Thunder Rumblings

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Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday's win over the Bulls

by Darnell Mayberry Published: December 20, 2013

Have you heard the one about a player walking into the opposing locker room after the game?…

  • The best part of the game came long after the final buzzer. That’s when a mellow Thunder locker room nearly erupted. Bulls center Joakim Noah unexpectedly strolled into the Thunder’s den, accompanied by friend and Thunder starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha. Peering up from his stall and peeping Noah’s 6-foot-10 frame standing at the entrance, Thunder center Kendrick Perkins immediately voiced his displeasure. “They just let anybody in the locker room,” Perkins shouted, drawing the attention of everyone standing around waiting on players to dress before getting interviewed. “C’mon, man,” Noah responded. Perkins, looking around for support from his teammates and soon reeling in Russell Westbrook, repeated his statement. Noah asked Perkins if he wanted him outside. Perkins responded “I’m just saying, though.” Noah then said “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.” Perkins then said “Get yo’ (expletive) up out of here, (expletive).” “Aight,” Noah responded.
  • A Chicago reporter later spotted the two exchanging words once more in the hallway when their paths crossed. Nothing physical, I was told. Just words.
  • A couple of crazy, random things happened to me leading up to the exchange. First, I was headed into the Bulls locker room to try to grab Kirk Hinrich when Hasheem Thabeet, standing just outside the locker room, asked me to get Taj Gibson for him. I told Hasheem to just walk in and get him himself. Thabeet responded by giving me a sour face, like he had just eaten rotten eggs. Apparently, it was an awful suggestion. But his request was awkward for me because I don’t know Taj Gibson. Only talked to him once. That was in the preseason matchup. Besides, dudes are half dressed in these settings, and it just felt wrong for a man to walk up to another man, a half dressed one that he doesn’t know mind you and tell him that another man is waiting on him outside. Weird. But Gibson was totally cool about it. He asked me why doesn’t he just come in. “That’s what I said,”I told Gibson. “Thabo does it all the time,” Gibson responded before getting up and going out to meet Thabeet.
  • Shortly after that, I was chit-chatting with Perk just before the incident. We were talking about life and Perk suddenly changed the conversation to Noah. It was surprising. Perk and Noah (surprisingly) didn’t get into any beef tonight. It was Perk and Carlos Boozer. Still, Perk was disgusted by Noah’s 23-point, 10-rebound, three-assist night. Didn’t like that the big fella went off on the Thunder like that, even though the Bulls took the ‘L.’ Not 20 seconds after Perk expressed his frustration, I spotted Noah. Perk’s back was to the entrance. I said, “Speak of the Devil.” Perk turned, looked up and went ape s***. I had no idea it would be such a touchy sighting.
  • This is my eighth season covering the NBA. Never have I heard or experienced anything like tonight’s scene. File this under the unwritten rule category: a player shall not enter an opposing team’s locker room. Apparently, some make it a bigger deal than others.
  • I casually talked with Westbrook about the unwritten rule. He made it sound like a matter of respect more than anything. I asked him if he would allow good friend and Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love inside the Thunder’s locker room. He said he would not. At least he’s fair and consistent.
  • Figures that something like the locker room incident would take place tonight. I noted during the game how there was an unusual number of friend/foe combinations on the floor. On the friend side, you had Sefolosha/Noah and Kevin Durant/D.J. Augustin. On the foe side, you had Perk and Boozer barking and shoving all night and, who can forget, Serge Ibaka and Mike Dunleavy.
  • The game itself was a dud. The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Hinrich and, for the better parts of three quarters, Jimmy Butler. There was almost no way they’d win this game. Sure enough, the Thunder never trailed and led by as many as 19 before cruising to another win.
  • OKC is now 13-0 at home.
  • With the win, the Thunder matched last year’s mark through 25 games, something I found incredibly interesting given the myriad questions surrounding this team coming into the year. Funny how no one’s talking about those things now.
  • Scott Brooks: “I’m not going to sit up here and point my finger and say ‘I told you so.’ We knew we were a good team.’
  • Nick Collison on the key to this year’s success in spite of injuries and roster turnover: “We were confident coming into the year, and we had a lot of faith in our guys. But it is nice to see us playing well this early with some new guys in there, particularly our second unit…Those guys have really worked hard and filled in nicely. And our guys who have been here for a while, we’ve seen growth with them, too. We’re making better decisions…We’re just a little bit more mature, and I think you see that with our mindset coming into games.”
  • Rough night for Serge Ibaka. Ever have a day where you just didn’t want to be at work? That’s how Serge looked tonight. He was brutal for much of his court time, offensively and defensively. And the look in his eye suggested something was up. He just couldn’t shake it tonight. He finished with five points, three rebounds, three blocked shots and five fouls in 21 minutes. And those numbers don’t tell the whole story of his nightmare. He struggled defending Noah and Gibson. Couldn’t stay in front of either of them and could check them without fouling. It was so bad early on that Brooks gave Ibaka an early hook with just 7:36 left in the first quarter, replacing him with Collison. Ibaka didn’t check back in until 7:20 was left in the second period.
  • This was only the sixth time this season that Ibaka has failed to score at least 10 points.
  • That’s why he gets a pass. Ibaka has been incredible this year. He’s allowed to have a bad night. He’ll bounce back.
  • You’d have to go back to March 20 to find the last time Ibaka had as many fouls as points. He had four of each in a one-point road loss to Memphis.
  • The thing that confused me most about Ibaka’s night was his inability to stay in front of Noah and Gibson. They consistently beat him off the dribble. With Ibaka’s athleticism, there’s no way that should happen. Making matters worse, Ibaka let his defense affect his offense. After scoring 11 first-quarter points at Denver, Ibaka’s first field goal didn’t come until 9:24 remained in the third quarter.
  • I loved how Westbrook tried to get Ibaka going throughout the game. He could sense Ibaka wasn’t himself and that things were getting worse, and so he encouraged him and searched for him throughout. Durant eventually got involved with the encouragement as well.
  • Is it me, or is The Peake playing a lot more Jay-Z now that Durant signed with his agency?
  • OKC had three assists on its first three buckets and finished with 26 helpers for the game.
  • Westbrook had a game-high 10 assists to go with his 20 points. It was his fifth double-double this month and eighth of the season. Clearly, he’s looking to pass more frequently and get guys involved. When he does that, he’s fantastic and the Thunder is nearly unstoppable. “I think that’s going to help us, especially in the long run,” he said.
  • I asked Westbrook about his approach as a passer over these last few games, specifically how he’s started games looking for others. “First, I’m just trying to see how the defense is playing me. Obviously, if I’m open I’m going to stay in attack mode. But if it’s two guys on me I might try to find the open guy. Even sometimes, I may be open but I still try to find the open guy and try to get them easy baskets.”
  • Mystery solved for whoever asked me about it on the chat this week. Derek Fisher told me that his cologne teammates (especially Durant) use is Tom Ford. He also has a bottle of Clive Christian in his tote bag. But the teammates really like the Tom Ford, he said. On cue, Perk strolled up and asked for a squirt as Fish finished explaining his fragrances to me.
  • Noah made six straight free throws tonight. I saw it with my own eyes. One was wiped out because of a violation of some sort that I didn’t quite catch.
  • Another sight I’ve never seen in my eight years covering the league: a pitcher of pickle juice at the scorer’s table just before tip-off. Seriously. It was a pitcher of pickle juice with five pickles inside and six Styrofoam coffee cups sitting next to it. Although our man Anthony Slater said pickle juice helps with cramping, nobody with the team had any idea what it was doing there. How does that happen?
  • Anybody watching from home think Augustin looked like Derrick Rose? Not from a talent standpoint or the things he was doing on the court. But just his appearance. I watched some of the Bulls-Rockets from Wednesday night and was shocked at how much Augustin looked like Rose in a Bulls uniform. They have the same complexion and, with those black tights, wear their uniforms the same. It was sad to see.
  • Is there anything Reggie Jackson can’t do offensively? For real. Tell me a way he cannot score the basketball.
  • Referee Michael Smith took a nasty spill tonight while streaking down the court. Fortunately, he was OK and was able to stay in the game. Craig Sager (of all people) told me Smith was examined by a member of the Thunder’s medical staff and had severe neck stiffness but was able to stick around for the second half despite recommendations that the officials go with a two-man crew.
  • Sager also told me his Rudolph accessory that he wore on his tie tonight came from a wine bottle he bought earlier in the day in OKC.
  • Funny story about Smith, the referee who took a spill. Earlier this year, he worked the Thunder-Wolves game up in Minnesota. We stayed at the same hotel, as is often the case with writers and referees. The day after the game, we were both on the elevator headed downstairs, just the two of us. It was like 5 in the morning, and, seeing as how we both had our luggage in tow, I figured he also was headed to the airport for an early departure. I politely asked if that was the case, hoping we could split a cab so I wouldn’t have to wait on the lovely Minneapolis train in the freezing cold. He said “yes” he was going but left it at that. I then asked if he was taking a cab. “No. I’ve got a car service,” he said. And, again, he left it at that. Bubble busted. There went my bright idea. No offer. No go. To the train I marched, in the freezing Minneapolis cold.
  • Up next: at San Antonio on Saturday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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