Players-only meeting unites Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – After watching the Memphis Grizzlies batter his Oklahoma City Thunder in the opener of the teams’ second-round series, Kendrick Perkins(notes) knew something needed to change. So he encouraged Kevin Durant(notes) to gather the team together … and watch the game again.

Durant took Perkins’ suggestion and arranged for a players-only dinner at his house on Monday night. The team dined on a Thanksgiving-worthy spread prepared by Durant’s personal chef and watched every minute of OKC’s disheartening loss to the Grizzlies. The players stopped the video at times to discuss specific breakdowns. By the end of the evening, they were in agreement on what needed to be done to improve.

They must have been right, too. Twenty-four hours later, the Thunder walked off the court at Oklahoma City Arena with a series-evening 111-102 victory. At least a few of the Thunder thought the seeds for the victory were planted at their clear-the-air, players-only meeting, the team’s first of the season.

“Perk did it,” Durant told Yahoo! Sports. “He wanted us to do it, and everybody listens to Perk.

“We talked about how we didn’t come out with any energy. We wanted to see it over again to see that we never wanted to play like that again. That’s the kind of feeling we had coming into this game, and it helped us.

“Guys spoke up on what other guys should have done better. We made sure that we helped each other out. That’s the biggest thing.”

The Thunder had reason to want to refocus after Game 1. This is new territory for them. The franchise just won its first playoff series since moving from Seattle by closing out the Denver Nuggets last week.

The Thunder also have encountered little adversity this season – at least anything that would compare to losing the opener of their second-round series at home. OKC’s longest losing streak this season has been just three games. The most trying moment of its season was watching forward Jeff Green(notes) get traded to the Boston Celtics for Perkins.

“We haven’t had a lot of major issues,” Thunder coach Scottie Brooks said.

The Thunder fell behind the Los Angeles Lakers 2-0 in last year’s first round before losing the series in six games. No one, however, was expecting much from them. Most of them had never appeared in a playoff game before last season.

This year, the Thunder entered the postseason with much higher expectations. After having little trouble dismissing the Nuggets in five games, they opened this series as favorites. That’s why they were somewhat dazed after losing Game 1.

Perkins thought the Thunder were too relaxed in the loss and that there was some confusion over players’ roles. Since coming from Boston, Perkins has commanded a leadership presence in the locker room, yet he also understands the Thunder belong to Durant. That’s why he thought it best for Durant to set up the players-only meeting. It took just one call from Perkins to convince Durant to do so.

“We had to get a reminder and watch the film without the coaches telling us anything. We had to correct each other,” Perkins told Y! Sports.

Not wanting to go to Memphis for the next two games already down 2-0, Durant said he hadn’t faced a game as important as Tuesday’s.

“We live to see another day,” he said.

The Thunder won because they didn’t let Zach Randolph(notes) have his way with them like he did in Game 1, when he scored 34 points. Randolph made just two of his 13 shots on Tuesday and finished with 15 points.

“They played with much more urgency than we did,” Memphis center Marc Gasol(notes) said. “We didn’t play as aggressive as they did.

“I have to give them credit. They hit first tonight …”

Said Brooks: “It was important that we came out and treated it like the most important game.”

It’s easy to forget that this is a season of firsts for the Thunder. They won the Northwest Division for the first time since moving from Seattle. They won a road playoff game, then an entire playoff series, for the first time. And if they outlast the Grizzlies in this series, the Thunder will likely look back on their first players-only meeting of the season as a pivotal turning point in their development.

“It means we are really dedicated to this,” Durant said, “and we really want to be good.”

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