A few months ago, the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Oklahoma City Thunder, were penciled in as a threat to the Golden State Warriors, even as the Clippers have never made it past the second round of the playoffs and the Thunder have been to the NBA Finals. The Thunder were repeatedly and continually downgraded because of their nasty little habit of leading teams in the fourth quarter and then getting beaten down the stretch because of inept ball movement, untimely iso play and a bench that was very thin. But if the playoffs are about one thing, they are about change. You don’t know what you don’t know until the games start. Then the matchups play themselves out. As for the Thunder, they are nearing perfection and a second trip to the NBA Finals and in the process bringing the Warriors to their collective knees.
The Thunder did. They had the NBA leader in triple doubles. They had the second best assist whisperer. They had the best rebounding guard in the league. They had the sixth best Real Plus-Minus player in the league and the eighth best. They had a past MVP whose game no one wanted to immerse themselves in, blinded by his free agency. They had the best rebounding team. They had the second best scoring team. They had a rookie coach who like all rookie coaches not named Steve Kerr was downgraded, dismissed or ignored but his stubbornness and competitiveness were exactly what the Thunder needed, not a coach/friend but a coach/leader. They had urgency because this summer will be here sooner than later and no one knows if this Thunder team will be the last of its kind Thunder team. Nothing gets the energy trending up more than being on the clock.
OKC will say no one respects them but that is not entirely true. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are admired and beloved and rooted for around the league. But what the Thunder never have had is the Steph Curry romance. The Thunder don’t have blind love, the kind in which everyone is always making excuses. The new Steph Curry blind love is that he is hurt. To put it in real life terms, the Thunder never had the first date when it’s all pretty and nice and sweet. They had the marriage when sometimes things don’t look so pretty, so it gets kind of tense. It’s been that way for the second half of the season. It was normal to predict the Thunder would fall on their sword and bleed all over the floor. Exactly how was that possible with Durant and Westbrook?
No matter what happens in game 5 in Oakland, bet on this: the Thunder will not get the credit they deserve. Win or lose, it will be about the Warriors and what the Oakland team accomplished or how they fell short. It will be about what the Warriors didn’t do. It will be about how Steph Curry was suddenly human or suddenly hurt. It will be about how the Warriors let a 73 win season slip away. It will be how the Warriors choked like dogs on a chicken bone. It will be how the Warriors were a little too arrogant or a little too overrated or a little too flawed or a little too small or a little too….you fill in the blank. The Thunder credit will be by default.
Steph Curry can’t guard Westbrook. The Warriors have no answer for Durant. Steve Kerr is being outcoached. The Thunder will get the backhanded compliment and as easy as it is to feel slighted, it won’t matter because they will be in the NBA Finals and the Warriors won’t.
The Steph Curry axis that tilts the NBA earth will have to take a short vacation for the month of June only to be re-energized in August in the Rio Olympics when Curry, Durant and Westbrook will be teammates. They will be equals then, something that has not happened all season long. The Warriors have been feted as the team to beat. The Thunder as the team to choke.
It’s funny how things get mixed up. The choking team is now the team with everything in front of them. It’s not 73 wins. It’s better than that.
photo via llananba