OKC THUNDER: Closing the door has been the key

Thunder has learned how to finish games, and that has OKC atop the Western Conference
By John Rohde, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Published: March 6, 2012

During its first three years of the existence, the Thunder perpetually remained hospitable by leaving the door open.

To gain true respect in the NBA, a team must be able to close out opponents by slamming the door shut. Staying open 24/7 only invites heartache.

In Game 6 of a first-round playoff series against the eventual world champion Los Angeles Lakers in 2010, the Thunder led 94-93 with 2:11 remaining. OKC left the door open with five straight misses and wound up being eliminated 95-94 on a Pau Gasol putback with 0.5 seconds left.

In Game 4 against the eventual world champion Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference Finals, the Thunder led by 15 points at home with 5:06 left in the game, was outscored 17-2 the remainder of regulation and wound up losing 112-105 in overtime.

In Game 5 of the Western Finals at Dallas, OKC led by seven points with 5:49 left, again failed to close and was outscored 17-6 the rest of the way to be eliminated in the best-of-seven series.

But as the expedited 2011-12 season blows past the halfway point, the Thunder (30-8) boasts the best record in the Western Conference because it consistently has been slamming doors in opponents' faces.

In its previous seven victories heading into Monday night's contest against the Mavs, Thunder opponents had shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.

“I like it. Thirty seven is my favorite number,” OKC coach Scott Brooks deadpanned.

Dallas managed to shoot 42.9 percent in the final period Monday, but was shut out for the final 2:46 while the Thunder rolled off eight unanswered points for a 95-91 victory.

“We were playing against one of the best passing teams and veteran teams that knows how to play,” Brooks said. “I thought our defense was outstanding.”

When Phoenix (17-20) visits Chesapeake Energy Arena at 7 Wednesday night, OKC will be looking to boost its home record to 17-1 on the season with its 14th straight victory in the refurbished facility.

How consistently the Thunder is able to close out games remains to be seen, but this season has brought a defiant attitude from a once congenial group.



Thunder vs. Suns

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena

TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)

Mobile: newsok.com/gameday

Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

Three things to know

* The Thunder defeated the Suns, 107-97, on Dec. 31 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Thunder led by as many as 24 points and never trailed in that game. No starter played in the fourth quarter.

* The Thunder has won 13 straight home games and is 16-1 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. This is the second game in a string of five straight at home.

* Russell Westbrook has committed only five turnovers in the past three games.

Projected starters

Thunder (30-8)

Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast.

G;Russell Westbrook;6-3;23.7;4.9;5.5

G;Daequan Cook;6-5;5.9;2.6;0.3

F;Kevin Durant;6-9;28.1;7.9;3.3

F;Serge Ibaka;6-10;8.2;7.5;0.4

C;Kendrick Perkins;6-10;4.4;6.5;0.9

Suns (17-20)

Pos.;Player;Ht.;Pts.;Reb.;Ast.

G;Steve Nash;6-3;13.8;3.1;10.9

G;Jared Dudley;6-7;12.1;4.2;1.9

F;Grant Hill;6-8;10.1;3.4;2.2

F;Channing Frye;6-11;9.7;6.1;1.0

C;Marcin Gortat;6-11;15.9;10.6;1.0

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