Sometimes, it just doesn’t even seem fair. Or meant to be. Or both.
First, I can’t tell you how proud I am of this Thunder team. To come back with that effort in those circumstances… inspiring. They were ready to go from the tip, ready to fight. I think even us fans were sort of ready to pack it in after Game 4′s crushing defeat. I wouldn’t have blamed the team for just going through the motions, for just showing up. I kind of felt like cheering through the motions. Despite trying to talk myself out of it, the mountain the Thunder had to climb was too steep and the cruelty of Game 4 too fresh.
But with their hands on another win — I mean, they were right there — the final few minutes doomed the Thunder. Scott Brooks pulled out all the stops. Russell Westbrook absolutely busted his butt. Nick Collison did his Nick Collison thing. Kevin Durant, Eric Maynor, everyone, put in the work. Losing a seven-point fourth quarter lead makes me want to belly-flop into an empty pool, but sometimes, it’s just not your time. It’s Dirk’s time. It was just meant to be for the Mavs.
It hurts right now, because the wounds were just opened. You all had visions of a Game 6 in Oklahoma City and the thought of a comeback in your head. I know, I felt it too. The way the team was playing, the way they were fighting — they proved over five games that they were every bit as good as the Mavs. The difference? Dallas knew how to finish it, the Thunder didn’t.
What sucks so much about sports is how we’re all going to replay about 50 things from this series over and over and over and over and over again in our heads. Westbrook not controlling that rebound with two minutes left tonight. Collison’s foul on Dirk in Game 4. The horrific start in Game 3. The comeback that fell short in Game 1. We won’t be able to stop thinking about all those things. What if Russ holds on? What if the Thunder closed Game 4? What if, what if, what if? It all kind of shows you just how close a playoff series can be, even when it’s decided in five games. This was close to being 3-2 in the Thunder’s favor coming back to OKC for a Game 6. Really close. But a play here, a foul there and a rebound everywhere kept it from happening. That’s just how fragile the playoffs are, especially when you’re in the Western Conference Finals.
The difference between winning and losing this series is miniscule. A few bounces went Dallas’s way, a few tough shots dropped for the Mavs, a few calls went in their favor. It’s the nature of the fan beast to want big, bold changes to Fix What Went Wrong, but really, with the youth of this group, the fix might just be the experience of this series.
Because there’s absolutely no better experience for this team to have. We’re going to be thinking about every one of those moments until training camp five months from now (well hopefully, you know, lockout and all). But if you think you’re going to be killing yourself a hundred times over about this, think about the 15 guys on that roster. They’re dying right now. This hurts. They’re the ones that put in all the sweat. They’re the ones that put in all the work. They’re the ones that fought, clawed and did everything they could do to bring you a trophy. We did the easy part. We got to watch them play basketball. Which was a joy.
There will be a time for a little more perspective but while it’s impossible to not be disappointed, this season was truly special. An opportunity was there for the Thunder but here’s the beauty of Sam Presti’s master plan — the opportunity should be right there again for roughly the next 7-10 years. They’ll learn. They’ll improve. They’ll evolve. And I have no doubt, they’ll be back.
- On the actual game: The adjustment to go small was a good one but naturally it bit the Thunder in the back as Dallas came up with a few critical rebounds. Brooks used Maynor, Westbrook, Harden, Durant and Collison pretty much the entire fourth quarter and it worked beautifully in stretches. I loved the lineup, but my issue was, why did Westbrook still play point the entire time? He handled the ball and Maynor played off it. The value of that lineup is having Maynor distribute to three really, really good scorers. But instead, Westbrook handled and Maynor basically just made Dirk stand near him. I didn’t get that.
- Not going to lie, Brooks stubbornness with the starting five is pretty much infuriating. Harden can’t play all 48 and neither can Collison, but this team is just completely different with those two guys on the floor. One hundred percent better.
- KD put it best: “It’s kind of shocking that our season is over with.” No doubt about that. It’s kind of weird.
- I honestly don’t know what to point at as the reason this fourth quarter lead got away. It really just seemed like holding Dallas off would be near impossible. Scoring got tougher and the Mavs went into the bonus with almost five minutes again. I’ll just say this and leave it: Dallas shot 13 fourth quarter free throws to OKC’s four.
- Westbrook was an animal in this game. Some might look at the box score, but along with Harden, he was the biggest reason the Thunder had a chance. He went 11-28 from the floor for 31 points, but he played his style of game and attacked furiously. He was absolutely fantastic. He took a couple iffy shots here and there, but he’s not perfect.
- KD on Westbrook: “He was great. He was great all year. He’s been a guy that we rely on to be a good point guard, but he scores the ball really well … It’s kind of frustrating to see the kind of criticism he’s been getting because he led us by playing the way he’s been playing now the whole season. That’s what made him an All-Star, second team All-NBA. And it kind of baffles me that people just start to criticize because he’s playing like that now. That’s how he’s been playing all season. He got us here as our point guard. We lean on him for that. I thought it wasn’t fair, but I can’t control that, he can’t control that. The one thing about Russell is that he kept playing his game all season no matter what people said. And he did a great job man. I was proud of how he kept his composure and never let it get to him.” Freaking well put KD.
- Harden, my goodness. His first half was a thing of beauty. He finished with 23 points, six assists, five rebounds and ran the team magically for a lot of the third quarter. Honestly, I think it was a mistake to move him off the ball in the fourth. He’s a natural creator and having him run point opened up a ton. I really think going forward, Brooks needs to be flexible like this more often and let other players handle and move things.
- For a little of the game, it really looked like KD was having trouble letting go of Game 4. He was a bit distant. He locked in after he hit a 3 in the third though. I think that’s when he really started believing they could do it.
- Westbrook’s technical at the end of the third. Shake my head.
- And Westbrook leaving the floor immediately — not good. Not surprising though because Russ is emotional and he was clearly upset, but he’s better than that. Even though it hurts, you’ve got to go through the motions of shaking hands and congratulating.
- A lot of people griped about Perk in this series. Keep in mind, he’s maybe about 70 percent right now. He’s not totally healthy and he’s not in shape. Sam Presti didn’t sign him long term to play like that. He’s going to get healthy and get back to his old self.
- Harden will start next year. I am 100 percent convinced.
- The Mavs won this game at the free throw line. OKC made three more baskets, equaled them in 3s, outrebounded them and turned it over only one more time. But Dallas took 36 free throws to OKC’s 25.
- I can’t believe it’s just coincidence that Tyson Chandler constantly finds himself in scuffles. Yet he always pleads innocence. And gets technicals rescinded.
- I couldn’t have been more impressed with the way Westbrook came out in this game. He was busting his butt everywhere. He wasn’t about to go down without a fight. I loved that. I think without him doing that, the Thunder might’ve been content to just go through the motions, but Westbrook set a tone.
- Question I tweeted about Harden: If he were the No. 1 on a team, what do you think his numbers would look like? Put him on the Cavs. I’m thinking something like 20-5-5. You?
- OKC won the boards again though. That was supposed to be a key and they won it in four of the five games. Guess it wasn’t that important.
- Looking back, it sure would’ve been nice if the Mavs would’ve missed some free throws. Both Memphis and Denver did that. Dallas took advantage of it every time.
- Don’t read into Serge Ibaka not being a factor. The matchup just wasn’t right for him. It’s not a big deal though.
Durant said it best: “It’s tough now, but we’ll learn from it.” That’s truth. The season ends in the Western Conference Finals. Think about that for a minute and it’ll make you feel just a little bit better. The chance was there. Some things could’ve been done different. You can blame whoever you want if it makes you feel better. But this team did some really great things and I can’t tell you how proud I am to be a fan of them and how excited I am to watch them go at it again next year.