I really don’t know where to start. I’m sitting here, staring at a blank screen trying to will some letters to come out of my fingers. But I don’t feel like I can accurately sum up what tonight’s game was like. I guess loud would at least be a start.
With thunderstorms rolling into Oklahoma City right around tip-off, I thought this might be the sign. It kind of felt like destiny. I think people in Dallas could feel the energy pulsating from the Ford Center, even 30 minutes before the game started. Fifteen minutes before tip, everyone in the place was on their feet. And they stayed there until the first bucket dropped.
But what was so wild is that everything went wrong. The Lakers scored on their first seven possessions, jumping out to a 10-0 lead. They led the entire first half and kept the Thunder an arm’s length away. Every time OKC tried to sneak in the game, Kobe would hit a 3, Pau Gasol would come up with a big rebound or Derek Fisher would drop a big shot. For the first 34 minutes, the Lakers had the Thunder right where they wanted them and for the most part, kept the lid on the Ford Center.
And then Russell Westbrook happened.
Holy dunk. It happened so fast that I don’t think the crowd really even knew what happened. He went to the rim in a flash and threw down the kind of dunk that you’ll see on NBA playoff promos for the next 10 years. It was massive. That lit a fire back under the Ford Center. Then James Harden nailed a 3. Down three. Then finally the Thunder got a stop and Kevin Durant, who was having a miserable shooting night, was with the ball in transition. You could see it coming the entire way. He stopped, pulled and dropped a trey. Tie game. Pandemonium. Bedlam. Instantly. Loud. Game on.
Somehow, someway, the Thunder was down by a point, 75-74, going into the fourth quarter. I still don’t know how. And with a Serge Ibaka bucket to start the fourth, OKC had its first lead of the game. Again, I don’t know how.
But still, a young Thunder squad against Kobe and the Lakers in a tight playoff game in the fourth quarter? Who really thought the Thunder was going to win? Even the 18,000 blue-clad maniacs in the Ford Center really didn’t believe it. But 13 guys did. And that’s all that mattered. If there was ever a game to say, “Yep, and THATS when Kevin Durant stepped into the pantheon,” this was it. Again, he was terrible offensively early. He was pressing. He wanted the ball to go in so badly. He started something like 0-8 from the floor and I honestly wondered if he’d ever score. He only had two points after one quarter and nine at halftime. That, like never happens.
But like the great ones do, like the guy on the opposite bench does so often, he stepped up in crunch time. The first thing he did was defend Kobe. He held Bryant to four points in the fourth quarter on 2-11 shooting. And KD maybe scored the play of his young career, and it ironically came on the defensive end. Kobe dribbled to the corner looking for his patented fadeaway baseline jay. Durant read him perfectly, rose up and blocked it. OKC got possession, scored on the other end and boom, at that point you knew something was happening.
But KD also did work on the offensive end. He scored 12 of his 29 in the fourth quarter on 4-6 shooting. He grabbed 19 rebounds. He hit four clutch free throws. He just took over. This was his game, his moment, his time. Despite going 8-24 from the floor, he simply willed his team to a win. He took his guys to a higher place. Maybe this was the start of a change in guard, maybe it was just KD growing up incredibly fast from Game 2. Whatever the case, he outplayed Kobe Bryant in the fourth quarter in the playoffs and led his team to a win. Read that sentence again.
But KD doesn’t even have this opportunity without his supporting cast. The team preaches together, and this was a night you saw them hang in there as one. James Harden, who as we all know hasn’t been very good thus far, scored 15 first half points and was the reason OKC was even close. Russell Westbrook finished with 27 points on 11-21 shooting and made big play after big play. Serge Ibaka played huge minutes, putting back two rebounds for dunks, grabbing six rebounds and blocked a Gasol shot, recovered it and outleted to KD for a fast break score. Nick Collison took like 16 charges again. All together, everyone had a hand in this.
And give a ton of credit to Scott Brooks. He made the tough choice to stick with Ibaka and Collison late, letting Durant defend Kobe. Green, one of the Thunder’s marquee players, sat the majority of the fourth. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy call, but it was the right one. The matchups weren’t there. Without that decision by Brooks, OKC probably doesn’t win this game. Jeff Green is a great player, but it’s not fair to him or his teammates to stuff him in a situation he can’t produce. Brooks didn’t pull the trigger on this in Game 2 and it hurt the Thunder. He did tonight and it really paid off.
- LA, 12 free throw attempts. OKC 34. Kobe Bryant didn’t attempt a single free throw. Um, yeah.
- While that’s obviously something to point out, the reason the Lakers lost was because they settled for jumpers. They took 31 3-pointers! You have Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol inside, who dominate, yet Artest, Bryant and Fisher are jacking 3s. That’s where they lost this one.
- Jeff Green played 28 minutes and didn’t play hardly any in the fourth, yet he was vital in the first half. He scored OKC’s first six points and honestly, without him there, the Thunder probably gets steamrolled. Someone had to settle the team down and Green stepped up.
- I almost think the frenzy the crowd had going before the game put added pressure on the Thunder. They wanted to perform. And I think it fueled the Lakers a bit. You could see the satisfaction as they hit jumpers and shut us all up.
- Kobe begged Thabo to take 3s tonight. And he obliged. Thabo clanked his first two badly, but hit his next two, which were HUGE. If OKC gets just a little from Thabo and the bench scoring from Harden, this could get real.
- After Russ dunked on a fast break in the first half, he pulled out a raise the roof move. It was awesome.
- When Harden knocked down his first 3, he let out a huge “FINALLY!” gesture. That 3 dropping was a big moment for him, and the Thunder.
- OKC outrebounded LA 53-39. Wow. Eight turnovers for LA, nine for the Thunder. The Lakers shot 45 percent to OKC’s 41 percent. The Thunder won this thing on the glass.
- There was a pre-game video they played about two minutes before they announced the starting lineups. It was incredible. I want it on DVD now. It showed OKC now, then started at the beginning showing the land run and the Dust Bowl. Then it had a clip of the bombing. Then it had OKC rebuilding. Then it had the Thunder. You can be assured it got a little dusty in my section tonight.
- Mrs. DT wants me to mention the Thundergirls quickly. Not the best moment. They came out for a typical routine and they were doing their thing when “Baby Got Back” came on. They threw up their skirts over their butts and proceeded to shake them rather demonstratively. It was… something. I continue to find it odd for an organization to promote itself as so fan and family friendly as the Thunder does, to have that.
- The crowd. I mean… whoa. I’ve been to a lot of sporting events and been a part of some amazing crowds. But this one tops it all. I’ve never, ever, ever heard anything that loud. The crowd stood the ENTIRE fourth quarter. Not just one section. Everybody. Even Clay Bennett and Aubrey McClendon. Even the suite holders. Even the rich folk sitting on the floor. Everyone was up. And we didn’t chant “dee-fense” one time. Nope. We went the college route and did the “MAKE LOUD NOISE WHILE THEY HAVE IT” routine. I don’t know if anything will ever top it.
What we have now, is a series. No more sweep talk, no more the Thunder can’t close talk. They got it done tonight. And most importantly, they grew up in a big time way. This was a huge moment for this franchise and not just for the players. Yes, Durant and Westbrook and Green and Harden had some big moments and some big plays. This game will hang with them and be a major stepping stone in the future. But this city and this fanbase really grew up tonight too.
You can’t tell me the Lakers didn’t feel our energy and our noise. We made a difference. When we were leaving the arena, there were people chanting “Beat LA!” blocks away from the Ford Center. Car horns were honking everywhere, even 30 minutes after the game ended. People were high-fiving strangers and cheering randomly. If you didn’t know better, you would’ve thought we were walking away with a trophy after the game. It was a moment. A moment I know I’ll never forget. And one I don’t think I will ever be able to accurately describe.