Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Acquiring A Past

Before tonight, the Thunder were as close to unblemished as you get while still being an NBA champ-ionship contender.

Sure, they had lost in the first round last year in six games, after being tied after four, to the eventual champion Lakers... but losing to the champions in your first playoff visit isn't exactly shameful, and there was much to take from the year that was encouraging. This year, they were supposed to still be too young, too untested... but then Boston said yes to the Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins deal, and things started accelerating.

The Lakers fell apart. James Harden blossomed in Green's minutes. Serge Ibaka moved to the off-the-ball defense that's his best use. Perkins improved their defense, and gave them the mean edge they lacked. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have physical advantages over every player they face at their position. And the dominoes kept falling.

The Spurs ran into a Grizzly buzzsaw that exposed them for the weak jump-shooting team that they are now. The Thunder shook off first round jitters to take out a game but flawed Nugget squad. Dallas wiped out a Blazer team that looked more dangerous to many observers. The Grizz lost their legs late in the tough second round, and OKC shook off shaky crunch time play to finally take care of business. The Mavs punked the Lakers so quickly that you thought they might lose one of their first two home games on rust, and proceeded to lose Game 2 at home, giving the Thunder the relatively simple task.

Defend home court, go to the Finals. In front of the loudest, most positive, least jaded fans in the Association.

They lost Game 3 when the starters stunk it up, and the closing run fell short on bad decisions and missed threes. I kind of lost hope that they'd win the series then and there, but they came back from down 2-1 on the road against the Grizz, and with days between games finally starting to get short, maybe the Mavs' old legs would start failing them. They came out tonight and looked as good as they've looked all year, with defensive pressure, great shooting, spectacular plays...

and Dallas kept hanging in, hanging in, not playing all that well but getting turnovers and making threes and free throws, never letting the lead get too much.

And with 4:43 left, the Mavs picked up the sixth foul on Harden. And very little went right for the Thunder in the next 9:43, eventually ending in an 8-point overtime loss that should be the last time OKC Fan sees his team this year, and a collapse that will stay with them for years.

This isn't fair, of course. Dirk Nowitzki might be the best player in basketball right now. Shawn Marion is playing his best ball in years. The Mavs are playoff-tested, even if many of those tests were failed in the first round. They have experienced coaching, the craftiest point guard ever in Jason Kidd, a revitalized Tyson Chandler and so on, and so on. They could easily win the championship in a few weeks.

But tonight, they wanted no part of this game. They gave up dozens of offensive rebounds, had little energy, lost every 50-50 ball and spent the first 43 minutes looking just satisfied to have home court in a best of three. But then the Thunder started failing, even as the ESPN crew went into coast mode, and the choke took on momentum. The 17-2 closing run is hard to fathom, even now, and as soon as it got to overtime, it was over.

Watching Durant in the postgame press conference, wearing his backpack like a clueless college student and looking more befuddled than any pro player should ever look, is to look into the eyes of a young man who has no answers. I don't doubt that he's been weeping, thinking about every one of his nine turnovers. I have no idea if he'll give them anything in Game Five, or if it will just wind up being a hoist fest for Westbrook as he tries to prove that he, and not Durant, should be the alpha.

Given what Dallas did to the Lakers the last time they had a kill shot in front of them, it might not be pretty. I hope not, but this team is just dead men walking. The bigger question, of course, is whether or not it will define them in the long run.

Because tonight, the Thunder acquired a past.

And it's not a good one.

1 comment:

Home Made Energy said...

Mavs really a veteran team when it comes to playoff series. They’ve been in many years playing playoff specially Kidd and Nowitzki. No wonder that they could beat thunder in that game.

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