West Wins, Durant Leads All Scorers

February 18th, 2013

After the first half Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had a combined 27 points, and in the second half they increased those totals as they helped lead the Western Conference All-Stars to a 143-138 victory over the East at the Toyota Center.

The second half started with the West leading 69-65, and Durant shortly thereafter made a steal and then finished at the rim. Later he took a pass from eventual game MVP Chris Paul at the top of the key and drained a three pointer before Westbrook finished a slick layup in transition after changing the ball mid-air from his right to left hand. The four point margin stayed the same for the West heading into the final frame, as it led 108-104.

In the fourth quarter Westbrook again led the charge, hitting a jumper from the wing then adding a highlight reel up-and-under reverse layup between defenders. After that it was Durant’s turn to take over, as he slammed home three dunks to bring his scoring tally for the night to 30 points. He skied in the lane after receiving a bounce pass for one dunk, pump faked and drove baseline for a jam and then picked up a loose ball and soared for a breakaway dunk to get his final points.

The West’s defense held on late, and Durant finished with 30 points, six rebounds, two steals and an assist. Westbrook had 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal in 18 minutes of action. Those 30 points for Durant made him the first player to ever score 30-plus points in three straight All-Star games, and he also now holds the record for most total points of any player in the first four All-Star games and has the highest scoring average in the All-Star Game at 28.3 points per game.

-Nick Gallo

First Half Update

February 18th, 2013

On All-Star Sunday, it’s important to get to the arena early. Here at the Toyota Center there have been plenty of people and things to see in the buildup of the game.

There are celebrities everywhere, from Jay-Z and Beyonce to rappers P. Diddy, Drake and Nas and former NBA stars scattered throughout the building from Bill Russell to Scottie Pippen. In addition, Olympians Gabby Douglas and Usain Bolt are in the house. Prior to the game, thunder.nba.com got a sneak preview of the pre-game introductions, which incorporated the starters for each team rising up from underneath the stage. After warmups, three songs from Ne-Yo and the national anthem by John Legend, the game got underway.

The Thunder’s Kevin Durant was a starter for the Western Conference team, and teammate Russell Westbrook joined him in the game shortly thereafter. Durant got things going early and often, hitting a three-pointer to start things off, then scoring twice in transition, once on a breakaway windmill reverse slam dunk then on a nifty, driving lefty layup. Westbrook later got into the scoring action by hitting a layup in the lane, then taking an alley-oop with two hands ans slamming it down with one before making a scooping reverse layup. That ended the first quarter, as the West led 31-26 as Durant and Westbrook led the way for the West with seven and six points respectively.

The scoring barrage continued in the second quarter as Westbrook hit a free throw line jumper and Durant drained a three-pointer from the wing to become the first player into double figures. Durant added a put-back lay-in then drove baseline for a cool up-and-under dunk. After that, Durant hit an and-one driving layup, then took a bounce pass from Chris Paul to slam home a monster dunk in the lane.

When it was all said and done, Durant had a game-high 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting and Westbrook had eight on 4-for-5 shooting as the West took a 69-65 lead into halftime.

-Nick Gallo

Checking in Pregame with KD

February 17th, 2013

Kevin Durant has been all around H0uston during All-Star Weekend, so keeping the three-time scoring champion and four-time All-Star in one place was a rare opportunity that thunder.nba.com was afforded on Sunday afternoon.

The exclusive interview Thunder sideline reporter Lesley McCaslin got with Durant was the final one he’d give before he embarked for the Toyota Center to prepare for tonight’s game. It was a good chance to check in with Durant about all that he’s been up to throughout the three-day weekend as he’s been bouncing from place to place. He’s made multiple appearances, including a NBA 2K13 event and a Skullcandy event where he played video games with lucky kids from the Houston area. Those moments are always a joy, as Durant can channel his inner kid and relax with a new pal. Those events are exactly what All-Star weekend is designed to accomplish.

“It’s always great to give back, especially to kids,” Durant said. “I really enjoy doing that. This whole weekend is about the fans. We’re just making sure that they’re having a good time. That’s what all the All-Stars and all the guys who participate in All-Star Weekend are trying to do.”

On Saturday, Durant joined teammate and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook, along with Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Kyrie Irving by visiting the Galleria mall in western Houston for a Nike event. There was a massive stage and display set up on the rink level of the mall, and thousands of clamoring fans filling all three floors of the mall to get a glimpse of the All-Stars as they took turns answering questions and participating in giveaways. The mall was so packed that shortly after Durant and Westbrook left, Houston public safety officials had to shut down the entire mall and tell the crowd to disperse. It was a surreal feeling for Durant to be able to have contact with so many fans all in one place.

“It feels like a dream to me,” Durant said. “I’m walking through the mall, I see so many fans with Thunder stuff and it feels good to get that love. I’m just excited to be here and am looking forward to playing in the game.”

All of those events, of course, were appetizers for the main event, tonight’s All-Star Game, the 62nd such event in the NBA’s history. Durant is the defending MVP after he led the Western Conference to victory last season in a riveting game in Orlando. Tonight he and Westbrook will look to guide the West to another victory. All of the NBA’s eyes will be focused on tonight’s game in Houston, so despite this being Durant’s fourth go-round, it’s still something he doesn’t take for granted.

“It never gets old,” Durant said. “I’m still nervous, still excited. I’m looking forward to playing in Texas where I went to school. It’s going to be fun.”

-Nick Gallo

Giving Back on Sunday Morning

February 17th, 2013

The platform NBA All-Stars have is incredible. It allows them to do many things that others might not be able to, so it should be no surprise that the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook used that status for good on Sunday morning.

In the buildup to Sunday night’s All-Star Game, Westbrook stopped by Jam Session at Houston’s convention center to participate in the NBA Cares All-Star Special Olympics Clinic. There were dozens of special Olympians in attendance, and Westbrook helped lead them through warmups, layup lines and other basketball drills. Alongside former New York Knick and Tulsa native John Starks, Westbrook’s smile was visible all the way across the court as he high-fived and congratulated each kid whether they made or missed a basket. The Olympians had an incredible time too, and their energy was contagious.

“It was a great experience to come out, with all the big things going on this weekend to have fun with the kids,” Westbrook said.

“It’s exciting for me, it’s exciting for them,” Westbrook continued. “They have a good time and they get to interact with guys like myself. It’s great.”

Next, Westbrook hopped over a couple stations inside the convention center to coach a State Farm Assist Clinic, where he ran through drills with four different groups of lucky participants. Many of the fans who had the chance to participate were decked out in Thunder gear, and all of them had a great time. The clinic was the second chance that Westbrook had to coach this weekend, the first coming as the coach of the East team in the Celebrity All-Star Game. When asked, Westbrook said that he might bring some of that experience back to the Thunder huddle.

“I’ll try to help Scotty a little bit,” Westbrook joked.

From there it was time for Westbrook to get back and get ready for his third All-Star game in his young five-year career. He was decked out in a new Russell Westbrook branded logo to go along with his Jordan Brand gear, and was asked, with a hat tip to his Why Not? Foundation, what his “Why Not?” question of the day was. The Thunder point guard wryly smiled and gave a quick quip.

“You’ll see tonight!” Westbrook exclaimed, leaving all to wonder just what might happen tonight at the All-Star Game.

-Nick Gallo

Westbrook’s All-Star Saturday

February 17th, 2013

The entire All-Star weekend in Houston is about celebrating the NBA and having fun with seemingly the entirety of the league in attendance.

It always seems that All-Star Saturday night, however, is the evening most filled with pure excitement and competition. With the Slam Dunk contest, Three-Point contest, Skills Challenge and the Shooting Stars Challenge, which Russell Westbrook participated in, Saturday night had plenty of breathtaking moments. Team Westbrook was rounded out by fellow Jordan Brand member Maya Moore of the Minnesota Lynx and seven-time NBA Champion Robert Horry.

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The competition features a shot just outside the lane on the right side of the floor, which Moore took, a left elbow jumper which Westbrook took, a top-of-the-key three pointer which Horry took, a short corner jumper which Moore took, and a wing three-pointer which Westbrook took. After that, the trio all tried to make a half-court shot. After recording the best time out of all four teams in the opening round at 29.5 seconds, Team Westbrook couldn’t knock down the

halfcourt shot, falling in the finals to Chris Bosh, Dominique Wilkins and Swin Cash.

“It was fun, it was great,” Westbrook said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t make the half-court shot. It was a good experience though… It’s fun interacting at All-Star with legends and WNBA players.”

Team Bosh took 89 seconds to complete all of the shots, and for a while, it looked like Team Westbrook was going to win the competition because it had completed the first five shots in only 20.1 seconds. That meant the trio had just over a minute to hit the half-court shot, but saw multiple tries roll in and out of the rim and couldn’t knock it down before the 89-second mark.

“We kept thinking wehad enough time, and then took a minute up on the back side,” Westbrook said with a smile. “Three in a row went in and out. It’s a carnival rim, one of those oval ones.”

Despite coming up just short in the competition, Westbrook had a fun day throughout Saturday. After the media availability and Western Conference All-Star practice on Saturday morning, Westbrook hit the highway to the western part of Houston to make an appearance at the Galleria mall with thousands of adoring fans in attendance. There was a massive Nike and Jordan Brand platform, stage and interaction area set up on the rink level, and with an audience of Houston youth in attendance, Westbrook got to show off the new Jordan XX8 shoe, which only he and Moore have worn in competition.

“It was great, it was an event at the mall, interacting with the fans and talking about the shoe a little bit,” Westbrook said.

His teammate Kevin Durant also made an appearance to the Galleria after participating in a Skullcandy fan interaction event at Jam Session earlier in the afternoon. Durant came to the stage at the Galleria and fielded questions, gave out some advice to the youth and talked about his KD branded Nike shoe line. From sneakerheads to NBA fans, the Galleria was packed to the brim to get a glimpse of the two Thunder All-Stars. It was an incredible sight to behold as the fans hung on every word and strained to take pictures.

“I am (amazed), it’s crazy,” Westbrook said. “It seemed like everybody in Houston was at the mall. It was pretty cool.”

-Nick Gallo