Just as he has in every other home game of his career, Kevin Durant left his postgame media availability walking through the underground halls of Chesapeake Energy Arena shaking hands with ushers and security guards, thanking each one.
He was on his way back to the court, a place he just brilliantly performed on, to see his friends and family. He arrived, kissed his mother, shook hands with his friends and stood and talked. He took pictures with about 40 different people. Then like any other night, Durant and his family exited the floor together, but this time were walking to somewhere different, somewhere new. Somewhere he’s dreamed about, somewhere he has seemed destined to be.
The NBA Finals.
Everything Durant does centers around family and togetherness. His family off the floor, and his family on it. Durant, who had played the entire game, finished off a spectacular, transcendent performance by dishing to Kendrick Perkins for a final flush. And immediately walked over to his courtside family, both of those lanky arms that extend into the air for forever raised to the sky, and wrapped them around his mom and brother.
His moment was here. His team’s moment was here. And they embraced the hell out of it.
The build-up for Game 6 was so much that anything other than a punched ticket to The Finals was going to bring down the most incredible disappointment most any of us have ever experienced in our sport-watching lives. And that was with Game 7 still to go. But the reality was clear: Lose Game 6 on your home floor and you might as well kiss the dream goodbye. At least for another year.
As the Spurs piled up points, reemerging from the abyss as the terrifying offensive juggernaut that slices into defensive structures, picks-and-rolls you apart and drills any shot that has a sniff of space in it, the Thunder looked helpless. It looked like a repeat of Game 2, a collapse on their home floor in a the biggest game of their lives. It wasn’t necessarily choking. It was appearing to just be a reminder that they’re mostly all under 25 years old and maybe they weren’t so ready after all.
But there’s a reason you don’t doubt this team. There’s a reason you must believe, no matter the circumstance. There’s a reason you can’t quit on them.
Because they won’t quit on you.
Down 18 in the second quarter, down 13 at the half. That would seem like a tall task, but this team is different. Down seven to the Mavericks in the final three minutes? No big. Down nine to the Lakers in the fourth quarter? No problem. Down 2-0 to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals? No sweat.
Down 18 in Game 6, the biggest game of all of their lives? No choice. No choice but to fight. No choice but to dig in and battle. This team, and this city, seem to live by the word resiliency. It’s the first word in the intro video, it’s plastered across everything around the arena. There’s a certain undefinable spirit around this city and team that just Will. Not. Quit. It’s that sort of intestinal fortitude that makes a champion. That gives you the backbone you need to walk into a locker room down big in the biggest game of your life and find it within to battle back.
Check this: The Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half. They held the Spurs to 32.5 percent shooting. They bottled up Tony Parker, forcing him to go 4-13 for only eight points. They forced nine turnovers. They shot 57.6 percent from the field. They hit 5-of-7 from 3. They took care of the basketball. They fought, they competed, they battled, they stuck together. They won.
We should expect nothing less from someone like Durant, but I still find myself sitting slack-jawed as he effortlessly bombs away from deep. He saved his best game of the series for the biggest time. Going all 48 minutes he finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. He drained a gigantic 3 late in the third to cap OKC’s comeback and put them on top. He set an incredible tone for his team, never losing hope, focus or faith. The entire roster deserves credit — Perk, Fish, Westbrook, Serge, Harden, Thabo, Nick, Lazar’s headband — but all fall in line behind KD. He was born for this game. And he played like it.
What awaits next is a chance at immortality. It’s not enough to just be there. You want to win it. But there’s something to be said for just taking this step. It’s been one we’ve all talked about for the last year, or really, last four. To get to The Finals, to have this shot, was something that seemed like an impossible dream at 3-29. It seemed like a destination forever away.
But on Wednesday, in Oklahoma City with 18,203 roaring strong, with an entire city and state bonded together by a basketball team, next finally became now. The Thunder are headed to the NBA Finals. Drink it in.
- Scott Brooks should just walk around with a middle finger raised straight up in the air for the next three days. He earned that next contract. No more talk about new coaches, being out-coached or whatever. He pushed all the right buttons, made all the right moves and proved that he knows his team a helluva lot better than all of us idiots. He stuck with Derek Fisher down the stretch and Fish paid it off by hitting a giant 3 and a big jumper. He shortened his bench at the right time and stretched it out when needed. He kept his team focused, adjusted, re-adjusted and presented the perfect message. Scotty came to coach in the Western Finals and proved, just like the team, that he belongs.
- I won’t lie — as Perk flushed through that dunk, it got a bit dusty. I didn’t expect it to, but that was such a surreal moment. I don’t think I can ever truly explain it. Who knows, if the Thunder actually win a title, that’ll trump it, but this moment of true arrival was something else.
- The Thunder went through last 13 Western Conference champions en route to The Finals. The Mavs, the Lakers and the Spurs. And it had to be the Spurs for that final step. It was too perfect. The model, the master, the big brother. If there was ever a symbolic passing of the torch, we just watched it.
- Russell Westbrook had a pretty awesome dunk. Doesn’t that seem like forever ago?
- Brooks talked at length about Westbrook postgame, kind of out of nowhere. “The leadership Russell has displayed, I’m proud of him. He gets criticized a lot, and I tell him, don’t worry about what other people say. You’re not their point guard. You’re my point guard. I like what he’s about. I like what he represents. He had a never-quit attitude tonight and he did a good job of helping us win this game.”
- Fisher deserves some serious credit for his defense on Parker in the second half. He did a great job. Really, he did.
- Stephen Jackson just made another 3.
- But wouldn’t you know it, the biggest one of the night, he clanged. Amazing how that stuff works. He was absolutely spectacular though. 23 points on 6-7 shooting, all from 3. Wow.
- I thought Tony Parker might score 200 points after the first quarter.
- Gregg Popovich on OKC’s run: “As sad and disappointed as we are, you really have to think about it’s almost like a Hollywood script for OKC in a sense. They went through Dallas, last year’s champion, then they went through the Lakers, then they went through us. Those three teams represent 10 of the last 13 championships … I don’t know if anybody has ever had a run or gone through a playoff playing those kinds of teams. It’s just incredible and I think it’s pretty cool for them.”
- KD on playing the full 48: “After we started the first quarter I went to the bench and told coach I can go all night, I can go 48. I didn’t think they would let me do it, but they kept me in and I was just trying to get my team a spark. Coach is always getting in my ear about inspiring the team by my play. I was terrible in the first quarter on my defense and I just wanted to play as hard as I can and leave it out there on the floor and hopefully my teammates would follow and they did a great job.”
- Brooks on KD: “It’s amazing. It’s an amazing moment for him to play like this in this moment, in this setting. I wasn’t going to take him out. I was not going to take him out, I didn’t care how many times he looked at me fatigued.”
- KD took a charge, the first one I can ever remember him taking. And it was important too. Westbrook piped up when KD was asked about it, “That’s his first charge of the year.” KD then responded, “I was going to say that, Russ. That was my first charge of the year.”
- Brooks was asked what stood out about KD’s game and he said the charge.
- A massive tip of the cap to the Spurs. A great team, a great franchise and a great fanbase. A worthy adversary.
Next up: The NBA Finals in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.