The year 2014 is about to come to a close in a few hours, so we take this opportunity to look back one last time at the full year and recount our memories. Be sure to join in with your own memories in the comments below!
1) Best Durant and/or Westbrook moment of 2014.
Kevin: It's not the best win of 2014 (which is the next question), but Westbrook dominating Christmas for the win against the enemy San Antonio Spurs is my favorite. Is recency bias a factor? Sure, I don't care. Durant will have some scoring performances that border on impossible, but there's a cult following for the Westbrook that takes over games and wins them on his own. He's volatile and sometimes he bites you in the back, but when he imposes his will on a game and starts zipping all over the floor to make whatever play he wants to happen actually happen, Westbrook is the best drug. That it came on Christmas, in a season where Durant has floated in and out of the lineup and left the Thunder to Westbrook's devices, makes it really a poetic finish to the year.
Kyle: I gotta do both. I love these guys too much.
For Westbrook, I'd like to just make a composite gif of all of his sicknasty dunks from the 2014 calendar year and call it a day. Watching his three point celebrations and him going absolutely insane is fun too. However, if I had to select a single moment as his best in 2014, I would personally pick one that many may not remember. It was Game 3 against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. As the second quarter was closing, Russ and Manu Ginobili engaged in a 3-point battle in the final minute, which was punctuated by Westbrook pulling up and draining a 36-footer just before time ran out in the half. It seems small, but I think this little sample of a game captures the true essence of the type of player Westbrook is and will always be: a fiery competitor who will find a way to get that darn basketball into the hoop.
Kevin Durant technically gets two moments. The first one was something that happened on the court and my jaw still drops a little even after watching this clip for the 1,000th time. I'm referring to the clutch 4-point play against the Grizzlies in the playoffs earlier this year. I remember the first thing that popped in my head was "of course Kevin Durant just did that". The second moment is definitely his MVP speech. That 25-plus minute emotional roller coaster made me (and probably tons of other KD and basketball fans in general) laugh, cry, and appreciate this man. He was so thankful and vulnerable in ways we had never seen him, addressing each teammate personally, the coaching staff, and other Thunder employees by name. It was an important milestone in his career and life and he wanted to share the glory of it with as many people as he could. Truly a remarkable moment for the sport of basketball.
Marine: I'll keep my responses short and silly. Westbrook? The double stare in Philadelphia.
Durant? When he couldn't watch the free throws, just like the rest of us.
Chris: In my "Top 10 Moments..." post at the end of the year I went with Durant's MVP speech as the best moment. Then a bunch of stuff happened in the off-season, and Westbrook took over as my favorite player, so now I feel like I have to include him in here because I can't write anything anymore without gushing about Westbrook.
Marine just touched on it, but Durant not watching Westbrook's free throws was so awesome for so many reasons. More than anything, though, it was the moment we realized that we didn't just need the MVP to come up big in clutch moments, because we also had the best point guard in the league - and maybe even the third-best player in the league - on our side to alleviate some of the pressure from KD.
Oh, and if you are still holding on to Chris Paul as the best PG? Watch that video of the final minute that Kyle posted. Paul melted down, and Westbrook rose up.
Oh, and if you're going to point out the recent meltdowns by the Durant-less Thunder, largely due to late-game miscues by Westbrook, well, the year is over too late bye!
Justin: Westbrook's best moment has got to be what he is doing RIGHT NOW. He has been playing incredible basketball, like a true MVP, and is trying to carry the entire team on his shoulders until KD comes back. Forget his inability to close games for now; it is just a thrill to watch Westbrook when he is hot.
As for Durant, I think it would be unfair to not say his MVP speech, but his best in-game moment has got to be his acrobatic four point play in the Grizzlies series. I have never witnessed a moment of that much exhilaration.
Joey: Nobody mentioned Westbrook's comeback vs the Knicks? With the Thunder 4-12, there was an immediate noticeable difference in energy when Westbrook came back. His 32-8-7 led OKC to a 105-78 win over the Knicks, and it wasn't as close as the score made it look.
2) Biggest win of 2014.
Kevin: Game 4 of the first round of last season's playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies. That was the third of four consecutive games that went to overtime, and Game 4 ended up being the only win of those games for the Thunder. That series was an absolute treat to watch, but I hesitate to think the Thunder would've won if they'd dropped Game 4 as well - it was that close of a matchup. In Game 4, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both shot 30%, by the way. The Thunder had already played two overtime games in a row, which skews favorably towards the Grizzlies and their ground-and-pound style. It took a huge 32-point performance from Reggie Jackson to get over the hump. Just a great narrative for a great win within a great playoff series.
Kyle: The win that sticks out to me the most was probably Game 5 in the WC Semi-Finals against the Clippers. There was a huge amount of controversy in the end of that game after Reggie Jackson lost the ball out of bounds when he foolishly tried to finish a potential game-tying basket himself even with open teammates. However, you can't overlook how much grit that the Thunder showed by coming back to steal that very important game with the series tied 2-2. OKC was down by 13 with 4 minutes to play against a very good and well-coached Clippers team. A lot of teams would fold under that deficit and live to fight another day. But thanks to some key stops, clutch play, and some frankly dumb moves by the Clips, the Thunder were able to secure the victory and go on to win the series, something that may not have happened if they dropped this game at home.
If you want to relive that final minute, you can watch it here and remember how you were jumping up and down, fist pumping, and woo"-ing with joy after that final buzzer. Or was that just me?
Marine: Kevin already took my answer: Game 4 against the Grizz was by far my favorite game. But if I had to go with a #2, it would have to be Game 3 against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. I honestly couldn't cite one specific moment from the actual game in my head, because all Thunder-Spurs matchups are equally intense and have featured the exact same players for the past four years. But the image of Ibaka walking up to reporters pre-game and stretching the floor with his patented jumper that night will always be seared into my memory. Here was one of the greatest physical specimens alive literally denying science to help my city compete for a championship. Nothing but the utmost of respect and admiration.
Chris:I thought I would be super clever and mention Game 3 of the Spurs series to be a little bit different than the rest, but Marine was on that, too. So since all of the big ones have been covered, I'll take the pessimistic route and hand out the Worst Loss of 2014.
You could go with any of those Spurs losses in the Western Conference Finals, but I still refuse to give the Spurs credit for winning that series against a one-legged Serge Ibaka.
Instead, I'll use the recency bias, as well, and go with the overtime loss to Portland last week. Why? Because it was the clearest example yet that the more things change, the more the pieces seem like they are finally coming together with this team, the more they stay exactly the same.
I'm a huge homer when it comes to the Thunder, and I give them the benefit of the doubt pretty much every single time. But that was so disheartening for the simple fact that it even blind optimists like me were forced to question if this team would ever learn from its past mistakes.
I understand Durant was out, and he's one of the best closers in the game. And I understand that I just used the previous response to rave about how Westbrook and Durant closed that Game 5 against the Clippers. Still, that game was about coming back (not holding a lead), and that was a Thunder team in full desperation mode. The Thunder is (and has been for quite some time) so good that they build leads and then rest on their laurels. At some point, they need to establish the killer instinct that teams like the Spurs showed in that WCF where they simply suck out any lingering hope that an opponent may have. That's what championship teams do, and that Portland loss really made you question if OKC will ever get to that level.
Justin: Game 7 of the Grizzlies series. It got OKC out of that dreadful round and took the pressure off for the Clips series, which ultimately went a lot more smoothly.
Another game that comes to mind would be Game 3 of the Spurs series. It seemed as though all hope was lost going into the game, yet Serge Ibaka persevered through his injury and they ended up miraculously winning the game. Ibaka's presence made such an immense difference in the matchup. It set the tone for the rest of the series.
Joey: Game 4 of the Memphis series. Without this OT win, there's no way in hell OKC comes back to win that series. With Durant and Westbrook struggling all night, Reggie Jackson took over in the fourth quarter and overtime. He grew up before our eyes, and left us with one unforgettable moment.
3) Most Steven Adams moment of 2014.
Kevin: When Adams baited Zach Randolph into punching him and getting suspended as a result in Game 6 of the first round of last season's playoffs. It was his best contribution to winning Game 7 and the series, and probably the difference between the comfortable 11-point win and a game that was much closer coming down to the wire (like the rest of the series was). Adams can do many things on the floor to help a team win, but for an antagonist like him, there was no more appropriate way to help secure the Game 7 win than by getting one of the opponent's best players suspended before the game even started.
Kyle: It's tempting to put something about Steven Adams annoying an opponent into punching or shoving him, but I think the greatest thing he accomplished was growing that mustache. I mean, he originally was only keeping it for the Thunder's media guide photos (which spawned a great quote from him about his motivation to grow it). But it looks like he may be looking to get that facial hair up to full power again this season since he has been rocking some upper lip hair as of late. It is definitely awesome that no matter what site I click on to view stats or anything for Adams, his player photo is always him and that glorious mustache.
Marine: I'm gonna go ahead and toot my own post here and cite the technical he goaded Gerald Green into earlier this month. It's recent, sure, but I feel like Steven Adams in December 2014 is like 10 times cooler than Steven Adams in January 2014. I mean, the tats, the stache, the 'tude? It's all there. And it's really cool to see Steven playing so intensely in the first quarter of an early season game, too.
Chris: Look, it's impossible to top the Z-Bo punch/suspension, because it's the perfect embodiment of everything that Steven Adams has quickly become in this league. He's relentless, he's aggressive, and he's going to get under opponents' skin.
But just as the mustache showed, he has a fun-loving, goofy side that has made him so endearing to his fans. This commercial with Reggie Jackson is just that, too. It's weird, but his charisma is undeniable.
Oh, and he's turning into a pretty solid center, too, and you have to think his best moment of 2015 will be something that actually has to do with making a basketball play.
Justin: The self shake is and always will be my favorite Steven Adams moment. It was early in his rookie season, that he went up to Clippers big man Byron Mullens and got his handshake rejected. Adams went ahead and shook his own hand. This gave us a taste of what Steven Adams' personality would be like. Yes, the elbow he took from Zach Randolph in Game 6 was most important, but the self shake was classic Funaki.
Joey: I hate to go vanilla but it has to be when Adams got Randolph thrown out of Game 7. There isn't another moment as big, or as funny, and that's just what Steven Adams is: big and funny.
4) Best "be careful what you wish for" moment of 2014.
Kevin: I wanted Reggie Jackson to start at shooting guard coming into the season. Not entirely out of doubt with Andre Roberson, but that doubt did exist and I thought Jackson was ready to take over this season. In a way, he sort of has - he's taken over the second unit offense. Now we're finally seeing what a shot-jacker Jackson can be when he's at the controls. He's disruptive to the flow of the Thunder offense, in a way that even the most repetitive Durant and Westbrook isolation sequences can't be because Jackson obviously isn't either. His play is casting his future with the Thunder into doubt, and meanwhile, Roberson has quietly emerged as one of the better wing defenders in the NBA.
Kyle: When KD's injury was originally announced and Russell Westbrook was still healthy, I was fully ready to jump on the hype train of seeing a Brodie-lead Thunder squad. Part of me wanted to see Westbrook go off like crazy and show all the "haterzzz" what he's all about. However, these past few games without Durant have tempered my expectations of seeing Russ score 60 points every night (even though he has been crazy good in most games he's played in) and brought me back to reality that maybe this weight is too heavy for just one superstar.
We have seen KD try to shoulder the load without Russell and vice-versa now, but really what we all truly want as Thunder fans is to see both of them on the court at the same time. Hopefully that will be sooner rather than later.
Marine: For me? When Sebastian Telfair finally got minutes, after I spent about a week writing his mini-biography over the Summer. Here was this dude's chance to finally be a franchise player! Working in China would pay off!
Okay, maybe no one else actually wanted Telfair to get minutes. And talking about Jeremy Lamb is an obvious one. How about losing Derek Fisher as a game manager? It seems inevitable that the Thunder will have some bench player shooting badly on any given night, so it would be nice to have a point guard that was consistently committed to running plays. Jackson and Westbrook can sometimes get in each other's way, and will sometimes destroy playcalls. Usually they're talented enough to make up for it, but I can't help but thinking D-Fish's presence on the floor might have saved the recent games against Portland and Dallas. Oh wait, this was a yearly article?
Chris: "Mr. Unreliable."
It was the infamous headline from The Oklahoman that took on a life of its own. It was blown way of proportion, but the premise was reasonable after the first three games of the Memphis series. Durant was struggling and didn't seem to have any answer for Tony Allen.
Of course, because he's Kevin Durant, he took it to heart and proved he's actually a super reliable force when his team needs him most. By the next day, the headline turned into a sort of ironic joke, and stayed that way for the remainder of the postseason. The lesson, through all of it, was that you should never doubt Kevin Durant.
Justin: I literally spent the entire summer believing Andre Roberson's shot improved. He showed signs over the summer and I was a big believer that he could become the next coveted 3 and D player. Wow was I wrong. This season he has shot 15 percent from long range. He may be a league leading defender but his shot will never come.
I also thought Mitch McGary would be a HUGE help in OKC this season but he has been riddled with injuries. Deja vu from back at Mich.
Joey: I'm a huge Lamb supporter, but everyone wanting him in the starting lineup was a bit premature, and he showed that he's not yet ready. He was pretty much the King of Inefficiency during the entire month of November, save for some bright spots.
Bonus: Best MVP Speech of 2014
Lastly, we would be remiss if we didn't recognize the greatest MVP speech ever, which can only go to the 2014 NBA MVP, Kevin Durant. There are far worse ways to close out 2014 than to simply listen to this acceptance speech one more time, because it is a virtual guarantee that you will never, ever hear another MVP speech like this again.
Let's hear your best memories from 2014 in the comments below!