Remember when the Thunder was a boy-scout of a basketball team? When it was sugary sweet and squeaky clean? When it was widely beloved around the NBA because of its good-guy vibe?
Well, those days are long gone.
No doubt the Thunder has never been more loved around these parts than it is right now. You won't find a hotter ticket or a bigger story in our fair state. But make no mistake, this team isn't nearly as cuddly as it used to be.
Fangs and claws, after all, aren't all that adorable.
But if you like a team that's physical and tough, you'd better be able to accept what comes along with that — the whistle-toters doing some heavy policing.
The Thunder has become one of the most T'd up teams in the NBA. Despite a roster full of good character guys and quality community ambassadors, the Thunder trails only the Knicks, the Clippers and the Lakers in technical fouls this season.
OKC also has two of the players with the most techs in the NBA. Kendrick Perkins has 11 technicals, one behind leader Sacramento big man DeMarcus Cousins, while Russell Westbrook has 10.
“I don't like ‘em,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of all the Ts. “It doesn't really help. Referees aren't going to change their calls.”
True enough, but that doesn't seem to have stopped his team from racking up techs almost as quickly as wins.
“I don't like just giving teams a couple points without them having to work for it,” Thunder star Kevin Durant said. “I really don't like ‘em, but sometimes, your emotions get the best of you and you're gonna get a few techs. It's a part of the game.”
It's become an even bigger part for the Thunder since Perk came to town. The big fellow was acquired from Boston to bring toughness, attitude and edge to Oklahoma City, and he's done just that. The Thunder wouldn't be considered a championship contender without him.
But the techs are a byproduct.
“Going through the course of the game, sometimes you go through times when you're frustrated,” Perk said, “and I'm a guy who plays angry anyway, so I'm mad before I even hit the court.”
Before Perk arrived last season, the Thunder was whistled for 17 technical fouls in 65 games. (None of these numbers include defensive-three-seconds technicals, by the way.) But with Perk on the floor for the last 17 games of the regular season, the Thunder had 18 technical fouls.
So, in 17 games with Perk, the Thunder had more techs than it did in 65 games without him.
The spike has continued this season. Through 55 games, the Thunder has 36 technicals.
“Sometimes, you get caught up in your emotions,” Perk said. “It's never nothing personal with the refs or nothing like that. Sometimes, guys do get carried away, including myself, and you show a lot of emotion and things happen.
“But ... when you're getting tangled up with guys and stuff like that, that's stuff that you can't control.”
Any championship team has to be willing to tangle with other teams, has to have that we-won't-be-pushed-around attitude. If that game against the Heat earlier this week is any indication, the Thunder has that mean streak and then some. It was as rough and tough a game as there's been in the NBA this season.
And as if on cue, Perk picked up a technical when he karate-chopped Dwyane Wade in the head.
That foul has since been rescinded, but pick up two more technicals in the last 11 regular-season games, and Perkins will have to serve a one-game suspension. If it comes to that, it could be a huge loss for the Thunder, which is battling for that top spot in the Western Conference. You don't want to try to overtake San Antonio with one of your starters on the bench.
“It's a concern,” Brooks said of losing Perk for a game. “He has to be able to control his emotions.”
“But he has to be able to play with that passion and toughness. There's a fine line.”
Ah, there's the rub.
Technicals are often the byproduct of tough play. Sure, there are times when guys are just stubborn and silly. They push things over the line. They deserve whatever they get. While the Thunder has some of those types of technicals this season, it also has plenty that have come as the result of standing toe to toe with an opponent, showing those claws and bearing those fangs.
Cuddly they were, but not anymore.
Then again, when you're in pursuit of an NBA Championship, that isn't such a bad thing.
Thunder players' technical fouls
Player, Technicals, Most Recent
***** Kendrick Perkins, 11, March 21 vs. Clippers
* Russell Westbrook, 10, March 21 vs. Clippers
Kevin Durant, 4, March 29 at Lakers
Serge Ibaka, 3, Feb. 22 vs. Celtics
Scott Brooks, 3, Monday vs. Grizzlies
James Harden, 2, March 21 vs. Clippers
Nazr Mohammed, 1, Dec. 25 vs. Magic
Ryan Reid, 1, Feb. 23 vs. Lakers
Thabo Sefolosha, 1, March 21 vs. Clippers
* Indicates a technical that was assessed to that player but rescinded upon NBA review.