Thunder bounce back in a big way

Photo by Torrey Purvey

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – When Oklahoma City was ran off the court Thursday in Oakland, most of the attention was directed toward their offense. Questions about Russell Westbrook needing more help started to surface.

However, what the coaching staff and players were more concerned about was the defense the had let slip as they allowed Golden State to run up and down the court on them.

That was not the case Saturday when the Thunder returned to action. Looking to bounce back from their first loss of the season, Oklahoma City rolled to an 112-92 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Timberwolves shot on 39 percent from the field and 21 percent from behind the arc.

“The defense was aggressive,” Westbrook said. “Did a good job of making them shoot tough shots. Just made it tough for those guys all night.”

Oklahoma City was especially glad to see the re-emergence of Enes Kanter, who used sparingly in the previous two road games in L.A. and Oakland

“We know what he does,” Steven Adams said of Kanter. “We know he’s obviously not going to perform every night. Russell (Westbrook) did the best job of maintaining his confidence. Giving confidence to help him come out and perform.”

Russell Westbrook led the Oklahoma City charge as he scored 28 points on 9 of 18 shooting from the field. He also collected eight assists, six rebounds and three assists. Kanter came off the bench to pour in 20 points and grab 10 rebounds. Adams added 14 points and eight boards.

Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves (1-4) with 33 points on 13 of 20 shooting. Shabazz Muhammad came off the bench to post 15 points. No other starter reached double digits.

“We didn’t play good,” Andrew Wiggins said. “We had a good first half, bad second half. We needed to compete harder.”

It was a battle of big men to start the evening. Towns and his ability to shoot jumpers and take defenders off the dribble was the main focus of the Minnesota offense early on. He scored 13 points in the first quarter on 6-for-9 shooting.

“I messed up on him,” Adams said of his defense on Towns. “I was just trying to feel it out at first.”

The Thunder (5-1) countered with the combination of Adams and Kanter. While Adams was able to score with close jumpers and offensive putbacks, Kanter used a variety of moves in the paint to rack up points.

Westbrook began to take control in the second quarter by continually attacking the basket. He was able to bully rookie Kris Dunn and fight his way into the paint for dunks or assists that led to dunks.

The Thunder took a 59-53 advantage into halftime.

“Our defense was poor from start to finish,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But there is no excuse for not having floor balance and protecting the basket. So we have to get that straitened out.”

Oklahoma City went on a 22-8 run to kick off the second half. While Westbrook provided the highlight plays, they were able to get contributions from several sources. That included bench players Jerami Grant, Joffrey Lauvergne and Semaj Christon.

Towns was was unable to find any help on the offensive end. Guard Andrew Wiggins couldn’t buy a basket with Andre Roberson guarding him. The rest of the Timberwolves missed open shots.

Heading into the fourth quarter, Towns had 33 of his teams 72 points. But his squad trailed by 18 and would get no closer.

“We just turned it up a notch,” Victor Oladipo said. “Now we have to do that for four quarters. When we play like that defensively, we give ourselves a great chance to win.”

NEXT: The Thunder will host Miami Monday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

Westbrook, Thunder looking to bounce back vs. Twolves

By Michael Kinney

The build up around the first encounter between Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and Golden State’s Kevin Durant was humongous. It was easily the biggest game of the early NBA season.
The hype dwarfed the actual play on the court as the Warriors rolled to a 122-96 victory over the Thunder on Thursday in Oakland.
Oklahoma City must quickly regroup and prepare for a young, talented Minnesota Timberwolves squad Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Tip-off is set for a rare 5 p.m. central start.
After starting the season 4-0, to have their first defeat come in such a noncompetitive manner was not a pleasant experience for the Thunder.
“I understand you guys like, it’s the Warriors,” Westbrook told the Oklahoman. “They won. It’s fine. But we’re OK. We’re 4-1. It’s one game. We play on Saturday. So, simple as that.”
Besides Westbrook, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Andre Roberson, the rest of the team’s key performers are new to the level of intensity needed for that type of game. That showed in the second quarter, when the second unit looked rattled during a 19-1 run that blew the game open. Some of the newest members of the team were unable to respond.
“It’s going to be a great learning experience for some of the younger guys who had a chance to play,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan told “We had the one difficult stretch there, a good portion of that second quarter, where we gave up some threes in transition and gave up some threes on second chance points.”
Minnesota is coming off a 102-99 loss to Denver Thursday that featured a letdown in the third quarter in which the Timberwolves were outscored 33-14 in the third quarter. They trailed by 13 heading into the fourth quarter and never quite got back on top despite Karl-Anthony Towns spearheading a late run.
“That third quarter is just haunting us right now,” Minnesota guard Andrew Wiggins told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what’s happening. We just can’t keep coming out like that after halftime. But we’re going to figure it out.”
The Timberwolves held a 12-point lead in the first quarter, marking the third time this season they owned a double-digit advantage but lost the game.
“It seems like we keep having half the puzzle done,” Towns told the Star Tribune, “and we don’t finish the puzzle.”
Towns had 32 points and 14 rebounds while draining a pair of 3-pointers against the Nuggets.
Towns’ versatility will provide the Thunder front line of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter a much different challenge than they faced in their two previous games against Golden State and the L.A. Clippers.
Conversely, the Timberwolves are going to have to face an upset and energized Westbrook. The Thunder point guard, who had been averaging a triple double, was held to 20 points, 10 assists and six rebounds in only 29 minutes of action Thursday.
“We’ll get ready for the next game, man,” Westbrook said. “It’s one game, one loss for us. We’ll move on, get ready for the next one.”

Bartender lets her passion for art pour out

By Michael Kinney

When Friday night customers walk into Skinny Slim’s, one of the first people they see is Haley Dennis.

The 26-year-old is often found behind the bar of the Bricktown establishment, serving beer or making the rounds, chatting with customers.

Dennis calls it the best bartending job she has had since she started in the profession at age 18.

However, to really see what Dennis is passionate about, walk into the same bar on a random Tuesday evening, when the crowds are light.

On those nights, the Lawton native might be huddled at the end of the bar with her laptop, working on a talent she has been cultivating since she was a kid.

“Growing up with severe childhood ADHD, you couldn’t get me to sit still for much of anything other than drawing,” Dennis said. “It made me feel empowered; I could create anything I could think of and make it come to life. It allowed me to express myself at a young age. Now that I’m older, I use drawing as a way to relax. I spend so much time around people, while I’m working, drawing is almost like an escape for me.”

Dennis wants to turn those talents into a career.

Her first big break came earlier this year when she had an idea that would combine two of her favorite things.

She decided she wanted to start designing beer labels for burgeoning Oklahoma City brewery Elk Valley Brewing Co.

“I absolutely love craft beer, everything about it,” Dennis said. “Brewing is art, and it’s so similar to art culture. There’s a community of people who love it, who breathe it. They love talking about it, creating it, consuming it. My love for craft beer met my passion for creating art, and it was harmony. It’s a perfect situation for me.”

Elk Valley is owned by John Elkins, a Midwest City native.

He started the brewery in 2013 and moved all of his operations to Mustang Brewing Company in 2015.

“I brew the beer I love to drink, which includes several styles,” Elkins said. “So I would say we’re eclectic. I try and brew interesting beers that the beer geek as well as the intro beer drinker will enjoy.”

Dennis and Elkins met two years ago when she was working at Oak & Ore craft beer bar.

Midnight sketches

Despite a hectic schedule that includes 12-13-hour bartending shifts, Dennis didn’t hesitate to approach Elkins with her desire to become his label designer.

“My initial reaction at the time was honored that she wanted to work with me,” Elkins said. “However, I had a label designer that I was very happy with. I told her that if something happened and I needed someone, I would call her. Well, four or five months passed by and my label designer had to step aside for her full-time job. I had seen some of Haley’s sketches and liked her creativity. So I called Haley and talked to her about some of the things I needed. We were excited to get some specifics designs on paper and get started.”

Since then, Dennis has created two labels for Elk Valley.

The first was a simple format based on the flavor of the beer, Apricot Le Ferme.

Since it was her first design, Dennis said it took her close to three weeks to plan it out and put all the elements together while still working full bartending shifts that had her up as late as 4 a.m. some nights.

Dennis’ second label was a more personal concept.

After the June 12 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed, she scrapped her original idea of all black-and-white and went for one that showed unity with the LGBTQ community.

It features multiple colors over a black background.

“I spent a lot of time in Orlando. My little sister is part of the lesbian community there,” Dennis explained. “She had a couple of friends die in the tragedy. It hit home for me, and I wanted to put a little bit of myself into each of the labels. I thought, ‘What better time than now?’”

Elk Valley and Dennis both seem to be coming into their own at the same time. That might be why the combination has been a natural fit.

“Her labels fit the beers they were made for very well,” Elkins said. “They were eye-catching, creative and playful, which certainly match what I try to do here with my beers.”

Dennis wants to continue designing labels and hopefully make it a career. Until then, she will tend the bar at Skinny Slim’s. When a customer orders a beer that features her design, she knows she is heading in the right direction.

“Art is expressing yourself,” Dennis said. “I want people to kind of see me when they see my art. I want people to know me when they see the label.”

Story can be found in The Oklahoma Gazette 

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