Several two-word phrases or terms correlate with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Loud City, Triple-Double, Jones Fracture, Meniscus Tear, Two-Way Contract, etc. None resonate more than what if. What if Kevin Durant never broke his foot? What if Patrick Beverly never injured Russell Westbrook’s knee?
Today’s what if does not involve an injury. It pertains to one specific play that occurred four years ago, on February 27, 2016. Warriors superstar Steph Curry hit a half-court buzzer-beater to defeat the Thunder in OT. ESPN starlet Rachel Nichols said the shot changed the NBA. Daily Thunder guest scribe Stephen Dolan insists it did not. If one is wrong then the other must be right. It’s a great question that will never have an answer. With that, let’s imagine what might have changed because of Curry’s three-point marksmanship.
Leading up to The Shot
This was a regular-season game, but it felt like it meant so much more. This was one of those potential conference-finals preview type contests – which turned out to be true, as the Thunder faced the Dubs in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals 79 days later. The crowd was raucous and the plays were crisp, as the Thunder and Warriors went toe-to-toe. The Thunder lead by 11 at intermission, which led to Draymond Green’s infamous locker room outburst. His emotions must have sparked a fire in his squad though, as the Warriors roared back to tie the game in regulation.
With roughly 33 seconds remaining in OT, Westbrook handled the ball at the top of the key then drove into the lane, dumping it off to a cutting Andre Roberson. Dre nailed the layup giving OKC a three-point lead 115-118. On the next possession, Klay Thompson made a layup of his own, Westbrook committed a foul and Thompson connected on the and-1. With the game deadlocked at 118, Westbrook launched a leaning mid-range jumper on OKC’s final possession which would have sealed it for the Thunder, the shot rimmed off and double-OT seemed inevitable when the Warriors did not call a time-out. However, the Baby Faced Assassin had other plans.
Following Russ’ miss, Andre Iguodala corralled the loose ball, pulled back and dished the ball ahead to Steph, who calmly walked the rock up the court, before launching a wide-open bomb from just above the E in the mid-court logo. Roberson came dashing towards Curry in an effort to contest the shot, but it was too late.
Steph the Influencer
Did this shot change the NBA? If Steph never hits this trey Golden State probably doesn’t win 73-games. I’m not going to say this is guaranteed, because this team was good enough to make up a game, but on the surface, they do not break the Bulls record. OKC might not have been as competitive with them in the WCF. Yes, I believe this gave Oklahoma City a lot of motivation and confidence to win the series.
If they are not competitive, KD might not join the Warriors. Heck this shot from Steph, might have been the first tea leaf planted where Durant first began considering his move to the Bay. It is obvious this shot paved the way for Damian Lillard to drain a similar heartbreaking three. Only Lillard’s shot was not in the regular season, it was in the First round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs, and you probably know the rest of the story.
Maybe all these events transpire regardless or maybe none of them happen. Steph’s shot caused a chain reaction, we will just never fully know what exactly it was. However, one aspect is certain, Steph Curry making this shot officially ushered in a new era in the NBA. What was once a bad shot, became a new shot and now makes elite defensive players pick up lethal shooters as soon as they cross half-court. Perhaps, someday the truly elite offensive players will need to be contested in the backcourt. When that happens, hopefully the Thunder will have used one of their copious picks to select such a player.