” Westbrook said. “You have an opportunity to get out there with all the fans in this big Superdome. It was great.”
It should be noted that the word “practice” should be interpreted in the loosest version of the word. The workout included some light shooting around to warm up and a five-man weave drill that just involved five players jogging up and down the court, dishing the ball to one another. After a handful of other drills, the practice concluded with a half court shot competition. Unlike at Chesapeake Energy Arena, however, the winner didn’t come away with $20,000.
The fact that the workout wasn’t exactly rigorous didn’t matter to the fans. The point of the experience was that this was the first opportunity this weekend for the fans to see all 12 Western Conference All-Stars assembled together on the court. Minutes later, they had a chance to watch the Eastern Conference All-Stars take the floor, wrapping up an afternoon where fans got to be in the presence of 24 of the greatest players in the entire world, all at once.
Saturday All-Star Practice
“It’s crazy, especially to be selected here with all these guys, some of the best players in the world,” Westbrook said. “It’s always good.”
Now, all that’s left for Westbrook is Sunday night’s All-Star Game, his sixth career appearance, where he’ll be defending his back-to-back All-Star MVP wins. In the meantime, the Thunder point guard is going to enjoy having his family in town, exploring New Orleans and spending some quality time with the rest of the Westbrook crew during the well-deserved break in the NBA schedule.
“That’s the best part - to see them move around, they’re having a good time,” Westbrook grinned.
Abrines, Sabonis Have a Blast in the Rising Stars Challenge – Friday Feb. 17 – 11 p.m. CT
After the buildup all day, it was finally time for Alex Abrines and Domas Sabonis to shine in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge. Their names were announced and they checked into the game but the question remained, in a nationally-televised environment on the NBA’s biggest weekend, were the Thunder rookies nervous?
“Not after the first 10 seconds,” Abrines laughed.
In the up-tempo, high-paced game, Abrines and Sabonis played 12 and 10 minutes apiece, contributing to the World team’s 150-141 victory over the USA team. Sabonis chipped in 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting while Abrines knocked down a three-pointer to stop a 12-0 USA run in the second half. The play of the game for the Thunder duo, however, came in the first half when Abrines, tracked down a loose ball and hit fellow Spaniard Willy Hernangomez with a pass on the block. The Knicks center spun and found Sabonis, the 20-year-old Lithuanian who grew up in Spain. Sabonis flushed home a wide open dunk in the lane, completing the play Abrines began.
“It was probably the play with the most passes in the game,” Abrines deadpanned.
Before the game even began, Abrines and Sabonis were given quite the shock. All of the sudden a familiar voice boomed behind them as they took jump shots. It was Russell Westbrook, who had surprised them at the game and watched the entire contest while sitting courtside. After Abrines hit his three-pointer, Westbrook prompted the sharpshooter’s beard-rubbing celebration. All game long, the Thunder All-Star point guard was extremely vocal, and even stopped Abrines and Sabonis courtside at halftime.
“He just said, ‘Can you please make a shot?’” recalled Sabonis, trying his best not to crack up. “It was pretty tough playing out there. Every time I touched the ball I heard Russ from the other side of the court just like, ‘DOMAS!’”
On a Friday night at All-Star Weekend, it was great to see Westbrook there supporting his rookie teammates and even entertaining them during the course of the game. With the mild albeit loud chatter coming from their team leader on the baseline, Abrines and Sabonis had to stop themselves from giggling out on the court as they bopped through the contest.
Still, even competing in the game itself was a privilege, as both players acknowledged after the game. No matter what happens in their careers, they’ll always remember their first All-Star Weekend, and the chance to compete with and against the best young players in the game.
Rising Stars Challenge Highlights: Alex Abrines, Domas Sabonis
A Busy Day of Giving Back – Friday Feb. 17 – 4 p.m. CT
By NBA standards, it was an early morning for Domas Sabonis and Alex Abrines, who strolled into the Superdome here in New Orleans at about 9 a.m. CT for their shootaround with the World Team, ahead of tonight’s Rising Stars Challenge.
World Team coach Mike Brown led Sabonis, Abrines and their teammates through a variety of drills, and fun contests like knockout, much to the joy of the fans in attendance. After a three-man weave drill, Brown ran through some out-of-bounds plays and a few halfcourt sets for the World Team to run. On one possession, he even encouraged Sabonis to handle the ball as the point guard. In an entertainment-only environment such as this, it’s always fun to see youngsters in positions they’re unlikely to be in during real competition.
“I don’t know if Russ will let me go there,” Sabonis giggled. “It was fun, we had a great time messing around a little bit and learning the plays.”
After practice, the Thunder duo and the rest of the World Team hopped on a bus and drove over to Tulane University, where dozens of children were anxiously awaiting their arrival at Jr. NBA Day, a basketball clinic for some young hoopers in the area. Sabonis and Abrines got the kids loose with some aerobic exercise to start, taught them some fundamentals of passing and then entertained them with some shooting competitions.
“The most important thing is having fun with the fans. We’re trying to interact with them as much as possible,” Sabonis explained.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 17, 2017
While the Thunder rookies were bouncing the ball around on the court, Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook was seated behind a desk, greeted by a throng of reporters as a part of Friday’s annual All-Star Media Availability. Peppered with a variety of questions, including from a child reporter named Jarrius Robertson, who is battling biliary atresia, a chronic liver disease. Westbrook delivered some words of encouragement to Robertson, and then discussed being selected for his sixth career All-Star Game.
“All-Star Weekend is a great experience for me and my family, the opportunity to be able to come out and enjoy a moment like this is something you don’t take for granted,” Westbrook said. “I’m blessed to be here and happy to play in the game.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 17, 2017
After he was done with all the talking, Westbrook went into action. As a part of NBA Cares’ Day of Service, Westbrook and New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis teamed up with Rebuilding Together to help out a local family whose house was battered by a recent tornado. The All-Star duo helped move furniture boxes and all sorts of household items into moving trucks.
Katrina Green and her five children are moving out of the house for a while so that the folks at Rebuilding Together have room to operate while repairing parts of the house and the roof that were damaged by the storm. Westbrook and Davis were there to make sure there were enough strong hands on deck to make the moving process go as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Day One in the Books – Thursday Feb. 16 – 6 p.m. CT
The Thunder contingent hit the ground in New Orleans around mid-morning, caught up on a bit of rest and then got right to it in the Big Easy. Russell Westbrook kick-started the afternoon by participating in the DewNBA3X All-Star Game, an amateur three-on-three tournament sponsored by Mountain Dew.
Westbrook served as honorary GM of one team, with Kyrie Irving serving the same role for the opposition. The amateur basketball players were selected by NBA legends Shaquille O’Neal and Dennis Scott, while former NBA standouts Baron Davis and Jason Williams served as team captains.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) February 17, 2017
Meanwhile, Thunder rookies Alex Abrines and Domas Sabonis were put through the ringer, making stops along the NBA’s Media Circuit to be interviewed by reporters from all over the country, and the globe. After checking in with multiple different outlets, the Thunder duo stopped in to sit down with okcthunder.com for an exclusive interview about their rookie seasons, All-Star Weekend, and the chance to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge.
Finally, as a part of his relationship with Jordan Brand, Westbrook attended the second-annual Jordan Brand Invitational at St. Augustine High School. The game was a showcase for the top local and national basketball players, and another chance for Westbrook to promote basketball at a crucial level of the game.
Welcome to New Orleans! – Thursday, Feb. 16 - 1 p.m. CT
With 32 wins under its belt and standing seven games above .500, the Thunder has eight straight days without a game to make way for this year’s All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. Although the team won’t be going to battle together, that doesn’t mean that Thunder fans won’t be able to see their favorite players in action.
There will be five members of the Thunder organization in New Orleans for the weekend, headlined by Russell Westbrook, the point guard MVP candidate who is making his sixth All-Star appearance this year. On Thursday, Westbrook will be making a pair of public appearances, attending an NBA Cares event and speaking with a variety of media outlets. Friday is the traditional All-Star Media Availability, Saturday is the practice session and the weekend culminates with the All-Star Game on Sunday night.
Rookies Domas Sabonis and Alex Abrines will be competing for the World Team in the Rising Stars Challenge this weekend, but first will be meeting with various media members and attending an NBA Cares event on Thursday. On Friday morning the Rising Stars will hold a brief practice session before the game tips off on Friday night.
On Saturday, the Thunder’s Gatorade League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, will be represented by two players in the G-League All-Star Game. Dakari Johnson, a second-year center, and veteran Reggie Williams will compete on Saturday afternoon. Also on Saturday, Victor Oladipo was selected as a finalist for the NBA Talent Challenge, for his gift of singing. The winner will be announced on Saturday at 4 p.m., on TNT.
Be sure to stay tuned to okcthunder.com and the Thunder’s social media feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat) for full coverage of what should be a fun and exciting weekend for the Thunder family!