People were already saying that the Thunder needed to switch their starting rotation, that their simply wasn’t enough offense on the floor outside of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and, of course, that they were too young. Then Game 4 started.
The Thunder came roaring out making their first nine baskets and opened up a 18-8 lead over the Mavericks. They were doing it all; defense, rebounding, attacking the basket, and hitting their jump shots. Then they turned a blocked shot into a wide open fast break but Maynor missed a layup and despite the fact that Dallas looked confused and disoriented they hung in to be down only nine at the end of the first quarter
The Thunder came out hot again making their first six shots while the TNT crew heaped praises upon Nick Collison as one of the best and most versatile defenders at the power forward position. The crowd continued to look like one of the best in the NBA (take note Houston, that blue sea of chanting people that were in their seats when the ball was tipped… that’s what you should look like). The lead ballooned up to 11 points and everyone thought that OKC was about to rip open the game but Dallas held tough and was only down five points at the end of the half.
Again in the third quarter, the Thunder began to pull away. They were getting contributions from all over. Chandlerhad just lost his cool and got a technical foul followed by a fade away jumper from Sefolosha and then Collison threw down a dunk. How much more momentum could the Thunder have? How much louder could the stadium have been? But the Mavs kept coming, slowly and methodically chipping away at everything that the Thunder could throw at them. At the end of the quarter the lead was only four.The Thunder once again mounted a barrage that would have knocked out almost any team in the league. They were up 15 with just over five minutes to go. Then, for the first time in the game, the Mavs took over. They had finally worn down the youthful exuberance of the Thunder. Harden fouled out and the Thunder’s bubble burst. It was gone, done, finished, completely over. Over those final five minutes Durant and Westbrook’s names show up in the play by play 11 times with them doing something wrong. Missed shots, turnovers, and unbelievably bad fouls destroyed the team.
It wasn’t their fault, though. It wasn’t Scotty Brooks’ fault either. This was an almost inevitable outcome from a team that was so youthful. Every team must suffer. It is one of the mantras of the NBA that makes winning a championship so special. No one, I repeat NO ONE, gets to breeze by the playoffs without pain. There are individual players that can succeed early, but that is only because the rest of their team has bled for them before. Don’t get it twisted. The Thunder are here to stay and should be favorites to win it all at some point in time in the next couple of years because of their talent, their heart, their determination and their failures this year. No one stays with their first love, no one aces a senior level class as a freshman and no one waltzes through the playoffs on their first real run. These are the sad truths of life and no one enjoys it but ask any happily married couple, any graduate, or any champion; it is sweeter because of what you have been through before. You can’t have black without white and the closer the two are together the more brilliant they appear. So after ripping defeat out of the mouth of victory the Thunder should be able to take this knowledge as consolation; It’ll be even better next year.