The four year drought may be coming to a close at a perfect time. Kevin Durant may indeed look around him and see this is where he needs to be and this is where he has to be. The Thunder ruined the Spurs championship hopes and can do the same to the arrogant laden NBA champions. No hyperbole here. This is the biggest game of the year for both the Thunder and Warriors with the goal being the NBA Finals.
But getting there is more than wanting it.
There are the details that have to be taken care of if OKC wants any shot at knocking out the defending champions. They have to thwart Steph Curry and contest Klay Thompson and push Draymond Green’s buttons until he’s frustrated enough to get another flagrant foul. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have to be great and that is less about points and rebounds and more about a shared reliance on the rest of their teammates. The Thunder need KD and Russ to be exceptional and to bring everyone else along too; this is socialism, not capitalism. This is the sort of game with the kind of emotion and hunger that will kill a team if they go straight iso and don’t move the ball and don’t create mismatches with their passing and cuts.
It’s not science. The Thunder have done it before and totally decimated the Warriors.
It’s not science, the Warriors have done it before. They have been in tough situations. The Warriors have the psyche of a rich man who doesn’t fear losing all his money. But the last time this Warriors bunch faced an elimination game it was the first round of the 2014 playoffs and a game 7 in Los Angeles and they played the Clippers and they lost. The Warriors haven’t lost in the playoffs since.
The usual talking points apply so I won’t bore you with why rebounding, ball movement, switching on defense, recognizing mismatches, feeding off the energy, matters. The most important calculus for the Thunder newbies who have never experienced this-Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Randy Foye, Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters- is to meet the moment. Regardless of how it all feels, the chance to get to the NBA Finals is only a regular occurrence if you are LeBron James. Everyone else has to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes.The Thunder know that better than anyone. Injuries, roster incompletion, timing, bad luck, have put them in this four year desert without a trip to the Finals despite having 2 of the top 5 players in the league. That alone is proof. You can’t pencil your name in.
Game 6 at home is extraordinarily better than Game 7 on the road. In Game 7, the pressure ratchets up to a sick level with everything on the line and the whole world ready to call you great or ready to call you a choker. The last team to win a Game 7 on the road to advance to the NBA Finals was the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002 when they went into Sacramento. The Kings played scared and lost in overtime at Arco Arena, which at the time, was the loudest, craziest, most insane arena in the NBA.
Tonight is not the time to go Sac Kings and play scared and to overthink the optics. The Thunder can shock the NBA Steph Curry loving world by a win tonight. They can keep the Splash Brothers title at one. They can take a knife to the Warriors dynasty talk. They can insert Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into the convo of great twosomes in the mold of Kobe and Shaq and Jordan and Scottie. They can- and this is the most compelling part of the entire story- get to the NBA Finals by having beaten the Spurs and the Warriors, the most dominating teams in the West this season and the past two NBA champions, when everyone and I mean everyone, thought they would fail.
What comes next?
The Thunder and Saturday night. Celebration? Or, pain?
photo via llananba