I don’t mean to go all Over-analyzing Sportswriter (also known as Jay Mariotti Syndrome) on you here, but I couldn’t help but wonder something as I reflected on four excruciating losses by grand total of five points: Could it be a good thing in the long run?
Now I know how stupid that is. Normally I’m the guy cursing the sky and yelling at an inanimate object when some writer tries to get Inside The Game and crawl into a player’s psyche. Of COURSE it’s not a good thing that OKC lost those four games. That’s just silly. Had they won all four of them, they’d be 28-16 and fourth in the West. Heck, had they won just two (which is entirely reasonable) the Thunder would sit at 26-18 and fifth in the West. So obviously we all would rather have had the wins and forsaken any potential learning scenarios to garner there.
But since I’m trying to find the sunny side in these four defeats, I’ll look at it this way: If a lot of a young team’s maturation process happens in tough losses where you have to look in the mirror and figure out what went wrong instead of right, then Oklahoma City got a season’s worth in these last two weeks. Yeah, it’s not a playoff loss in a seven game series. You really learn there and really feel the heartache and anguish of defeat.
But this team was in four games against quality opponents where it came down to a final possession. One stop here. One bucket there. Execute properly on an inbounds play. Whatever it is, there are things to take from the games. I worry that this string of heartbreakers may come back to bite the Thunder in April when they’re trying to make that playoff push, but still, the experience of having to look back on four tough losses may be almost equally valuable. (I said ALMOST, alright?)
Kevin Durant is on a rocketship to unquestioned supernovastardom, but he didn’t hit the shots in these games. I have no fear in the future, he will. And maybe these games right here will be the motivation and reason he hits a big one sometime down the line in a playoff game. He said this over the weekend after LeBron blocked his potential game-winner:
“I’m learning,” Durant said. “I’m learning each time I do that. Last year, we didn’t have this many close games, or the year before that. But I’m learning, that’s all I can say. I’m going to continue to be aggressive in those times, and hopefully they fall for me … I think I made a good move (against Cleveland) and shot a good shot, but it got blocked. Against Memphis, I shot a good shot and missed. It’s going to happen. I think I’m going to learn from those and hopefully I start to make shots.”
They’ll fall. Absolutely they will. Every star has to go through the growing pains. Nobody walked into this league and started hitting game-winners and making clutch plays from the beginning. Michael Jordan has missed more potential game-winners than anyone. But he was willing to take them and more importantly, willing to live the burden of missing them. Kevin Durant has that same mentality, which is why I have no doubt whatsoever that he’ll become The Closer of this team and start putting away games. You aren’t going to make them all. You’ll miss more than you’ll make. It’s the guys that keep coming back and wanting the ball in that situation that become the great finishers.
I’m honestly a little shocked how easy it is to forget where we’re at. I can promise you, if I had told you before the season the team would be 18-26 through 44 games, you’d be OK with it. But here we are at 24-20 and talking playoffs. Yes, the more you win the more hurtful the losses become. Unlike last year, fans expect to win. When you lose every night, it takes the sting out of it. You’re used to it. But now, there is so much more to critique and question and criticize because we know the team is getting there. And it’s natural as a fan to want them to get there NOW.
I mean, this team is so young. So inexperienced. Even being in these games is new territory, much less winning them. So maybe a setback here or there is a good thing. It’s not all going to come easy and a reminder here and there that they’ll have to fight for it might be beneficial in the long run. Tough losses make you hungry. The pain you feel after one makes you never want to have to feel it again. It motivates you for the next one. So maybe if we deal with the heartbreak now, we’ll be rewarded in the future. At least that’s what I told myself this weekend. You know, it soothes the soul.
(But then again, screw long run stuff. I’d have taken four wins, big smiles and the joys of victory over an education any day. You can learn from making game-winners too I’m sure.)