I keep thinking it’s hard to believe it’s over, but really, it’s not.
The moment Russell Westbrook was announced out for the postseason, we knew this moment was coming. The Thunder’s season wasn’t going to end in a win with confetti falling and jock jams blaring. It was going to end in disappointment. The only question was how long this team would be able to extend the life of their season, how long they’d be able to drag out that belief that there was a chance.
After Game 1, there was a pinch of faith installed, and it was because of No. 35. With Kevin Durant, anything kind of felt possible. His ability to take on opposing defenses and score 1-on-5, his ability to shoulder the burden of an entire team, his ability to remain positive and take his teammates to a higher place with him — it seemed like there was a chance to at least live the dream just a little longer. The Thunder were eventually going to crumble, but there was at least a sliver of hope, a chance to live in denial of the inevitable.
Game 2 was the foreshadowing. Durant was called to do too much, and couldn’t Hodor it all in crunchtime. Game 3 was a similar story. Game 4, even worse.
And in the culminating Game 5, an emotional 48 minutes of incredible ups and downs, Durant’s call to do everything, to be the savior in white for this crippled Thunder team, all came to an appropriate head with one final missed shot, his 16th of the night.
It was a clean look too. Maybe one of the best he’d had all night. A clean catch, a little jab step that send Tony Allen the wrong way, and right to Durant’s spot, basically on the opposite site where he dropped a game-winner in Game 1. Just long. And that was it. The Thunder’s season was done.
“I made a good move,” Durant said. “I pulled up and missed the shot.”
That was kind of the story of the series. Durant, and the Thunder, just missed shots. It almost feels like an excuse, but it’s not. Making shots is the most important part of basketball. And the Thunder quite honestly sucked at it for four games.
Losing four straight feels like a massive failure for this team, despite their unique circumstances. The shame is, even without Westbrook, the Thunder had their chances. The Grizzlies are an excellent team, a defensive buzzsaw. But even with the challenging matchup and tough position, the Thunder are going to rehash this series to death and rue missed opportunities. Not to take anything away from the Grizzlies, but I think the reality of this series was less about Memphis beating OKC and more about Memphis allowing OKC to beat OKC. A sound strategy, and one that certainly worked.
The shock of it all ending, especially at home, is hard to grasp. It feels like someone has to be at fault, like someone needs to be blamed. How dare they lose? But what I watched tonight was a beaten, tired, mentally throttled team that was pulling out every stop to survive. They were desperate. They tried. With it 50-38 at halftime, and 60-46 in the third quarter, I thought we were about to see the Thunder get run out of their own building as the tank finally hit empty. It felt like a remix of the 2012 Finals where OKC emptied its clip in Game 4 and then couldn’t respond in Game 5. The reality of their predicament washed over them after Game 4, I think. The inevitability that they couldn’t win without Russ was clearer than ever. Maybe they could beat the Grizzlies, but if so, what’s the point? Tonight, they looked like an emotionally spent team that was just kind of ready for it to be over so they could regroup for next season.
But they battled and had a chance. Ball in Durant’s hands with a clean look, too. They didn’t just have a chance. They had a shot. And appropriately so, it didn’t drop.
“I gave it all I had for my team. I left it all out there on the floor,” Durant said. “I missed 16 shots, but I kept fighting, I kept being aggressive. That’s all I can ask for. It is what it is. It’s tough to swallow right now. But I’m sure we’re going to look back on this down the line and really appreciate this tough time. It’s something we’ve really got to embrace and get better from. It’s tough to lose your last game in the playoffs.”
It feels better to say that this is going to be good in the end for the Thunder. That they’ll learn, that they’ll grow, that they’ll be better because of this. It’s true though. The pain of losing in the Finals was horrible, but that’s not real adversity. This was a real challenge. Especially for Durant. I think he learned more about himself as a player and leader the last three weeks than he has the previous five years. He was called to arms in a role that isn’t him and in so many ways, he answered the bell. In others, he failed. And at 24 years old, it’s just something more to drive him, to reinforce that overwhelming fire inside.
Really, I can’t say it better than KD himself, who summarized this whole thing pretty perfectly as he sat there alone at the podium postgame, missing his fashionable buddy that customarily joins him. Even at 24, Durant is a mature, sensible young man. With a box score sitting in front of him on the table, taunting him with those 16 misses and seven turnovers, Durant couldn’t stop glancing down at it. Internally, you know his stomach was churning and his heart completely shattered. This postseason wasn’t just about him, but more about the help he couldn’t consistently get. But he felt the responsibility of it all. He felt like he let everyone down. I wanted to get up and hug him like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and tell him it wasn’t his fault. But there he sat, head held high, positive as ever, always looking forward to a bright future.
“Sometimes you’ve got to ride out the storm to get to the sunshine,” Durant said, almost defiantly. “We’ve got to continue to keep believing in each other and believe in this process and we’ll be alright.”
Onward to next season. Can’t wait.
- I had what I thought was going to be a freaking sweet hook for this recap pregame. Right before tipoff, KD grabbed the whole team and was really firing them up with an intense speech pregame, and then stormed out of the huddle with a crazy intense look. After it, a fan behind me said, “Look at Durant. We’re gonna win.” At that moment, I thought so too.
- It really looked to me like KD was forcing. Everyone always says that you want him to go down firing, to go down shooting at will. Well, when you’re doubled and tripled, this is kind of the result. Durant spoils us. It’s his fault for tricking us into thinking it really is as easy as he sometimes makes it look. But scoring in the NBA is hard. And while KD wanted to take over and score 50, his downfall was wanting to do that a little too badly. He got away from who he is, from that guy that ignored the rotten apples and instead had a bushel of them tonight.
- The Thunder almost found a way to win. It started with one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, when Tony Allen accidentally threw a t-shirt/towel on the floor as Derek Fisher shot a 3. A technical foul was called, Fisher was awarded three points and the Thunder had new life. They were down 60-49 before the play, and ended up closing on a 13-4 run to make it a two-point game headed to the fourth.
- Derek Fisher. Remember that one time I wrote something nice about him?
- On the final shot, Scott Brooks interestingly decided to call a timeout, which is exactly the opposite of how Game 1 played out. Durant grabbed the rebound on the miss and there was an opportunity to push in transition. But he wanted the timeout to set up.
- Brooks on the last shot: “That’s a shot I could live with 100 times out of 100 times. The thing about Kevin is that I love with his decisions. He has a pure heart when he plays and all of his decisions are always about the team.”
- Out of a possible 245 minutes this series, Kevin Durant rested 16:41 minutes.
- Some are obviously blaming Scott Brooks, but how is KD shooting 5-21 his fault? I really think Brooks coached a solid series. He made good adjustments, he switched up matchups, he tried new things, he sat down players. He was hurt by two things: 1) Horrible shooting and 2) foul trouble for Nick Collison.
- The crowd when Randolph was shooting those free throws was unspeakably loud. Like at unreal decibels. That was insane.
- KD pointed it out postgame, but woo boy, Reggie Jackson is going to be a player. That might be the sunshine that comes out of this Westbrook storm. That dude can play.
- The moment KD pulled Perk aside in the first half and wrapped his arms around him and tried to pick him up almost broke my heart. I know a lot of people can’t stand Perk, but the guy would die for his team. He might play bad, but he still plays hard. His effort is never lacking. He loves nothing more than being part of the team and feeling like he’s contributed. And he was hurting his guys badly out there. I felt for him.
- Great note from Couper Moorhead: “Playoffs included, Kevin Durant finishes the season with the league’s 4th-highest Clutch PER (33.00). Important note for tomorrow.”
- Perk had more fouls (38) in the playoffs than points, assists, and blocks combined (36).
- The NBA needs a referee seminar on what is a block and what is a charge. I’ll pay for it you guys. I will.
- If Serge Ibaka actually rebounded all the rebounds get got his hands on, he’d average like 30 rebounds a game.
- Super happy for John Hollinger, though. Anything that contributes to confirming his basketball genius, I’m all about.
- Very big call in the game: The foul in the fourth quarter on Collison where he didn’t come within two J.J. Bareas of hitting Randolph. Horrible call, and two big free points for the Grizzlies.
- David Stern was in the house tonight.
- After getting called for a very weak off-ball foul battling for a rebound in the first half, Nick Collison said to ref Marc Davis, “Marc! What’s he doing to me? What’s he doing to me?” Seriously though: Who did Collison piss off before the series?
- Collison’s Eurostep was an incredible failure, but I loved it so much.
- An interesting offseason awaits. Questions aplenty are there. Decisions, draft picks, free agents, roster spots. Don’t worry, lots of time to talk about it. But tonight, try reflecting just a touch on this season. It was an interesting one. Between the trade in October to Westbrook’s injury, this season was unlike anything Thunder fans have experienced yet.
- There’s a lot more to say, I know. A lot I didn’t cover adequately, a bunch of quotes from postgame. But like the team, I’m worn out. In some ways, I’m a little relieved it’s over.
Next up: Nothing.