The Thunder finished the 2011-12 season with 47 wins, which would be the same percentage-wise as winning about 58 games during a full length season. In the NBA there are wins, and then there are WINS. Here are my top 5 most important wins of the past calendar year:
5. Thunder 111, Trail Blazers 107, OT, Feb. 6
This early season game was a ton of fun all around. For some reason the Trail Blazers seem like they're a contender for about the first third of every season and then the wheels fall off. Such was the case here, as the Thunder were seeking to recover from an earlier loss to Portland and found themselves in a seesaw affair. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 61 points and Westbrook nearly had a triple-double, and that would have made the game entertaining enough, but the most memorable aspect was how the regulation period ended:
This blown goal-tending call was the final push that the league needed to implement instant replay for potential goal-tending violations. Unfortunately for Portland, once again the Sonics/Thunder got the long end of the stick on this ordeal.
4. Thunder 103, Heat 87, March 25
The Thunder met the Heat during a torrid stretch that saw OKC rush to the top of the standings in the entire league, and the Eastern Conference Finalists from a year before were one of the victims. This was one of the biggest validating games of last season, which showed that while LeBron James was still a little bit better than Kevin Durant, the gap was closing and also that Durant had enough talent around him to take on the best team in the east. Furthermore, the game was a great example of how unstoppable OKC could be when they incorporated both their bigs on offense and adept ball movement. We all had a good sense at this moment that these two teams could be the Finals representatives in 2012.
3. Thunder 124, Nuggets 118, OT, Feb. 19
As I wrote in the recap, there was no possible way to summarize this game. All I can say is, if you ever encounter someone who has never watched an NBA game and wants to know why it is worth while, this should be the game you show them. Just know this: the Thunder pair who combined for 91 points by themselves weren't even the ones that ended up with a triple-double on the night.
2. Thunder 99, Mavericks 98, Game 1, April 28
What are the odds that the Thunder would find themselves, a season removed from losing to Dallas in the Western Conference Finals, having to deal with them again in the first round? Call it a rite of passage, but here the Mavericks were, a little slower and a little less explosive, tussling with their younger brothers once again.
The Thunder had dominated most of the regular season in order to secure home court advantage against a team like Dallas, and yet here the Mavs were on the brink of taking it away in the very first game of the Thunder's playoffs. As we Thunder fans witnessed this unfolding debacle, doubts flooded our minds. Were we lulled into a false sense of security? Was the Thunder's abysmal month of April more indicative of how good they were? Why does Shawn Marion guard Durant so well?
What the deuce was going on?
And then Durant hit this impossible jumper (which he later admitted he shot blind) over Marion.
It was the perfect bookend to how OKC started off the season. All was right with the world again, and OKC would sweep the defending champs right out of the playoffs.
1. Thunder 102, Spurs 82, Game 3, May 31
Even the Thunder's Game 1 win in the Finals considered, I still feel that this win against the Spurs was the Thunder's signature moment of 2012.
To put it into context, the Spurs were riding a 20 game win streak that began at the end of the regular season and continued through the playoffs. They swept the Jazz and the Clippers in merciless fashion. In one game against L.A. where the Clips were actually winning by 24 early in the 1st half, I actually thought to myself, "I think the Spurs have this one." Three quarters later, San Antonio had turned a 24 point deficit into a 10 point win. It cannot be understated how perfectly the Spurs were playing offensive basketball, and they continued it through the first two games of the series against OKC.
As we settled in for Game 3, I'm sure that we all collectively were wondering if this was the beginning of the end. Fortunately, the ones who weren't were the guys in the Thunder locker room.
What made this blowout so remarkable was the fact that from an offensive standpoint, Durant and Westbrook did not even play that well. Rather, it was a concerted effort and focus on both ends of the court, spearheaded by defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha, that completely turned the tables on the Spurs. Who would have thought that San Antonio, after winning 20 games in a row, would not win another game the rest of the season?
After Game 3, everything...everything...changed.
Stay tuned for more year-end retrospectives as the day goes on.