The Oklahoma City Thunder took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the 73-win Golden State Warriors with a 118-94 shellacking on Tuesday night. And I missed most of it because I had a flag football game.
In the past, I would have skipped these meaningless things like flag football because I couldn't bear to miss a second of a Thunder playoff game. Then, I played in one two weeks ago and the Thunder won a massive Game 5 against the Spurs. I thought, maybe it's best if I just carry on with my real life, because my absence is obviously not stopping this team from playing tremendous basketball, and my presence may actually just be bad luck at this point. Fans and superstitions and stuff.
Still, I typically tweet during the games (yes, I'm the guy that you get mad at for being overly emotional at the @WTLC account), and I enjoy having that emotional outlet to digest the game. Since I didn't get to do that for this one, and since I am sitting on my couch watching a game knowing full-well how it ends - yes, I checked the score during every timeout because I couldn't control myself - I find it necessary to get those thoughts out in some way or another.
So what follows is essentially a transcript of my reactions as the game unfolded, much in the same way a Twitter timeline now functions for people that are watching live and not playing flag football.
One last thing before we get into it, though. I've mostly kept my thoughts in spoken form this year by doing the Loud Noises Podcast, but I'm realizing that in these intense moments, it's a lot harder to edit myself from a spoken conversation than it is in written form. All that is to say that, under normal circumstances, I'd record an episode to dissect this, but I'm way too emotional to do that at this juncture, so you're stuck with written words for now.
I left midway through the 2nd quarter when Andrew Bogut fouled Steven Adams over the back. OKC was in the bonus with six minutes to go. Also, Westbrook just did kick move a couple possessions before and tripped Draymond Green and I feel zero remorse about it. Game is the game, bruh.
6:03: Hack-A-Ezeli. Maybe I'm glad I left. Oh but it worked! Billy D can't miss, man.
5:10: Ibaka tips Durant's miss. Oh my god I'm so glad Serge Ibaka is still alive. This team reaches an entirely differently level when he is
breathing engaged on both ends.
5:08: Curry is currently 1-of-9 from the field and I'm just crossing my fingers that he doesn't flip the switch like he is so capable of doing.
4:25: An Ibaka block leads to an absurd Westbrook layup, leads to a Curry miss, leads to the Adams pass that you've probably already seen a hundred times.
I had texts about "the Adams pass" when I walked off the field, so I had high expectations. It still lived up to it. What a sequence. The Thunder are just overwhelming the 73-win Warriors, this is unbelievable.
4:03: The stats totally support Hack-A with a lead, and the stats say it usually doesn't work while trailing. Billy making "the stats" look smart. Sorry, Wilbon.
2:55: Threeeeeee-baka!! I'm going to be making an apology tour to just about everyone on this team at some point, so I may well start here with Ibaka. He's been excellent the past two games. Oh, and Hack-A-Festus is still working while I type this. Speaking of apologies, I may need to give Billy his own separate 600 words. What a postseason.
1:51: 20-point lead off an excellent drive-and-dish by Waiters. Speaking of guys that have stepped it up. He's getting maxed this summer, isn't he? Just keeps making smart decisions.
Halftime: Westbrook counters Curry's 3 with one of his own to take it into the break. The Thunder is up 19 at halftime on a team that won 73 games during the regular season. And it's the second game in a row they've dropped 72 in a half on them. This is insane. I was a pessimist, I'll admit it. I didn't see this coming mostly because I didn't think anybody could counter the Death Lineup. Turns out when you can go small and 7-foot Durant is your 4, it can work. It sounds so obvious when you put it that way, but I'm still stunned.
On that note, that's one of the best defensive halves I've ever seen Durant play. His arms were in every passing lane and he was playing help defense/rim protector like he was Peak Ibaka. Just an incredible performance from him. I can't gush enough.
All that said, you know the Warriors will push in the 3rd quarter. They're a championship team, you can never relax until the clock strikes zero in that 4th win.
10:15: Early timeout for Donovan. Here's another thing he deserves credit for. His feel for the game has been fantastic, and I think he took notes from Pop because he's really started showing it these past two series. He doesn't just wait. If he sees things he doesn't like, he takes the timeout. Early in the first half, the Warriors cut it to 9 and he took one before it got too close. Here, even though both teams aren't really scoring, he senses the pace isn't in his favor so he takes a breather. Awesome stuff, I really can't believe this is the same dude that coached from October to April. And that's before we even get into his after-the-timeout plays, which have almost always resulted in good looks.
Now they're showing his halftime speech. He's saying everything you'd want him to say. "We need every guy in here right now." I went from wanting him fired to wanting him to be my dad in the span of three weeks. Just in case you ever want to know how low my credibility is.
Last thing on Donovan, which I'll just leave right here:
In the last 2 games, OKC's lineup of Westbrook, Waiters, Roberson, Durant & Ibaka has outscored the Warriors 91-35. pic.twitter.com/bIcjYov9hh— ESPN (@espn) May 25, 2016
7:56: Ughh, I know how this ends but that doesn't make this Warriors run that much less stressful. They can just score so fast. They have so many chances to fold and they don't. Curry is off, Thompson is in foul trouble, but there he is knocking down 3-pointer after 3-pointer. Thank goodness there's a trophy for winning this series, at least, because this is exhausting and whoever comes out of this deserves something.
7:10: Roberson trips Green and the Warriors bench is up in arms at the no-call. The irony.
Ugh, ANOTHER Klay 3. Lead down to single digits. Still stressed. At this point, my game was just about to start and I was checking my phone one last time. I definitely considered walking off to watch on my tiny phone screen, but I had to stay the course. You're welcome.
5:27: Westbrook to the line after a foul by Green. The crowd erupts. Which is a great opportunity for me to say just how great the crowd was all game. To feel that coming through a TV screen is something else, I can't even imagine how great it was inside the building. I said home court advantage may be overrated on my preview podcast, but that's just one more thing I look dumb for saying, now. No way the crowd didn't at least have some impact on this one.
4:48: Oh, so this game would seriously be a rout if it wasn't for Thompson, huh? Did they just say he's scored 19 straights? /rewinds. Yep. Geez, man, what a game from him.
3:49: Shout out to Adams for hitting his free throws. I know this goes without saying at this point, but it really is impossible to rattle that guy. What a coming-out party these past two weeks have been for him. I can't think of five centers in the league that I would take over him at this point. Maybe even 3.
And a Westbrook burst puts the lead back to double digits. Not going to lie, wasn't sure how often we'd get Good Russ and how often Bad Russ would try and one-up Curry. Turns out just by staying within himself and using his absurd ability, that battle is kind of taking care of itself.
2:15: Waiters for Three!!! How fun is this team? Dion had so many smash-your-head-against-the-table moments all year that it's hard to fathom his transformation into a reliable outside shooter and distributor. But damn if it isn't a heck of a lot of fun. Score one more for "Trusting the Process."
I'm going to evoke the name because I'm amped up tonight, but is Waiters' production really that far off from what Harden would have done had the trade never happened? Also, all year we grumbled about Singler and said it should be Morrow. Donovan realized we didn't need either because Dion was basically all of the best versions of those two guys morphed into one, and a simple shortening of the rotation was all it took.
Yes, I will now go knock on every piece of wood around me.
0:30.1: Durant runs the 2-for-1 to perfection. Hits the jumper, puts OKC back up 11, then they get Kanter free throws off a tremendous Westbrook steal. OKC (ahem, Russ) sometimes falls too in love with the 2-for-1, but when it works it really can be demoralizing. Golden State went from being within single digits heading into the fourth to down 12, despite a massive Klay quarter. Huge final 30 seconds for OKC.
I have no idea how Donovan - or any coach - can be composed in these interviews heading into the fourth. Nevertheless, #SagerStrong.
9:30: Kanter hasn't had nearly as big of a role in this series as he did against the Spurs, but he's making it count to start out this 4th quarter. Just doing little things like sucking up the defensive boards when Golden State misses a 3 is so huge. The Warriors thrive on chaos, and so many times it's loose balls off of long rebounds that lead to second-chance 3s that are just so crippling. You've hardly seen any of that this series, though, and Kanter hitting the boards is a huge part of that.
Crowd note: The "oh, oh oh oh oh...ohh" chant is never not awesome. Man, that place is rocking. What an atmosphere. KD fouled headed to the line. I need a breath even though I know the final score.
9:00: The Russ-to-KD lob hasn't been too effective lately, but Durant wisely tipped it out here to a wide-open Roberson who buried the 3. Roberson is another guy who has made us all look foolish. Donovan has stuck with him in the starting lineup (despite plenty of calls for a benching) and has also made him a key part of the small-ball lineup. He hasn't disappointed. His defense has been fine as always, and he's making his shots at a high enough rate to be a real weapon that you can't simply ignore. They say to be champion, all it takes is peaking at the right time, and with guys like Roberson stepping up, you see what they mean.
And he scores again, off being mostly wide open, but still. Warriors still taking the risk of not accounting for him and he's making them pay.
5:57: Curry just missed a layup. This is insane. He's been the best player in the league all year, and he's just missing layups now.
Which leads to a cutting Roberson getting a dunk off of a Westbrook assist. So awesome to see Roberson having his moment, just like he did in Game 6 against San Antonio. Kid can play, his teammates never stopped trusting him, and he's paying it off. Played 40 minutes, scored 17 points, snatched 12 rebounds, stole it five times, blocked it twice, and finished a +25. What a game.
4:22: Lead is back up to 20. OK, I'm kind of relaxing now. I don't know what I'll do if these games start being close again.
3:46: Roberson follows up a Westbrook miss for a put-back. M-V-P!
Then, a Durant block on the other end. What a defensive effort from KD. His shot wasn't necessarily falling as efficiently as usual, but he more than made up for it by making everything tough for the Warriors on the other end.
Anddddd Westbrook hits a dagger 3 to put the Thunder up 23, then high-fives his brother on the sidelines. This may be my favorite moment of the season (see main photo for this post).
There's something about Westbrook's love for his family, particularly his brother, that just gets me. He seems like a genuinely caring older brother, and his little brother seems so genuinely happy to play the role of supportive younger brother. Not just in the "you pay for everything I own" sort of way, but in the "I really love seeing you make a name for our family." This is based purely on Instagram/Snapchat stalking, but I don't care, it still gets me.
2:38: Reggie Miller just said Russell Westbrook has given it to Steph Curry so far in this series...
OK, I'll add one thing. I thought Steph Curry was the best basketball player in the world all year, and he may not be 100 percent this series. I also think Russ knows we all think this, but instead of doing his usual thing of trying so hard to prove us wrong, he's trusted the way he's played all year and it's speaking for itself. That's the final stage of maturing: trusting your game enough to know that you don't need to change it, but other teams need to change to adjust to your game.
1:23: OKC has lit the Kyle Singler Victory Cigar, and Roberson is checking out to a massive ovation. No, you're crying.
Look, no one is going to get ahead of themselves and celebrate just yet. The Warriors are the defending champs and, as I said, you can't count them out until the clock strikes zero in the Thunder's fourth win. That doesn't mean we can't be immensely proud of this team.
It's hard to think of a Thunder team in history that has been this fun to watch. Literally every guy is stepping up and having his moment, and they seem to finally be playing basketball the way we knew they could all year. They're having fun! They're trusting each other! Roberson is draining 3s! Waiters is making great decisions with the basketball! Ibaka is alive! Adams keeps getting back up no matter how many times he gets knocked down! And that's before you even get into Russ and KD.
Many more words will be written about just how unforgettable this season has already been. Stories like this one from Lee Jenkins' excellent feature on Kevin Durant in Sports Illustrated make it a lot easier to stop stressing about the offseason, and fully appreciate what's happening right before our eyes.
"But it's not just that," Durant continues. "I drive through downtown, through midtown, through the Asian district and see so many different businesses, so many different people. It's a big, diverse city that's grown with the team." The impact of sports franchises on urban renewal is often overstated, but in Oklahoma City it's obvious. "The Thunder has given us a worldwide brand we've never had before," says the mayor, Mick Cornett, citing the area's strong corporate recruitment and staggering influx of millennials. "The exposure has been immeasurable. You tell somebody in another country you're from Oklahoma City, and they say, ‘Kevin Durant.'"
Wherever Durant ranks in the world's best player polls—top three, to be sure—no one makes a larger local imprint. He now lives in Deep Deuce, just north of Bricktown, and posts up with a beer by the fire pit at Deep Deuce Grill. "You know how in your neighborhood there's a spot where everybody goes," Durant says. "That's our spot. I walk there, and when I open the door, everybody is like, ‘Hey, KD. What up, KD?' Then they go back to their beer.
"Where I grew up, we were 30 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., but there was never anything new. In Oklahoma City everything is new. We've got a new Aloft Hotel up the street. There's a new arcade, Brickopolis, I want to try. Behind my house all these new town homes are going in, and along the highway out to our facility, they tore down the old car wash and are putting up more new condos.
"I know that's not a championship. But the championships, the records, the who's the best player—there will always be new champions and new records and new players. What we're talking about, these are jobs, these are lives, these are things that will matter for 40 years, and that is very cool to me."
And hey, it's entirely possible that the Thunder lose 3 straight and we'll be super sad. The way they're playing right now, though, it's hard to see that happening. That's pretty incredible in itself, given their competition. The Thunder is peaking at the right time, every single one of them, from Donovan to Roberson to Durant, and it just may be enough get them all the way to the NBA Finals.