Wow. How do you recap a game like this? Where do you even start? It was easily the best game of the series, and potentially the biggest game in Oklahoma City Professional Sports History. Before the Thunder and Hornets came, the biggest moment in Oklahoma City Professional Sports History would be....I don't know, this?
Wow, we've certainly come a long way from that.
The game, for lack of a better term, was epic. After a series that consisted of two blowouts, one game that was all but decided by the last couple of minutes, and two relatively close games, everybody was itching for one that came down to the wire. After all, it would have been confirming what the Thunder were trying to prove, in that the Thunder cannot beat a more experienced team when it comes down to the wire.
And let me tell you that this game didn't come down to experience. It wasn't a more experienced team hitting a tougher shot, or making less mental mistakes. It was Pau Gasol out-muscling Serge Ibaka for a critical put-back. It's not like the Thunder lost the game on a huge Laker run. In fact, just a couple minutes earlier, the Thunder made a huge run themselves to get back into the game. The last two minutes were pure heart, hustle, and hardwood. The Lakers just got lucky. You could point to this, that, or the fact that donuts make you fat, but at the end of the game, this was a see-saw game that ended on the Lakers' side, and we didn't have a chance to bounce back.
Granted, I didn't like the last shot of the game. You had Westbrook pop out to the corner, while the other thee Thunder players all stood in a triangle at the top of the three point arc. Really? We couldn't have tried a tip to Ibaka? A closer shot? David West hit a Buzzer Beater against the Wizards with 0.5 left, and it was a straight on shot. It's not like the Lakers would have had a chance to respond. Maybe I'm just bitter, but this play could have been a lot better than a Westbrook, desperate, corner, fade-away three point shot.
That said, the Thunder did really play a great game. I seriously thought the the Lakers had the Thunder figured out when they finally put Kobe on Westbrook. How did the Thunder survive? Lineup changes, my friend. Early on, the Lakers had us down 13 to 4, and it looked like we might see a repeat of Game 5. Then, hope. Nick Collison enters the game for Thabo Sefolosha. This gave us a lineup of Collison/Krstic/Green/Durant/Westbrook, as kind of a throwback to the Carlesimo days. But, instead of slowing down our offense, as it had in the past, it actually improved it immensely. Not only did it give the Thunder three scoring options at SF, SG, and PG, forcing Derek Fisher into a bad matchup, it also freed up Nenad Krstic to move further away from the basket, forcing the Laker big men out of the lane and creating scoring opportunities for both Krstic and the guards on our team. This brilliant strategy led to the Thunder finishing on a 23 to 13 run and recapturing the lead.
When that optimal lineup wasn't possible, the Thunder found ways to get through. Kevin Durant, who Phil Jackson will admit is a master at getting to the line, spent most of the second quarter getting fouled. And that's pretty much what the entire second quarter was for the Thunder. Drive and get fouled, miss, or get blocked. No stupid threes, no tough jump shots. This created some foul trouble for some Laker players late. The Lakers also generally play backups in the second quarter, allowing for the Thunder to play a bit of a disadvantageous game.
In the beginning of the third, the Thunder played their traditional starters, and, to my surprise, came out charging. Aside from an open Jeff Green three, the Thunder made all of their baskets in the paint. They went on another run, this time 16 to 10, and the game was tied at 63, with 6:48 to go in the third. From then on, it's almost impossible to call this anything but a see-saw game until the late fourth. Both teams were trading shot for shot, but the Lakers were having just a little bit more luck. Then, with 6:20 go to in the fourth and the Thunder down by four, the Thunder pulled out their no longer secret weapon and went with a line up of Ibaka/Collison/Green/Durant/Westbrook. This lineup managed to put the Thunder up be 3 at one point, but after a Kobe Jumper with 2:11 to go, they were only up by one. After a series of missed shots, Pau Gasol put in the game winning shot with 0.5 seconds to go, Westbrook missed a fade-away three, and it was all over. Just like that, the Thunder's season was over.
Oklahoma City is going to feel like a ghost town after this series. The place was full of Thunder signs, car flags, painted sidewalks, and crazy fans. It was almost like the city, for the first time, had something they could all unite around. Like going to Berlin during a World Cup, to Tokyo during the Japan Series, or Chicago when the Bulls were king. Sure, we've had some big OU games before, and I remember the town being full of OU Red after the Men's Basketball Team made the Final Four in 2002 and the Football team won the Championship in 2000. But that was only for a day, if that, and the pandemonium was concentrated in Norman. Here, it was like an ongoing 2 week festival. Dads, Moms, Grandmas, Grandpas, Kids, Teenagers, Teachers, Students, Loners, and almost anyone you could think of had Thunder fever. Friends I've had for years who have never spoken to me about basketball suddenly wanted to talk about the Thunder for a week. Sure, it got old after a while, but you miss it a lot more when it's gone. Will it ever be the same? Nobody can answer that, but we'll always have the memories.
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, 21 Points, 9 Assists, 5 Rebounds, 3 Steals. The Thunder MVP of this series has to go to him. He was good in every game but the blowout in game 5, and he's done a great job of orchestrating the offense, which I can't say for Eric Maynor in this series.
Thunder Down Under: Nenad Krstic, 11 Points, 11 Rebounds, 2 Assists. He really pulled us through in the early going, and did a great job of creating scoring opportunities. This was his best game in the series
Thunder Blunder: Eric Maynor, 3 Missed Shots, 1 Assist, 1 Turnover. He didn't give Westbrook much of a break. Granted, he only played 6 minutes, but he didn't do much in that 6 minutes. He was only good in Game 4, but he's a rookie, so I'm sure that experience will come with time.
Thunder Plunderer: Pau Gasol, Game Winning Shot. Kobe really carried the Lakers in this game, and Pau's stat line was rather unimpressive. But all it came down to was that clutch layup, and he hit it. 'Nuff said.
Next Game: The Summer League in July. Stay Tuned!