For just the fourth time in franchise history, the Thunder’s season ended in April, as the Houston Rockets eliminated Oklahoma City in five games. While the season didn’t end with a banner, hats, or a parade, the year will go down as one of the most memorable.
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Screened. Steven Adams laying out Patrick Beverly was one of the highlights of the series against the Rockets. But not to be outdone, Andre Roberson dropped Beverly with a brick-wall of a screen in Game 5. Nice one.
Third Quarter Magic. With the season slipping away as the Rockets built an 11-point third-quarter lead, Westbrook refused to go down quietly. Almost single-handedly, Westbrook sparked a 20-6 run that helped the Thunder go into the fourth quarter up by five. Westbrook ended up playing all twelve minutes of the third quarter, scoring 20 points on 6-9 shooting, including 4-7 from three.
Close, but not quite. Unfortunately, the Thunder’s five-point lead was quickly wiped out during an 8-0 run by the Rockets with Westbrook on the bench to start the fourth. Despite Westbrook’s unconstrained efforts to lead the team back, Westbrook simply ran out of gas. After checking back in, Westbrook closed the game by shooting just 2-11, including 0-5 from three.
It was the story of the season. With a supporting cast that routinely offered little support, the team went as Westbrook did. When Westbrook was on, the Thunder were as good as any team in the league. But when Westbrook wasn’t playing heroic basketball, the Thunder so often came up short. This painful truth was on full display during this series, and especially in Game 5.
Point Roberson. Roberson’s offensive shortcomings are well-known. From his terrible three-point shooting, to even worse free-throw shooting, Roberson is mostly a liability on the offensive end. His ability to cut and attack the basket, however, are strengths that continue to evolve. In Game 5, specifically, Roberson showcased impressive vision, as he racked up four assists. If Roberson can keep defenses honest by attacking the basket (with and without the ball), and find open teammates, his lack of a three-point game will be less of an issue. Now, the free-throw issue? Yeah, that’s still going to be a problem.
Fans. I’m sure you’ve seen the photos of the Toyota Center in Houston empty to start the game. For Game 5, the Rockets begged fans to show up by offering $1 concessions. Look around the NBA, and it’s common place for arenas to be half empty through the bulk of the first quarter. Though, Oklahoma City isn’t immune to late arrivals, the loyalty and fervor of the fan base is second to none. It’s a bit cheesy, sure, for fans to show up at the airport in the middle of the night to greet multi-millionaire professional athletes, but it’s also something that separates Thunder fans from others.
Never change, Thunder nation. Never change.
What’s next? Notwithstanding Sam Presti’s incredibly transparent press conference yesterday, the Thunder’s future is a bit of an unknown. Outside of wanting to keep Westbrook for the next 300 years, Presti has some decisions to make. While I’m sure DailyThunder will have plenty of content on this monumental offseason, I wanted to hit on a couple of things said by Taj Gibson and Roberson in their exit interviews.
The Thunder run the franchise in a very deliberate, specific way. It exudes from ten-dollar words that flow from Presti’s mouth. And while we hear Presti-speak, players get to experience the meaning of those words. That’s why it’s such a compliment that a consummate professional like Gibson would unequivocally state he wants to stay with the team. It’s even further reinforced by the statements of loyalty from Roberson, who said he would “do anything” to stay with the team.
Sure, the Thunder’s woes in attracting free agents are well-documented, but the team has generated significant loyalty among players who have actually been a part of the team. That’s a good sign when a certain player becomes eligible to sign a massive extension this summer.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SIX
M-V-P. It’s been said a million times, yet it can’t be said enough: Westbrook gave the Thunder a special season, giving everything he had every night, while achieving a monumental feat. For his efforts, Westbrook will almost certainly be the NBA MVP, an award he definitely deserves. And on that note, to close this column, I leave you with this GIF, which so perfectly captures Westbrook’s season.
With less than 20 seconds before the Thunder were officially eliminated, there’s Westbrook, fighting relentlessly for an offensive rebound and finishing through contact, not about to quit in a game that’s all but been decided.