Joe Rantz and The Boys of ’36

It’s New Years’ Eve and like many I’ll be watching the college football national semi-finals today. Clemson vs. Ohio State in the second game, Washington vs. defending national champion Alabama in the first game. Washington is coached by former Boise State coach Chris Peterson, who as we all know in Oklahoma, beat OU in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl in what many regard as one of the greatest upsets in college football history.

Washington is a two touchdown underdog today and not given much of a chance by most pundits. Thinking of Peterson and his team made me think of another group of athletes from the University of Washington.

Not long ago, I was given a book by my cousin Jan who works for the Gates Foundation and lives in Seattle. She simply handed me the book at Christmas and said, “You’ll love this, Mike.” She was right. I read the book and fell in love with the story and the main character of the story, Joe Rantz.

The book is Boys in the Boat and written by Daniel James Brown. The story chronicles the University of Washington’s eight man row team of 1936. Set in the deepest point of the Great Depression, it’s a story of nine ordinary young men and their incredible journey to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin just prior to the onset of World War II.

This book is beautifully written and told through the narrative of Joe Rantz, the then last living member of the team telling his story to Daniel James Brown just prior to his death in 2007. It’s a story of the American Dream, of hope, of inspiration, and of never giving up regardless of the odds.

I’m glad I read it. It’s a story I’ll treasure forever even though I knew absolutely nothing about rowing prior to reading the book. Given what America might be facing the next four years it gives me hope. Sports can be that way.

No Bigs, No Bench, and No Westbrook in Memphis

This might qualify as the Thunder’s worst game of the season to date. I don’t feel as if I’m piling on calling it unwatchable at times. All of the feel good things OKC had been doing of late went out the window on Thursday night in Memphis as the Thunder bumbled to a 114-80 road loss to the Grizzlies.

If there is a silver lining it’s that Oklahoma State fans were able to exclusively watch the Alamo Bowl win over the hapless Colorado Buffaloes. Maybe in retrospect, the Thunder should have played Colorado and we as sports fans might have had something borderline watchable.

Russell Westbrook got ejected somewhere in the middle of the third quarter and quite frankly I don’t blame him for getting tossed. The team around him was so pathetically, brutally bad it didn’t at all faze me when Russell said to himself, “Fuck it, I can’t take any more of this tonight.”

And it wasn’t just Andre Roberson. It was every other Thunder starter. Collectively, Roberson, Steven Adams, Domas Sabonis, and Anthony Morrow shot the ball 4-20. So it wasn’t just Roberson’s man in the paint waiting for Westbrook, it was pretty much the entire Memphis team waiting for Russell Westbrook. I expect this sort of shooting from Roberson because there’s no reason to expect him to make shots in the first place, but Adams, Morrow, and Sabonis should pay some sort of fine to the league for being this bad. They were awful, as in unwatchable awful.

In 23 minutes, Westbrook wasn’t able to garner a single assist. As a team, OKC only registered nine assists in the entire game–which isn’t exactly a shock since someone has to make a shot for an assist to be registered on a score sheet.

Enes Kanter did score 19 points and is my player of the game for OKC if for no other reason than he made some shots and didn’t get ejected on purpose to avoid witnessing this clusterf–k going on around him on the court.

If there’s a moral to the story I guess it’s that when this Thunder team is having a bad night they really have a bad night.

All of the greats, Michael and Kobe included, have had their ejection moments so it’s not as if that should be held against Westbrook. He had enough and can you blame him when your other four starters go 4-20. At least he didn’t go into full Scottie Pippen mode and throw a chair. I wouldn’t dwell on this loss, it could be worse, we could be Dallas Maverick fans.

In closing, a random thought non game realted, Alex Abrines should grow the beard back. He looks like he’s twelve or something without the beard. That’s it, just wanted to write it.

No bigs, no bench, and no Westbrook on Thursday night in Memphis. Just an unwatchable ugly loss.

OKC will host the Clippers on New Years Eve. Enjoy the game and please don’t drink and drive. Make sure you have a designated driver.

I love this ejection. Portland fans voice their displeasure by throwing Bill Walton dolls at the refs.

Getting Set for Cameron Payne’s Return

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen Cameron Payne play in a real NBA basketball game. When Payne and Oladipo do return there’s going to be some tough decisions for Billy Donovan on how he’s going to integrate all the quality guards he has on this roster. There’s some quality depth with Westbrook, Oladipo, Roberson, Payne, Abrines, Morrow, and Christon. With the depth Donovan has with his bigs and will now have with his guards it should make for interesting lineups given the opponent on any given night. Presti has given Billy Donovan genuine flexibility on playing either big or small depending on the opponent.

Westbrook, Thunder Win 4th Straight in Miami

Victor Oladipo missed his eighth straight game and it didn’t even remotely matter as Russell Westbrook continued his mission statement season in a Thunder 106-94 win over the punchless Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on Monday night.

OKC came out fast in the first period with a 33-19 avalanche which featured some beautiful overall play by the Thunder. The ball moved, multiple Thunder players finished, and the game was in essence over after the first twelve minutes.

Westbrook recorded his 15th triple double of the season and 52nd of his career. He’s averaging a triple double for the season thirty-two games in and becomes the first player since Allen Iverson in 2000-01 to pass the 1,000 point plateau this early in a season. As a Thunder fan/blogger, it’s especially fun to witness Russell Westbrook and James Harden dueling it out for the MVP. Anyone who doubts Sam Presti’s ability to evaluate college talent needs to give it up at this point.

Westbrook’s numbers on Tuesday night were 29 points, 17 rebounds (all defensive), and 11 assists of which ten came in the first half. Westbrook closed with 11 of his points coming in the fourth period as he closed the road win… while of course as we all too well know around here (sigh)…Kevin fell down again and didn’t even get a shot off. Thanks, Kyrie. Thanks, Richard.

The Stache Brothers were once again good as Steven Adams went for 15 and 8 while Enes Kanter went 19 and 8. OKC scored 56 points in the paint and scored 16 fast break points.

As has been the norm in these four straight wins, the Thunder bench was excellent scoring 46 points and getting some very solid contributions from Alex Abrines and Jerami Grant. Abrines scored 14 points as the Thunder’s primary three point weapon going 4-7 from beyond the arc. Jerami Grant scored 9 points, made all four of his free throws and for the month of December is around 77% from the line.

Andre Roberson scored one point. Spoelstra appeared torn if he wanted to go the Hack Andre route and in hindsight he probably should have tried it more than the one time he did. But I’m guessing he didn’t because he’d have had too spend more time watching his own feeble team play. My obscure, meaningless stat for the night is that Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler played a combined 32 minutes and scored 1 point between them in a game against a pretty bad NBA team. By my count, Anthony Morrow scored all nine of his points in the third period.

If you take a peak at the NBA standings, OKC has jumped back up to the No. 5 seed in the West and currently is back in first place in the Northwest Division.

As soon as Oladipo returns you would figure OKC’s bench will be even more vibrant. I’m not going to speculate if and when Payne returns, but it will be exciting when they return because both are lottery picks Billy Donovan will have at his disposal to add to the mix of his team.

An exciting time to be a Thunder fan and has been the norm pretty much the past eight years, the Oklahoma Thunder are young, talented, and fun to watch which are all a direct result of Sam Presti understanding the multiple challenges of general managing in a small market such as Oklahoma City.

The Thunder at Memphis on Thursday night.

Oakland Super Team Post Game Interviews After Loss to Cavs

Even when Durant was still in OKC the Warriors were probably my second or third favorite team in the league. Now? They act like a bunch of spoiled pricks. “That’s all I have to say now, you’ll catch the rest of what I have to say in a later interview somewhere else.” What a collective group of pricks.

LeBron James Still Owns Kevin Durant

Great game yesterday in Cleveland. The truth of the matter is most NBA fans, myself included, would prefer it were already June and these two teams were already battling in the NBA Finals. Although I’d love to see the Thunder play the Rockets in a playoff series, other than that the rest of the season holds no great potential drama. I said this the instant Durant announced he was joining the Warriors and nothing has changed my mind to date. Even though both Durant and Curry appear to shrink (choke) from the moment against LeBron—there’s no other team in the West who should be able to beat the Warriors four times in two weeks.

What we witnessed yesterday has to have Steve Kerr concerned just a little. Golden State was clearly the better team yesterday. Vegas agreed and had Golden State as a two point road favorite. They led for all the game except for something like 42 seconds. But when it came down to ‘winning time’ Kevin Durant was nowhere to be found. Otherwise, Durant had a great game with 36 points, but in the fourth period—three points on 2-9 shooting from the field. In the final nine minutes of the game, Kevin Durant scored three points and those came on free throws. Curry was basically subpar the entirety of the game.

It’s no big deal losing on Christmas Day because the last three NBA champions have all lost on Christmas day, but what should be somewhat of a concern to Steve Kerr is that this is exactly what Kevin Durant has done his entire career versus LeBron James. That being, shrinking from the moment, or to be more kind, just not being the whole player LeBron is. Couple that with the fact Kyrie Irving is now a bona fide clutch time superstar finisher and it’s not such a done deal that Durant puts the Warriors over the top against the Cavs in June.

So here we sit on the day after Christmas wishing Game 2 of the Cavs-Warriors series was on Tuesday instead of having to wait until June to see if Kevin Durant even with all these All-Stars surrounding him can finally cross his own emotional bridge and finally beat LeBron James.

Why do we have to wait five months?

In closing, why in the world would Steve Kerr draw a play where with 3.4 seconds remaining Kevin Durant is playing off a screen and moving full speed away from the basket on the potential game winner? My answer is he’d rather have Durant taking a shot moving away from the basket being guarded by thirty-six year old Richard Jefferson than in anyway being guarded by LeBron James when it mattered.

Why do that?

Because to date LeBron James owns Kevin Durant.

Bigs, Bench Spur Thunder to Easy Christmas Win Over Wolves

If you’re a passionate OKC Thunder fan it couldn’t have gone much better than it did on NBA’s Christmas Sunday.

In the early afternoon national marquee game, Kevin Durant’s Warriors blew a fourth period 14 point lead and clinched the choke with Kevin Durant falling down on what could have been the game winning buzzer beater if he’d gotten a shot off. Seen that, been there….. goodbye darkness, my old friend Game 6.

If you’re an eternally optimistic obsessive Thunder fan like me, then you realize that if Durant were still with the Thunder it would have been OKC-Cleveland in the marquee game today and we’d be emotionally down right now trying to figure out if Durant is ever going to discover his inner man and beat LeBron in a game which means anything. But’s that’s Jerry West’s issue now, so let’s move on to the best player in the NBA currently and his trending Thunder mates.

While Durant was stumbling and bumbling when it mattered, Russell Westbrook and Co. were quietly going about their business of winning their third straight game which turned out to be a surprisingly easy romp over the talented, yet still disappointing T Wolves by a 112-100 count. Vegas had this game pegged at OKC -4, so if you took the Thunder you cruised to winning your bet by a +8 margin. All things considered a great day of hoops in OKC, an epic Durant Super Team choke, the Thunder’s third straight win, and some extra cash if you took OKC -4 on Christmas Day.

I’m getting bored writing this, kind of, but Westbrook was just basically Westbrook. 31 points, 7 rebounds, 15 assists. Lots of smiling. Plenty of great plays, ect., ect.

For me the two keys were OKC’s bigs and their bench. OKC’s bigs just basically punished the young Wolves over and over and over. Steven Adams scored 22 points and added 6 rebounds. Enes Kanter was a highlight reel in and of himself scoring 20 points, grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing 4 assists. I thought it was Kanter’s best game of the year and I’m guessing he did as well. OKC scored 65 points in the paint and it was there anytime Kanter or Adams wanted to patiently back their man down. Another thing, the interior passing from Adams, Kanter, and Lauvergne continued to be impressive.

OKC’s bench was again excellent scoring 50 points and in reality making it a very easy night for Russell Westbrook. Jerami Grant scored 9 points and did his usual array of athletic things. Joffrey Lauvernge went 8 and 4 while continuing to make us wonder wtf Billy Donovan was doing with Kyle Singler on Monday night. Andre Roberson didn’t have to shoot a free throw by my count and Alex Abrines continued his upward trend with a ten point night.

OKC was once again without Oladipo and Payne, yet won easily and looked very mature in doing so. Give Billy Donovan some credit, after the Atlanta loss he’s changed some things, altered some nuance tweaks and the Thunder have found a way to play solid ball without Victor Oladipo.

In closing, I would ask what more could you ask for as a Thunder fan other than maybe Kawhi Leonard to come to play with Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City? Think about those two together, seriously.

Anyway, great win, great choke by the Oakland Super Team and we’re supposed to have some really nice weather in Oklahoma this week. Life is good. Enjoy the win streak. Kick back and enjoy the ride.

Thunder at the Miami Heat on Tuesday night. We could probably use beach drinking music on here to set the mood.

Durant Falls Down Wearing Nikes, Then Chokes on Final Play vs. Cavs

Equally bad closing moment for Durant and Nike as he stumbled around and didn’t even get a shot off. Scott Brooks didn’t call the play. Russell Westbrook was in Oklahoma City widening his lead in the MVP race. LeBron is to Durant what the U.S. Open Golf Championship was to Dustin Johnson before he won the crown this past June. It is what it is. I hope his mother wasn’t watching today.

Another Tough Ending for Kevin Durant

Tough ending this afternoon for Kevin Durant in the Christmas game against his perennial nemesis LeBron James. The Warriors blew a 14 point fourth quarter lead as Durant kind of ‘choked’ on two pivotal plays down the stretch. Karma can be this way at times. Cry me a river. Maybe Charlie, Richie, and Nike can get KD moved to the Cavs before the deadline.