The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

May 14, 2014

Emotional Thunder try to make return to conference finals

LOS ANGELES — In the closing seconds of Game 5, Kevin Durant took a seat. Not on the Oklahoma City bench or even at the scorers table.

The NBA’s MVP chose to sit down on the far end of the court as teammate Russell Westbrook was at the free throw line. With the Thunder trailing by two and only 6.4 seconds remaining, it was the definition of crunch time and Durant couldn’t bear to watch.

It wasn’t until Westbrook sank all three foul shots and Oklahoma City came up with a defensive stop on all-world point guard Chris Paul to end the game that Durant released a flood of emotions and picked Westbrook up in the air as they both screamed.

This is how the Thunder have been since the team has been formed around its young stars. They have become the posterboys for a team that wears its emotions on its sleeves.

“We have an emotional group of guys,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I’ve understood that from day one.”

No player gets criticized as much for allowing emotions to take over the game as much as Westbrook. Whether he has a beef with another player or thinks a referee has slighted him, he often reacts in ways that could be more detrimental than beneficial to the outcome.

In Game 5, Westbrook saw that Durant was having an off day and he took over the game until Durant was able to join the party late in the contest.

“He’s fierce and he’s fearless and he’s a winner,” Brooks said. “There’s nothing else you can say other than those three things. That’s who he is. The guy competes for his team every single night. He practices the way he plays. His success derives from all the work he puts in. One thing I love about Russell, he competes every single night.”

But Westbrook is not the only one on the team who can allow their emotions to get the best of them. The cool steady Durant tied for the league lead in technical fouls this season with 16. During the postseason, he has two of the team’s 12 techs.

Even Serge Ibaka has been known to have a moment where he loses his cool.

“He’s very emotional, very prideful,” Brooks said of Ibaka. “Those are the things I love about him. Those are things that sometimes drive me crazy. I like being driven crazy when you care about something and you’re passionate about something like Serge is. His competitive nature wants to win every possession.”

With such a fiery team, as the coach Brooks said he can’t allow himself to get swept up in their passions.

“You have to have an even keel approach to the game,” Brooks said. “It’s an emotional game. It’s a very competitive game. There’s 10 of the greatest athletes competing against each other. You have to be able to remain calm in the moments. At times we struggle in that area. But for the most part we do a pretty good job of that.”

Against the Los Angeles Clippers, the emotions and tempers have been running high the entire Western Conference semifinal.

Heading into Game 6 tonight in which Oklahoma City has a chance to close out the series, Brooks expects his team to excel in those moments when other squads would let their emotions get the better of them.

“The last two games have been an emotional roller coaster, for the good part of the ride and the scary part of the ride,” Brooks said. “But you love to be on it. We all live for these moments. We all live to be put in these positions. Our guys thrive in those areas.”�

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