The sea of blue roared. And roared. And roared.
The clock read zeroes and the Lakers had one more point on the board than the Thunder. 95-94.
And the crowd roared.
I honestly can’t sum that moment up in 1,500 words. Heck, I couldn’t do it in 150,000 words. This team, this season, this city – it was just a moment. I wrote months back that this season would likely be one that we all hold very near and dear to our hearts. And despite the fact it ended in heartache and heartbreak, I’m not sure how any season could ever top this. What we saw was a city embrace a team not just as something to root for, but as something we all felt part of.
When Russell Westbrook’s desperation 3 clanked off the iron, Kevin Durant collapsed to the floor. And so did the hearts of 18,000 in the Ford Center and the rest of the Thunder fanbase. But it wasn’t because the Thunder lost and were eliminated from the playoffs. Sure, yeah, that stinks. We all knew this probably wouldn’t end with OKC hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy as confetti rained down. We hurt because it was over. We wanted it to go on just one more day. Just one more day of talk about the team. Just more day to maybe see a jaw-dropping play from Russell Westbrook. Just one more day to maybe see that sweet, sweet jumper from Kevin Durant. Just one more day to soak up everything possible from this improbable, incredible season.
There are a billion things to say about this game. Because it was one of those we’ll all be talking about years from now. You could talk about the momentum OKC had after a 10-0 run late in the fourth. You could talk about KD’s less than excellent 5-23 night from the floor. You could talk about Westbrook and the star he has bloomed in to. You could talk about Nenad Krstic’s corpse coming to life in the first quarter. You could talk about Jeff Green showing some life. You could talk about the fact OKC shot 36 percent from the floor to the Lakers 46 percent, yet still had a chance to win. You could go on and on and on with all that breakdown stuff. But at this point, at least to me, it doesn’t really matter right now.
Yeah, we’ll have an offseason to second guess some of the decisions from this game. An offseason to talk free agency and how to improve the team. An offseason to speculate over prospects and the current roster. But that can come later. Right now, I just want to sit back and start reflecting on the season that was. Like I said after Game 5, I think once we can separate ourselves a bit from the emotion that is playoff basketball, we’ll all start to see what an amazing jump this young group made. I think we’ll begin to really appreciate the improvement and the direction this team is headed in. To think last October that the Thunder would be playing in a Game 6 against the defending champs and would be a defensive rebound away from forcing a Game 7 is just unbelievable. Sure this team can get better. And it needs to. But for being the youngest in the league with a bunch of guys that just got their teeth cut on the playoffs, I think they did a pretty darn good job.
A couple notes:
- It always amazes me how much time people put into making those Midfirst Show Me the Money signs. I mean some of them have like serious artwork in them. It took me all season to mention this, but dang.
- I thought the Thunderstix were a great touch. The Ford Center was loud tonight. Like really, really loud. Literally 30 minutes before tip-off the entire arena was standing and banging those things together. It was what you might call an atmosphere.
- The team seriously played their you-know-whats off tonight. Russ put EVERYTHING he had out there. He was outstanding and really the reason OKC even had a shot to begin with. But you know he’s going to spend the entire offseason replaying those last four shots in his mind over and over and over again.
- KD showed some serious stones stepping up to hit that big 3 and then follow it up with a great driving bucket. Again, it was a tough night and really a tough series for him, but he definitely showed some flashes of greatness.
- LA was 12-24 from 3. Every time Derek Fisher or Shannon Brown hit one, a piece of my soul withered up and died.
- I’m glad the world got to know how good Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are. This team isn’t just Kevin Durant.
- Jeff Green stepped up in a big way tonight. We’ll all think of about a billion what-ifs this offseason, but if Green plays like this for a game or two more, OKC wins this thing.
- James Harden only had two points but holy crap, that was a nice dunk.
- Nick Collison is the most underrated player in the league. I’m serious about that. You can’t measure his defense, even in defensive measurables. I hope and pray he’s part of OKC’s long term plan.
- I love this team. Like love them. It got a little dusty in my section when I realized it was all over. The NBA is fun and the playoffs were great, but it was amplified times a million because of how easy it is to root for these guys. I know next year’s roster will likely look different, but again, the 2009-10 season has a special place set aside for me.
The difference in this game was that Kobe Bryant was excellent and Kevin Durant just wasn’t. Bryant was 12-25 for 32 points and scored 16 in the third quarter. Durant went 5-23 for 26 points and didn’t take a shot in OKC’s last four possessions. But here’s the thing: KD is 21. This was his first go-around. Kobe has played this game before. He’s been here and done that. Durant hasn’t. It takes these experiences to grow. It doesn’t come easy to the great ones and honestly, it shouldn’t. Kobe famously airballed three times against Utah in the playoffs his rookie year. It was a moment of growth for him. And you better believe this was one for KD. What do you think he’s going to spend his entire offseason thinking about?
I thought the biggest moment of the game came after the final buzzer had sounded and the Thunder had to come to grips with the fact their season was over. Instead of sulking or hanging their heads, Durant called his team into a huddle. And he put it simply to them. “Next season starts now.” That’s how this Thunder team will grow. Sure, these playoffs were experience you can’t buy. But this isn’t the end for this team. We forget this is just the beginning. It’s a process. It’s all part of the plan. If Sam Presti has his way, we’ll be having this talk 10 or 15 straight years. Well, hopefully a few of these talks come with the confetti raining down.
I think we all knew this night was coming. And honestly, I think most thought it was coming a week ago. So the fact we’ve delayed it seven days is a really great thing. But regardless, it hurts. It’s hard to imagine there’s a next season. It all feels like it just ended right there in front of us. But the Ford Center didn’t roar for 10 minutes straight after the buzzer sounded out of appreciation for a journey that just ended. It was in anticipation for what we’re about to experience for a long, long time.
Next season starts now for the team. But it can’t get here fast enough for us.