Dean's Blog: Watching Two Games At Once
MINNEAPOLIS - If OKC was going to need all eighty two games to decide their playoff fate; if they could choose one team you get to play in a must-win situation; and if they could pick the team they would want to play for them in a must-win matchup in New Orleans, it couldn't have been scripted any better.
It was perfect. You'd want to play the short-handed weak-sister Minnesota Timberwolves. And you'd choose the red-hot reigning world champion Spurs to play the Pels. What are the chances that you'd get the best of both worlds? Probably as likely as the Thunder having so many injuries that they'd go from a preseason NBA Championship favorite to being one game from the season being over.
Both games tipped at the same time. As the Thunder doubled up the hometown Wolves 28-14 with 4:29 left in the first quarter, the Target Center was as quiet as the patrons at Augusta before a Jordan Spieth five-footer. But the excitement level for Thunder fans following both games was mixed. Piece of cake in the Twin Cities. Rotten tomatoes in Louisiana.
When Russ' 3-pointer ripped the cords to beat the first quarter buzzer giving him 23 riveting points, it was an ambush: 47-29 Big Blue. Meantime, the Pelicans were on almost as big a roll over the Spurs. It was 34-19 after one and soon to expand. Something about playing sports with your hair on fire. Energy and enthusiasm – combined with the game's next megastar in Anthony Davis – were making for a lethal combination around the corner from Bourbon and Water Street
But hey, it's the Spurs, so diehard scoreboard-watchers inside the Target Center and back on the fruited plains held out hope.
Soon the Thunder would go up twenty just as the Pels lead surged to the same. New Orleans had made 13-of-their-last 17 shots against a disappointingly tepid San Antone defense. For me, economics won out over entertainment. My data overage cost took me temporarily out of the misery of watching the Spurs get curb-stomped.
By halftime, Russ had clinched the scoring title, had stuffed the stat sheet (34 points on 11-of-16 shooting, 10-of-13 free throws, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and just 1 turnover), and only the final score was in question as OKC led 76-54. The Spurs had pulled within 16 in New Orleans. So you can imagine the angst among the players who'd been unstoppable out on the court but in serious jeopardy of being stopped short of the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
Fortunately and unfortunately it was more of the same in the third quarters. Russ was staring at a triple double with 36/7/7 as OKC led 91-65 with 7-minutes to go in the quarter. But New Orleans was holding steady, still up 16 with 1:38 left before the fateful fourth.
With one minute to go in the third quarter Russ sets up Kanter perfectly for a bunny. But he bobbles and misses before tipping in his miss. At midcourt, Westbrook shows his disgust with Kanter for taking away what would have been his ninth assist –clearly away that he's getting closer to another trip/doub to end the season. Much more importantly, my iPad's coming back on. It's only money. Pop's pulled within 4 with 7:38 to play in NOLA. Wonder if the Thunder players will inquire as the quarter ends here at the Target Center, 106-85? Somewhere Skip is waving his pom pons and chanting, “Go Spurs go, go Spurs go!” A quenelle for Bayless? A comeback for his Spurs and his hometown Thunder a benefactor. Hack an Asik is working.
As Russ sits – and surely is brought up to speed on things down in New Orleans – Dion Waiters is lighting it up and OKC IS UP 123-95. But the Pels' lead has surged to 11 and the Spurs turn it over at the 4-minute mark. Time for some Spurs Magic.
But it's not looking good. A controversial play that could've cut it to 4 and with the ball doesn't go San Antonio's way. Cajuns go wild. Lead cut to 5 with 45 seconds but too little too late. The Spurs choose to have their 11-game win streak snap in New Orleans. Or more accurately, the strong-playing New Orleans Pelicans snap the streak and are back into the playoffs. Pop's former Spurs' player and intern Monty Williams – coach of the Pels -- has just won his biggest game. His season continues as OKC's ends here in Minneapolis.
So another season has come to a close. If you deem it to be “wasted” you wouldn't be wrong. KD, Serge and Russ didn't win a title. Time is running out. Maybe.
But you wouldn't be fair by labeling it wasted, because for the third straight season, key injuries did not allow the Thunder a realistic chance to play to its potential when it counted most.
What's not in question is that next year sets up to be the most important in franchise history. There'll be a roster capable of winning an NBA title – assuming Enes Kanter signs an extension. And it'll be the final season before KD becomes a free agent.
No matter your point of view, get ready for the OKC Thunder perhaps the most talked-about organization in the NBA. Sure beats the alternative, doesn't it?