The second post in what still might be a small series. We’ll see how far this lockout crap goes. If you missed the first look-back, read up on the game that signaled a young team was finally turning the corner.
When I was filling in the pre-game post on Dec. 31, 2008 and got to the team record part for the Thunder, it was almost painful to write. I can’t be sure, but I bet I cringed when it did it. Which is probably why for some reason instead of just typing in the numbers with a dash between, I made to add a little umph to it. “THREE AND FREAKING 29,” I wrote.
Three wins, 29 losses for our new team. Three games where the Thunder had more points than their opponent, 29 games in which they didn’t. This was the team we were all so excited about. This is the team that was supposed to change our city. And yet, 3-and-freaking-29.
At this point, it was almost past desperation. I had crossed over from that unbridled optimism that came along with the Thunder’s new car smell. I had definitely begun to leave behind trying to conjure up positives from each and every deflating beating Oklahoma City took every night. It was all starting to feel kind of pointless. I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel somewhere, but the Thunder had me wearing sunglasses. That light was more of an idea, not something I could actually see.
Coming in to the New Year’s Eve showdown with the Warriors, the Thunder were just riding a five-game losing streak. Granted, they’d dropped 13 of 14, 16 of 28 and well, 26 of 29 before that. But it was a trend. The Thunder had endured a 14-game losing streak that led to P.J. Carlesimo being fired, then had an eight-game losing streak and then just a five-game skid. Onwards and upwards to slightly less than sucking! It was a step, all right?
The Warriors weren’t anything special. So don’t be confused that this was some monumental statement to the world that the Thunder had arrived, or something stupid like that. No, the Warriors came in just 10-24, but then again, to us Thunderers, 10-24 looked as good as 40-0. Ten wins? Holy crap, we’ve got no chance! At that point in the Thunder’s existence, we were still having conversations about the Thunder matching the 1972-73 76ers for the worst record ever. Honestly, it wasn’t even so much about when that next would come, it was really more about if it would come. That’s how hopeless it felt. Each and every basket almost felt like it was cause for celebration.
There were a lot of reasons the Thunder had stooped to 3-29, but one main reason that the team consistently played inconsistently. It was never four quarters of solid ball. Always three. Sometimes two. And on the rough nights, just 12 minutes of decent hoops. But it changed against the Warriors. The Thunder trailed by just four at the half and used a big third quarter to jump out to an eight-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. The Thunder winning? After 36 minutes? As awesome as the thought of that was, the agony of trying to drain those final 12 minutes was going to be rough.
But the Thunder did it, hanging on for a 107-100 win. Kevin Durant had 25 points and 10 rebounds, but he was hardly the star of the night. Funny enough, the two players that carried Oklahoma City to victory that night were Jeff Green (26 points) and Chris Wilcox (23 points, nine rebounds). Yes, that Chris Wilcox.
Again, it wasn’t anything monumental. Bear in mind, this just got the Thunder to four-and-29. Not exactly pretty. But it was a win after just five straight losses. And it felt like a chance to turn the page. The calendar was presenting a natural gesture with it going from 2008 to 2009 following Oklahoma City’s win and if there was an obvious resolution for the team, it was to play better. Here’s what I wrote after the game:
This game ended just a five game losing steak. That’s an improvement from the previous two wins ending 14 and eight game losing streaks. So maybe next it will just be three in a row before a win. Then two. Then one. And then maybe a winning streak.
The Thunder will get an (unlikely) chance for two in a row Friday night against the very tough Nuggets. But after a good night like this, I think the page is turning a bit. Wins like this can help you to start shaking the “We’re going to lose every game” feeling. OKC is no pushover. Winning is a long shot, but it’s becoming a more realistic possibility on a night-to-night basis.
A nice way to kick off the Ron Adams/Nenad Krstic era. And an even nicer way to put 2008 in the books and head to 2009 (let’s just ignore the fact that the team won only four times in 2008). Maybe this is a good sign for the team heading into the new year. New year, new coach, new player and a win to boot. Hopefully, this is a symbolic way to turn the page and make 2009 better than 2008.
That next game against the Nuggets featured some serious heartbreak — darn you Melo — but sent a clear message: The Thunder had turned over a new leaf. No more pushing them around for 48 minutes. No more extended losing streaks. No more empty losses and games that would’ve been better off had we just simulated them. The Thunder were finally competing.
The jokes about the Thunder were starting to fade, the columns talking about how historically bad the team was weren’t popping up as often. The team hasn’t forgotten about those dark days. They wear the 3-29 on their sleeve. Kevin Durant said during the playoffs last year that it’s not necessarily something he likes to remember because it hurt so much. Nick Collison called it the lowest point of his basketball career. But they came through it. And I think are a better team today because of it.
Ever since that New Year’s Eve win in 2008, Oklahoma City is 124-89. With two playoff berths and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder quickly ended all that “worst team ever” talk by going 7-7 in January. Just like that 3-29 turned to 11-36, which back then, was darn near sparkling. And now, we’re legitimately, realistically talking about when, not if, the Thunder will be in the NBA Finals.
Perspective: Brought to you by 3-and-freaking-29.