There’s a moment where it happens. Whether it’s during a crazy fourth quarter run, a wild back-and-forth between two players, or a dramatic game-winning shot, there’s that moment where you say, “Holy crap, this is a great game.”
Over the last five years, there’s been more than a few of those in Oklahoma City. That’s one of the best parts of having a team. Those games you bring up 10 years after the fact and say, “Remember the night Durant silenced MSG?”
There’s more than 10 to mention, and these are probably out of order, so just consider it 10 of the best:
10. Clutch at MSG — Thunder 121, Knicks 118 (OT)
The young Thunder traveled to play the Knicks, who weren’t good at the time, but had just acquired Tracy McGrady so everyone was excited. Aided by a couple missed free throws by T-Mac, the Thunder found a way back from six down with a minute left as Jeff Green rattled in a 3, then Kevin Durant splashed one from straightaway to send the game to overtime. It wasn’t Durant’s first trip to MSG, but it certainly was sort of his Welcome To The Garden moment. Durant finished with 36, Russell Westbrook had 31 and 10 assists and the Thunder eeked out a 121-118 win in overtime.
“Everybody lives for nights like this,” Westbrook said after the game. “Basketball players live for overtime game, big shots, things like that.”
9. Melo one-ups KD — Nuggets 122, Thunder 120
The thing about this game was that it happened Jan. 2, 2009, a few days after the Thunder picked up their fourth win on New Year’s Eve beating the Warriors. Heading into the matchup with the Nuggets, a Western contender, it felt like this was an opportunity for the Thunder to really show things were turning around for them. They had a chance to win two in a row (TWO!) and in doing it, beat a good team. And with a few seconds left, KD put the Thunder up with a deep 3. The funny thing about that first season was though, no one in the arena thought the Thunder had wrapped it up. Everyone was conditioned to fear the worst. And the worst happened as Carmelo Anthony canned a corner 3 to drain every bit of happiness and excitement out of the building. “I couldn’t believe he made it,” Durant said following the game. “I still can’t.”
Still, the game represented something despite the loss: The Thunder were turning over a new leaf, and were headed for more positive things. They just needed to learn how to win.
“That was a heck of a game,” Scott Brooks said after it. “Nobody deserved to lose that game tonight. It should’ve gone into overtime after overtime.”
8. KD sinks the Mavs – Thunder 104, Mavs 102
Vince Carter and Kevin Durant exchanged game-winners, but this game was about more than that. This was the first time OKC had played the Mavericks since the Western Conference finals, when Dallas punked the Thunder. The Mavs had OKC’s number, and with the Thunder trying to take another step, a game on Dec. 29 felt really, really important. It was the first game since Russell Westbrook went 0-13 against the Grizzlies and supposedly got into it with Durant. And with the Thunder slacking, Westbrook sparked OKC in the fourth quarter and got his name chanted at the free throw line. Then Durant swooped in and slammed the door at the buzzer. It also started a period of current dominance of the Thunder over the Mavs as OKC’s won the last 11 of 12 against Dallas, including a four-game sweep in 2012.
7. The Tony Brothers Game – Jazz 140, Thunder 139
During the Thunder’s breakout season in 2009-10, they finished eighth in the West, but late in April, had an outside chance of winning the Northwest Division. What they had to have was a big road game in Utah against the Jazz to leave the door open. With 4:33 left, the Thunder trailed by 13. Durant hit was appeared to be a meaningless 3 to cut it to 10. With three minutes left, the Jazz led by 11. Durant finished an and-1 dunk to cut it to eight. With 2:40 left, the Thunder trailed by nine. Durant hit a 3 to cut it to six, then after a steal, hit another 3 to cut it to three with 2:02 left. In two minutes, the Thunder had closed the gap as Durant scored 12 of the 14 points. After two Westbrook free throws cut it to one, the Jazz responded with five straight, extending the lead back to six with 54 seconds left. It felt like the bubble had burst. But Durant dropped a deeeeeeeep 3, Jeff Green finished a transition dunk after a steal and after two Utah free throws, Green swished a 3 with eight seconds left to send the game to overtime. Utah missed, the Thunder got the ball back and Durant missed a fadeaway 50-footer. OT.
And that’s when things started getting crazy.
Green put the Thunder up one with five seconds left on a little runner, 139-138. Deron Williams was cooking that night and after a beautifully designed play, knocked down a 15-footer to put Utah up again. Thunder ball, one second left. OKC called timeout and ran a side out play, getting it in to Durant to let him launch. Durant caught, set and shot, but the ball fell 20 feet short. Why? Because C.J. Miles fouled KD on the arm. Except the official standing directly next to the play, Tony Brothers, didn’t blow his whistle. The box score says “C.J. Miles blocks Kevin Durant 3-point attempt,” but even the league knew that was crap, announcing the following day it was a missed call.
6. 51, 40, triple-double – Thunder 124, Nuggets 118
Playing the Nuggets in February — a pretty big regular season game — the Thunder filled up the box score to the brim. In a 124-118 overtime win, Durant dropped a then career-high 51, Westbrook had 40 (and nine assists) and Serge Ibaka registered a triple-double, scoring 14 points with 15 rebounds and 11 blocks. That made NBA history. It was the first time since teammates had scored 40 points together since MJ and Scottie in 1996. “Unbelievable,” James Harden said after the game. “That’s probably one of the best regular-season games that I’ve played in since I’ve been here, or the best.”
5. Comeback – Thunder 100, Nuggets 97
The Thunder were closing in on their first ever playoff series win and had the Nuggets coming to OKC up three games to one. But with three minutes left, Denver led by nine bringing the very real possibility of a winner-take-all Game 7 into play. The Thunder needed something to happen, desperately. So Kevin Durant did. “I just wanted to be that guy,” Durant said after the game. KD scored 16 of the Thunder’s final 20 points, as OKC advanced.
4. Remember the Dagger – Thunder 108, Spurs 103
The funny thing is, we remember this game for the dagger Harden hit, but really, the Thunder should’ve never needed it. Because Harden had actually hit a dagger five minutes earlier putting the Thunder up 12 with 5:18 to go. But the Spurs started the slow climb back, and after a Tim Duncan jumper, had it to two with 50 seconds left. The Thunder were trying to run a set, it broke down and with the shot clock running out, Harden let one fly. Another funny thing: We also don’t remember the fact the Thunder tried to lose the game again, as a terrible Thabo Sefolosha turnover gave the Spurs a look at 3 to tie the game. When Manu Ginobili let fly on it, I was convinced it was dropping. But the Thunder exorcised some demons from the season before where they let a big lead slip against the Mavs in Western Finals, holding on this time around in what might’ve been the most important win in franchise history.
3. Game 4 – Heat 104, Thunder 98
It’s painful to relive this game because the Thunder blew a 17-point lead and probably should’ve won, but I’ll never, ever, ever forget the way Russell Westbrook played that night. If you ever imagined what it would look like to see a player leave his bloodied, beating heart at midcourt for 48 minutes, this was it. I’ve never seen a professional athlete compete like that in anything. Westbrook finished with 43, but it was enough. The Thunder fired their last bullet in that game too, as the Heat ran them out of the building in Game 5. The Thunder were bringing their best shot to Game 4 and while Westbrook’s effort was admirable, it just wasn’t enough.
2. K-Love vs. KD – Thunder 149, Wolves 140 (2OT)
So the magnitude of this game was minimal. A bad Wolves team coming to play the Thunder in March. But that’s sometimes when the great games sneak up on you. Kevin Love was brilliant scoring 51, J.J. Barea had a triple-double. Kevin Durant had 40, Westbrook 45. Quietly, James Harden had 25. But it was the exchange of big shots in the fourth quarter that did it. Durant hit a gorgeous step-back to put OKC up 3. Love matched it. Love hit another big shot in overtime. Durant matched it to force a second. The shotmaking, the playmaking, the intensity — it was a brilliant game. “That’s going to be a game that’s going to be played for a while now,” Durant said after the game.
1. Triple-overtime in Memphis – Thunder 133, Grizzlies 123 (3OT)
I’m still not recovered from this one. I get exhausted just thinking about it. The Thunder, down two games to one to the Grizzlies, blew another late fourth quarter lead (this one 10 points with five minutes left) and left the door open for Mike Conley to bury a 3 to force overtime. The Thunder had it won again in the first overtime, watched Greivis Vasquez swish a lucky 3 to force a second overtime. The second overtime it was the Thunder scrapping, as Harden hit a big 3 with 1:07 left to tie the game, and survived a couple missed layups from Zach Randolph. After a Westbrook missed jumper at the buzzer, it was time for a third OT.
And finally, the Thunder just wore down the Grizzlies. OKC outscored Memphis 14-4 in the third overtime, taking charge with 1:37 left as Ibaka nailed a jumper, then Durant hit a runner and canned a nasty crossover step-back over Shane Battier. It was a game of pure survival for the Thunder. “This game is something people are going to be talking about for a while,” Durant said after it. “I’m glad I’m a part of it.”