Ben Golliver of CBSSports.com on OKC’s road to The Finals: “Fortune 500 companies often preach “continual improvement,” the idea that competitive greatness is attained by pursuing a non-stop effort to make regular, incremental changes to both the processes and products to work out the kinks or to add the latest and greatest. The doctrine basically boils down to a cycle of building, assessing and refining. There may be certain benchmark goals in mind (revenue or market share targets, for example) but the idea is to be goal-oriented without being goal-obsessed. Fixating on an end result can be a distraction; doing things correctly and continually improving should get you there eventually. The modern NBA’s “continual improvement” prototype is clearly the Oklahoma City Thunder, a franchise whose from-the-bottom rebuilding effort has been hailed as a “model” for years now. The Thunder have gone from awful (2008 and 2009) to very good (2010) to great (2011) and now, with less than a month remaining in the playoffs, they stand poised as 2012’s clear favorites in the Western Conference.”
Robert Mays of Grantland: “When the first quarter ended Thursday night, with the Lakers up 12 and a lathered, playoff-type crowd on its feet at Staples Center, it felt like we were seeing what might undo the Oklahoma City Thunder come June. Through the first 12 minutes, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were a combined 3-for-15. Andrew Bynum was handling Kendrick Perkins down low, and Kobe Bryant had nine points in what seemed like one of those nights where he would go off for 40. Everything argument for the Lakers as the chic new favorites in the Western Conference would be legitimized. Then something scary happened.”
OKC clinched a playoff spot yesterday. Two years ago, we all ran to the airport to celebrate that achievement. Now? It was an afterthought.
ESPN’s Countdown crew talk MVP. Magic Johnson has KD as his MVP.
Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago: “Thibodeau tried to take some of the blame for the way his team performed. He said that it was his fault for not having them prepared. While that may be true to a certain extent, it was evident early that the Thunder simply wanted the game more than the Bulls did. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant raced up and down the floor and wreaked havoc on a Bulls’ defense that didn’t respond to the first punch, an issue that irked Thibodeau more than any other. When asked which aspect of the game disappointed him the points, Thibodeau had a quick response — “I just thought the fight,” he said. Or lack thereof.”
Westbrook on his dunk yesterday: “That’s just a little something that I do.”
Jenni Carlson: “I know I should be telling you to simmer down, reminding you that the Thunder’s 92-78 pasting of the Bulls is a bit of an aberration that Chicago is a shell of itself without Derrick Rose, that back-to-back Sunday victories against the Beasts of the East doesn’t automatically deliver the NBA title to Oklahoma City. But I can’t do it. I can’t tamp down the excitement. This Thunder team is the best in the NBA. Go crazy, folks. Go crazy.”
Sekou Smith of NBA.com on Westbrook: “We pounded on Westbrook early in the season for his high turnover numbers, which is really not that shocking for a player who handles the ball as much as he does. In the 34 games before the All-Star break he averaged 4.2 turnovers. But in the 17 games since, that number has shrunk to 2.8. Those people wanting to write Westbrook off after he struggled during the playoffs last season, particularly in the Western Conference finals, need to man up and give the kid his due. It’s time. And he’s earned it.”
Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal on KD: “The last time the Grizzlies ran into Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward showed no mercy and proved to be an unyielding force. Durant tossed in his team’s final 10 points, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer, en route to 36 points and a seven-point Thunder victory. The brick wall that is Durant seems to have gotten taller since then.”