There was one moment in last Saturday’s Game 3 between the Grizzlies and the Thunder that explained the plot of the Thunder’s 2013 championship hopes. It took two full weeks, but we finally witnessed what the finished product of a non-Westbrook Thunder team looks like.
The teaser trailer was Games 3-6 of Oklahoma City’s first round matchup against Houston. The Rockets became the bug that wouldn’t go away. James Harden kept having eff you moments and Chandler Parsons kept doing Chandler Parsons things (During their playoff run he quickly jumped up to the starting five on my most underrated team aka names of players that when you bring up casually, no one has any idea who they are.)
These last seven games have proven that even though the Kevin Durant solo act is fun to watch (34-10-6 in the seven games since Westbrook’s injury) a second straight Finals appearance just isn’t going to happen. Once Patrick Beverly made OKC fans understand what it feels like to really dislike a player, the Thunder were doomed. (I’m not sure if OKC fans understand how to “hate” someone, they’re just too damn nice.)
It’s like reading a book well in advance of the movie adaptation. There are certain expectations that come from the process of reading the book. You become invested in the characters. You forget that you’re even reading a book and instead use your imagination to design the story that is being described to you. The movie version uses the viewpoint of the director and a couple of other voices. You’re not creating the images; they’ve already been decided for you. You’re just analyzing someone else’s work.
The book was out on the Thunder’s 2013 playoff run, it was just up to the team to decide how the movie version played out. We now understand what it takes to win an NBA title in the “smart” era. You either have to put together a roster of star free agents (who understand how to play together, the Heat!), get lucky in the draft and then bring in the correct free agent (the Cavs?), continue to strike gold in the draft, (the Thunder!), make a rare trade involving a future franchise player (the Nets, the Rockets!), or you have to have a star player and use crazy advanced stats and technology to understand matchup advantages (hey Marc Cuban, how ya doin?). Add the correct coach and you’ve got yourself a great chance to be a contender.The non-Westbrook version of the Thunder don’t fit into any of these categories.
Let’s set something straight before I forget to bring it up, this version of the Thunder would sweep the ’09 version of the Cavs. You might be able to talk me into a five game series, but if Kevin Martin scores 17, Ibaka does something better than 6-of-17 from the field, Fisher stays annoyingly hot (stealing this from Grantland’s Zach Lowe), and Durant is Durant, it would be very hard for that version of the Cavaliers to win one game.
This story isn’t going to have a feel good ending. If you’re a fan of the Thunder, the villain is going to win in the end. There are certain unwritten rules you have to abide by as an organization if you’re going to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy. One of them is: you have to have a versatile, top 20 sidekick in order to win.
Durant can’t do this by himself. His expression after missing the two free throws with :39 seconds left in Game 3 told the story of this playoff run. No words needed to be said, even though Jon Berry’s reaction was priceless, he couldn’t believe it. I was sitting (comfortably) in an American Eagle store watching the game on my phone…
Quick backstory: I discovered AE had comfortable couches a while ago, so when my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to the mall, I knew I could watch the game there. This is my life.
…and I let out a very loud wow that scared a lady who was trying to pick out a pair of sandals.
Give credit to the supporting cast of the Thunder. Guys are stepping up during the absence of Westbrook. I feel safe in saying that if Reggie Jackson improves in the correct areas, he could fill the role of third banana really, REALLY well. You don’t make athletic plays by accident; I mean this was just ridiculous:
Add this incredible run by Derek Fisher and it’s been fun to watch, but it’s not going to last much longer. Fisher’s ridiculous 30 foot attempt at the end of Game 3 might as well have been a white flag. The Grizzlies have dominated the flow of the first three games of this series. They want to engage in slugfests where every possession matters. If you weren’t familiar with Marc Gasol’s work in the regular season I hope you’ve grown to love him now. He is one of my top five players to watch. Mike Conley Jr. looks like the third best player on a Finals team, or a second when Randolph has an off night or if Conley explodes like he did in Game 2.
It doesn’t seem right to close the door on Durant though. He’s just too much damn fun to watch. I hope he wins a championship soon because I fear he will get vastly underrated as time moves on if he doesn’t win one. He had one of the most incredible offensive seasons in the history of the league (seventh member of the 50-40-90 club) and it feels to me like it will all just be an afterthought if the Thunder lose two more games.
Durant is still so young and I don’t want to say it, but we could have a Karl Malone situation if the correct scenario plays out. One year Durant will win the MVP, partially because he earns it and partially because the media finally wants to give it to him, but the media doesn’t hand over championship trophies. Those are earned. Durant is learning what it takes to win a championship.
Something that guy in Miami had to do.
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