In the game of basketball, and in life, everything matters. The Oklahoma City Thunder lost two early season measuring stick games this past week, first to the Los Angeles Clippers and then to the Golden State Warriors on back-to-back nights. While the games were wildly different, both were wildly entertaining and competitive down to the final moments.
What is tragically remarkable is that each game had a materially significant play that occurred with only 6 seconds left in the first half.
1. Serge Ibaka gets tossed.
With the Thunder offense rolling and OKC looking to make a statement game against conference favorite Clippers, Ibaka got his arm twisted up with Blake Griffin, and then this happened:
There is no telling whether OKC would have won the game had they reached halftime up by 9 and with Ibaka, who at that point was perfect from the field, shooting 6-6, and most importantly was wrecking the Clippers' trapping schemes by rolling to the rim.
What we do know is that without him, Ryan Gomes started the 2nd half and OKC quickly ran out of bodies to throw against Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Without the support, OKC could not come all the way back and dropped a painful game to their conference rivals.
Six seconds to halftime.
2. Kevin Durant gets a tech.
Last night's game against the Warriors was exhilarating. There is nothing better than a game that can go either way all the way down to the very end. When we see it in a Finals game we call it one of the best ever. When we see it in a regular season game, we get to hold it up as the very reason why the NBA is so compelling and then we hope that it happens again.
With six seconds left in the 1st half, Kevin Durant picked up a silly technical foul by over-aggressively pushing away Andrew Bogut's arm. It was a dead ball call away from any play and it cost the Thunder one point.
Fast forward to the end, and Andre Iguodala drills an amazing baseline fadeaway shot at the buzzer over the outstretched arm of Thabo Sefolosha. Warriors win.
By one point.
I am not too naive to think that flipping the outcomes of these two events would have guaranteed victory, because we can never tell what the butterfly effect might be. The lesson to take away though is that when the Thunder are competing against the best teams in the league, the margin for error shrinks. Losing composure with but mere seconds to play before halftime played a crucial role in the outcome of both.
Sometimes lessons like this are difficult to learn, but what is more difficult is when the lesson is there and goes unlearned. Let us hope the Thunder were paying attention.