by Earl K. Sneed

Live bands both outside and inside the Ford Center created the festive vibe heard around downtown Oklahoma City. It was basketball time, and the OKC community had a team to call its own. Sorry Seattle.

The Commish meets with the OKC Media

With it being Opening Night in the newest NBA city, you know Commissioner David J. Stern had to make the trip to OKC. Stern made the rounds with the national, regional and OKC media outlets in the building, before holding his own press conference. Here’s a few excerpts:

“Yes, I’m excited to be here, and yes, I think the team will do well here,” Stern opened up by saying. “I’ve never seen this kind of coming together collectively (in terms of the collective efforts of ownership, the state and the city of Oklahoma City).”

“There’s a dynamic that I’ve observed in other (small markets) that seems to be the case here,” Stern said about the small media market rallying around their only major professional sports franchise.

Earl K. Sneed: What is your stance on a possible realignment with the Thunder moving to the Southwest Division now that they are no longer playing home games in the Pacific Northwest?

David Stern: “I would listen to discussions of it, but no, there is nothing on the agenda for it right now.”

The Commissioner also added that while he is not currently looking into expansion, he would be open to the idea of a team relocating if the proposal came across his desk.

(Note: The Commissioner got a laugh out of the fact that SLAM was in the building!)

Pre-game

— “Oklahoma City, Okla., welcome to the National Basketball Association,” Commissioner Stern said to the 19,136 OKC fans before the OKC Thunder’s first regular season tip-off at the Ford Center against the Milwaukee Bucks.

— A standing ovation for Thunder owner Clay Bennett followed Stern’s address. Then what else would be fitting but the musical sounds of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

— The OKC crowd created what can best be described as a college-like atmosphere, and there was not an empty seat in the house for the Thunder’s inaugural game.

First Quarter

— Andrew Bogut got the first basket of the night (on route to the Bucks’ first six points), but Thunder point guard Earl Watson quickly responded with the first score in the team’s history.

— The Bucks jumped out to a quick 13-5 lead, by beating the Thunder to virtually every loose ball. The crowd got antsy as Bogut seemed to be too much for Thunder center Johan Petro to handle.

— The Bucks didn’t hit a wall when Bogut left at the 4:47-mark with his second foul, after a pair of Richard Jefferson free throws extended the Bucks’ lead to 20-9.

— The Thunder continued to hang around, but the Bucks seemed to be quicker, even after playing a back-to-back after their loss to Chicago Tuesday night. The first quarter ended with a Milwaukee 10-point lead, 24-14.

— The Thunder shot just 25 percent from the field in the first quarter, on 4-16 shooting, and last season’s Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant was held scoreless in the first period.

Second Quarter

— Russell Westbrook scored the first point of his career after splitting a couple at the free throw line.

— Westbrook’s single point was still more output than Durant, who remained scoreless halfway through the second period.

— Midway through the period the Bucks held a 36-20 lead, after a Michael Redd three-pointer widened the gap. That’s followed by Redd ripping Durant’s pocket clean, on his way to an uncontested lay-up.

— A Nick Collison put-back stopped the bleeding momentarily, but Redd answered with another three, pushing Milwaukee’s lead to 16, with two minutes left in the half. And yes, Durant was still scoreless at this point.

— Redd was the question and the answer for the Bucks in the second quarter, scoring all of his 11 first half points in the period. Durant finished the first half scoreless, and the Bucks took a 50-35 lead into the half.

Third Quarter

— The Bucks started the second half with a 15-8 run to push the lead to 22, 65-43, despite Durant breaking his silence with two quick scores (including a baseline drive and slam).

— Desmond Mason’s two-handed flush ignited the crowd, but it was short-lived after Tyronn Lue came right back to extend the Bucks’ lead to 77-55.

— Durant went for 10 in the third, but Bogut, Redd, Jefferson and Charlie Villanueva combined for 66 through three periods, as the Bucks held a 79-59 lead going into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter

— Jefferson continued the hot touch to start the fourth with an off-balanced runner in the lane, plus the free throw, but a Joe Smith basket and Chris “Weezy” Wilcox’s score cut the lead to 19 with 10:30 left in the game.

— The fourth quarter is when Westbrook began to shine, after he kissed it off of the glass for his first career field goal. The Thunder crowd tried to will their team to make a run, after a Westbrook cross-over and score in the lane made it a 16-point game, with Milwaukee continuing to lead it 88-72. The rookie logged a lot of the fourth quarter minutes at the point guard spot over veteran Earl Watson.

— Off of a Mason miss, Westbrook showed the athleticism that everyone has raved about when his offensive rebound and put-back pulled the Thunder to within 14, 90-76, but a missed exchange between Joe Smith and Mason led to a turnover destroying the Thunder’s momentum.

— Mason came right back on the other end and took a charge, leading to a Westbrook three to make it 90-79. A Redd score extended the lead to 13 and the Bucks never looked back, after the Thunder miscued on multiple chances to cut the lead to less than ten.

— A few trash buckets and free throws brought the final score to 98-87, with Redd, Villanueva and Jefferson (each with 20 points) lifting the Bucks (1-1) pass the Thunder (0-1). Chris Wilcox led the Thunder with 15, followed by Westbrook’s 14 and Durant’s 12.

Postgame Reaction:

Thunder Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo — “They out-worked us, and flat out-played us. They out-executed us.”

“Nobody feels worse than the 15 guys in the locker room,” Carlesimo said about losing the debut in front of the OKC crowd. “There’s only so much that the fans can do. We didn’t find a way. Our fans were phenomenal, and we’ll try to play up to their level.”

Kevin Durant — “We could execute a little more. We have to execute more on the offensive end. But a lot of the shots that usually fall for us, weren’t falling tonight.”

Thoughts on Russell Westbrook — “He does a get job of providing a spark off the bench, which is what we need from him. I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to develop over the course of the season.”

Russell Westbrook — “The crowd was into it the whole game, but we dug ourselves a big hole and we couldn’t come back at the end. We have a lot of games left so we are just going to continue to fight. We just need to get stops on defense. If this team gets stops, we’ll have no problem putting the ball in the basket.”

Read Earl K. Sneed’s daily take on the League, on NBA Examiner.