Live From Tulsa: Thunder vs. Miami Heat

TULSA – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks got his first look at the starting unit in crunch time of a nearly deadlocked game against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, and the outcome couldn’t have been much better.

With Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Tulsa native Etan Thomas on the floor for the game’s final 4:27, the Thunder showed it’s starting to learn from past mistakes in its 96-91 victory at the BOK Center in Tulsa.

In the final minutes the starters shared the floor they sustained a lead, didn’t commit a turnover and made timely defensive stops.

Another day, another step in the process.

“It shows mental toughness,” forward Jeff Green said. “Last year around this time I think we probably would have buckled and probably would have lost the game. But I think we’re fighting and we’re competing and we’re working together.”

The Thunder put together a rousing defensive performance down the stretch of a mostly one-possession game as it held Miami to 8-for-19 shooting and forced five turnovers in the fourth quarter.

“That’s the goal, to really buckle down defensively,” Brooks said. “We want to do it for 48 minutes and the fourth quarter we really did a good job of being active with our hands and challenging shots and I thought Russell did a very good job of putting pressure on their guards throughout the game.”

Brooks said the plan all along was to have the starters play some of the fourth quarter, although there was no telling what kind of situation they’d be facing.

Having lost a handful of games in the final seconds and minutes last season, this was more progress for the Thunder.

And for the second straight game, Durant exploded offensively in the second half, scoring 18 points on 5-for-6 shooting to go with four rebounds and a steal in the fourth quarter. What’s more impressive was that he played the entire fourth with five fouls.

As far as lessons go from one season to another, Durant said the Thunder is learning to be more patient in fourth quarters.

“We can’t do the same things we did in the first in the fourth,” Durant said. “We’ve got to start running our sets all the way through and maybe look for the last option and play harder defense, not get lackadaisical. I think we did that tonight. We slipped up some but we made up for it as well. But Russell did a great job of controlling the team and getting us in all of our sets and Shaun did as well. We fought back and got the win.”

HOMECOMING TO REMEMBER

Moments after he hit two free throws to all but seal a Thunder victory, Etan Thomas was walking through the tunnel to the locker room when he experienced a blast from the past. The familiar face belonged to someone Thomas grew up with at the local YMCA during middle school.

It was one of literally hundreds of faces that Thomas recognized on Wednesday in his first game in his hometown since he led Booker T. Washington High to a state championship as a senior.

And it was moments like those that it finally hit Thomas he was playing in his native Tulsa. Afterward, Thomas gave the final tally: he gave out about 130 tickets to family, friends, his alma mater, friends of friends and community groups he’s worked with.

“Sometimes I see when I’m walking out, I see some people I know or somebody waves to me or someone shouts from the crowd and I look and it’s somebody from my class, somebody I grew up with, that’s when you really realize it, because I haven’t played here since high school,” he said. “So it’s a totally different feeling. It’s great.”

The BOK Center wasn’t around when Thomas was growing up, and he fondly recalled working at the nearby American Parking, where he had the evening shift while in high school.

“I was the guy who would take the tickets and tell people where to park – that was my job,” he said. “And I did a pretty good job, too.”

MORNING REPORT

Come back in a few hours for some leftover notes from Wednesday’s game, including more on Kevin Durant overcoming five fouls to help the Thunder in a tight fourth quarter and Byron Mullens’ performance against a former All-Star center.

Contact Chris Silva

FOURTH QUARTER

  • That’s a wrap: the Thunder came away with its second win in a row, a 96-91 victory over the Miami Heat. Check back later for more.

  • Tulsa’s hometown guy, Etan Thomas, pretty much sealed the win for the Thunder by hitting two free throws with 11.4 seconds left.

  • The Thunder is up by three with 2:03 left and both teams have their starting units on the floor. Great late-game experience here for the Thunder.

  • One by one, the Thunder has gone back to its starting lineup. Seems like the coaching staff wants to get a good look at this unit down the stretch of a close game. The Thunder trails, 84-83, with 4:19 left.

  • A few days ago, Brooks told us that Durant leads the team in pass deflections. He just had another one here in the fourth, playing the passing lanes on the right wing, where he read a Carlos Arroyo pass and used his length to poke it loose for a steal.

  • The Thunder has cut into the Heat’s lead and now trails, 73-69, with 9:10 left, forcing the Heat to take a timeout. We’re seeing Durant as a playmaker right now. He just ignited a fast break, weaved through defenders and made a nice lead pass to a cutting Mullens for a layup. Great read by Durant, strong finish by the rookie big man.

  • We’re seeing Kevin Durant play some point forward here to start the fourth. He’s already scored the first four points of the quarter. Durant’s on the floor with Weaver, Livingston, Mullens and Ruffin to start the fourth.

    THIRD QUARTER

  • The Thunder finished the quarter with Westbrook and Livingston in the backcourt and Green, Ruffin and Mullens up front. Miami takes a 70-60 lead into the fourth quarter.

  • Former Tulsa standout Michael Ruffin, in camp with the Thunder, just checked into the game at the 6:28 mark to a nice ovation. This is Ruffin’s first preseason action.

  • Kevin Durant often has spoken about how he wants to become a better defender. We caught a glimpse of what he’s been talking about. Durant was defending his childhood friend, Michael Beasley, out on the perimeter. They were actually jostling for position. Durant made it awfully difficult for Beasley to get a pass from a good angle. Beasley eventually got it and hoisted a shot with Durant in his face. Durant was all over him to the point that an official called a foul on the Thunder forward. Still, you’ve got to like Durant’s tenacity.

  • Miami guard Mario Chalmers just zipped through the lane for an uncontested layup, prompting Thunder head coach Scott Brooks to call a timeout. The Heat is still ahead, 57-52.

    SECOND QUARTER

  • The Thunder outscored Miami, 8-5, in the final 3:26 of the first half and head into halftime trailing the Heat, 47-41.

  • We’re seeing Byron Mullens in action for the first time since the Thunder’s Oct. 10 game against New Orleans. He’s matched up against veteran Jermaine O’Neal and just drained a mid-range jumper over the Miami big man. For Mullens, there’s no better way to learn defensively than by guarding a proven vet like O’Neal.

  • Jeff Green went back into the game at the five minute mark and immediately got into a rhythm. First, he drained a second-chance three-pointer from the wing. Next, he got loose for a fast break dunk. Defensively, he’s defending the post. Talk about versatility.

  • At 6-7, Livingston is quite tall for a guard. That can play to his advantage on many instances. It happened a possession ago, when the Thunder put Livingston in the post against the smaller Daequan Cook. Livingston used his strength and leverage to back Cook down in the paint. Livingston eventually drew a shooting foul and got two free throws out of it.

  • Shaun Livingston is on the floor, and for the second straight game the Thunder have him playing off the ball. Training camp invitee Tre Kelley is still running the point.

    FIRST QUARTER

  • Nenad Krstic and Tre Kelley are also seeing time tonight. Kelley subbed in for Westbrook at the end of the quarter.

  • After playing just the overtime of Monday night’s game, Kyle Weaver was the first one off the Thunder bench tonight, and the second-year player made an immediate contribution. Weaver read a pass, got into the middle of the lane for a steal, started the fast break and found Durant for a powerful jam.

  • The first basket of the night went to the hometown guy, Etan Thomas, who threw down a two-handed dunk and for it received a nice applause.

  • We’re underway here in Tulsa, where the Thunder is hosting the Miami Heat.

    For the Thunder, it’s Tulsa native Etan Thomas, Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook in the starting lineup. The Heat are going with Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Jermaine O’Neal and Michael Beasley.

    Nice crowd on hand here at the BOK Center. I ran into Tulsa 66ers Moses Ehambe and DeVon Hardin before the game…nice to see them come out and support the Thunder. Ehambe and Hardin both played on the Thunder’s Summer League team.