What are you supposed to say after that?
Unbelievable? Incredible? Unreal? Astonishing? Surreal? Unthinkable? Unimaginable?
We just watched one of those games where you’ll be talking to a friend in 25 years and say, “Man, how about that Game 5 against Denver where Durant went off for 41?” We just watched a real moment. We just watched the type of thing that you can only hope happens to your team. It’s the type of thing we all dreamed about when this team moved here three years ago.
The Thunder were down nine with a little more than three minutes left. It felt like Game 4 all over again. The team was out of sync the entire night offensively and was only hanging on because of the free throw line. The Nuggets offense was clicking along. They were hitting shots. They had the Thunder wobbled, stunned and hanging on to the ropes. This series was about to be packed up and shipped back to Denver for a Game 6. And things were about to get really scary.
But it was his time. Royal Ivey and Nate Robinson put it simply. “Go take the game over. It’s your time.”
And that, he did.
Kevin Durant scored 16 of his 41 in the fourth quarter, including the Thunder’s last nine to carry Oklahoma City to its first playoff win, 100-97 in five games over the Nuggets. It all started with a deep, pull-up 3 to get the Thunder to within six, 91-85. That got him going, he said.
“I just told myself I got to get myself I got to get us going,” Durant said. “Russell and myself are the leaders of this team and he looked at me and said, ‘This is what you do.’ And I just said all right. And I just kept going.”
Next shot, he dropped a pretty 12-foot jumper. Two possessions after that, he found James Harden who drilled a huge 3 to tie the game at 91-91. Next shot, he dropped another jumper. Next shot, it was a ridiculous and-1 to give OKC the lead. Next possession, he was fouled and hit both free throws. Next shot, he iced the Nuggets and the series with a stop-and-pop jumper over Nene to put OKC up 100-97. For good measure, Durant blocked Denver’s first 3-point attempt out of bound. And after Arron Afflalo’s 3 dropped helplessly to the floor — a pretty clean look too — it was time to celebrate. The Thunder had won the series and oh by the way, done it in a way that we’ll talk about for years.
It certainly had that feel of one of those nights where you watched an NBA superstar take another step. Being great in the regular season is a start. And Durant has been exactly that winning back-to-back scoring titles. But legends are born in the postseason. Legends are born in the biggest games. Legends are born in moments like that. As Durant put it, he just seized it.
I’m still sitting here trying to add it all up. After that final buzzer, I just stared at the court and tried to process for a minute. The arena rocked, strangers hugged and high-fived, Nate Robinson jumped into everyone in sight and the confetti fell. Durant talked about it postgame. Three years ago, this team wasn’t even here. Three years ago, they were 3-29. Even KD admitted he didn’t see this coming this soon. Here it is though. And it’s sweet. So sweet.
But it’s just one series. This isn’t a championship. The mission is not accomplished. It’s certainly a step — a giant leap for Thunderkind — but this team has the opportunity to keep going. The song of choice once that final buzzer sounded? “Taking Care of Business.” That says it all right there. Like Spiro said in The Wire. Business. Always business. As much fun it is to enjoy this right now, hopefully, this is just a start.
- Durant felt the momentum turning. He feared the series was about to return to the Rockies. “One thing that was going through my mind was I don’t want to go back to Denver because it’s going to be tough to win in there,” he said. “I just don’t want to go back. It was cold, it was raining, the fans said some not so nice words to us. But we just didn’t want to go back so we fought through that and made some shots and got some stops.” I think we all felt that down nine with three minutes left. Lose this one and you’re facing a hostile Denver crowd and a good chance of a Game 7. That was terrifying. No team has ever come back from 3-0, but someone will be the first. And there started to be a feeling it could be the Nuggets.
- Because let’s face it: Denver looked like a different team. All of Game 4 and the first 44 minutes of Game 5, these guys looked much, much better. This thing may have wrapped in five games, but it was much closer than that. A controversial call doesn’t go OKC’s way in Game 1 and who knows where we’re at.
- Two big calls that did go OKC’s way tonight: Bill Spooner correctly reversed himself on a bad backcourt call with 15 seconds left. Initially, he ruled Durant had caught the ball and gone backcourt when KD’s toe hit the line. But he reconsidered and ruled that Durant’s momentum carried him backcourt, which is allowed. Another was a ball that may have gone off Serge Ibaka with two minutes left, but video review confirmed it was OKC’s ball.
- Um, Serge Ibaka. Wow. Wow again. He finished with nine blocks (one off an NBA playoff record) and as important as Durant was offensively, Ibaka won this game on the other end. He had just one point in this game, but it was maybe his best of the series. His block of Kenyon Martin with three minutes left was maybe the play of the game. Martin makes that and Denver’s up 11. But then Ibaka blocked Nene who had an easy dunk with 35 seconds left and OKC up a point. What a game. Seriously, what a game.
- The free throw line won this for the Thunder. OKC went 34-42 from the line to Denver’s 17-21. OKC had 19 fouls called on it, Denver had 27. I wouldn’t blame a Nuggets fan for being angry about the officiating tonight. Me being a homer, I felt like the Thunder tried to attack the rim a bunch and forced calls. When Denver did that in the fourth quarter, it got to the line.
- Also, 16 offensive rebounds to Denver’s four. A 51-38 overall edge. That’s how you win despite shooting 36 percent.
- On Russell Westbrook: Not a good game from him. He had 14 points on just 3-15 shooting and four assists. The way he started, it was obvious some of the criticism was in his head. He looked hesitant for the first time in looooong time, forcing passes in the lane and giving up the ball in transition. He didn’t take a shot until almost eight minutes in. However, I think his effort was commendable. He totally understood the moment and did everything he could to get the ball to KD. He hit a couple big time shots, including a massive 3.
- Serge is a big Barcelona fan and I had the pleasure of telling him they beat Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinal after the game. I was really surprised he didn’t already know, but I guess he had more important things to worry about.
- Pregame, before he started answering questions from reporters, George Karl looked around and said, “Where’s my girl Julie?” with a smile. A reporter standing next to him said, “Um, it’s Jenni.” Of course meaning Jenni Carlson.
- The arena tried out a new chant tonight: “O-K-C! O-K-C!” I liked it.
- KD credited the crowd first and foremost. He said unequivocally, “They won this game for us.” And for good measure: “Shows how blessed we are to be a part of this great city.”
- Scott Brooks spent his first full minute talking postgame about the Nuggets and George Karl. So cocky.
- It was really hard for me not to grab the mic postgame and just say, “Love you so much KD. I have no question.”
- I really look forward to 10 years from now when I’m flipping around and see, “NBA Hardwood Classics: Thunder vs. Nuggets Game 5.” That’ll be awesome.
- When we got Red Panda at halftime, I knew it was a good sign.
- Evidently TNT switched the Thunder’s game to Spurs-Grizzlies at some point. That’s beyond ridiculous.
- After the game, Perk was asking what the weather would be like tomorrow. The reason? He’s taking his kid to the zoo. “I just want him to see what they’ve been teaching him in school. I’m a good dad.’’
- KD on getting himself free from Wilson Chandler for that last big shot: “I made a Randy Moss cut-back move.”
- Here’s the kind of game this was: I have about 50 other notes written down (seriously) but I’m passing on them because there were so many other things to cover. If I kept going, this would be the War and Peace of game recaps.
Next up: Either the Spurs or Grizzlies, sometime.