The Oklahoma City Thunder shouldn't have tried. Two weeks ago, the majority of experts and fans agreed they were going to lose to the Golden State Warriors, and indeed, they lost. Golden State is going to the NBA Finals against the Cavaliers, and that could've happened even if the Thunder didn't try.
But they did try. They tried as hard as they could. And because they tried, something amazing almost happened. After a season where Golden State made a case that they were the best team in basketball history, Oklahoma City nearly argued the Warriors weren't even the best team currently in the NBA. They came within minutes of beating a supposedly unbeatable team.
And then the Warriors did the thing where they were the Warriors. In Game 6, the Thunder led by as many as 13 and held a lead until the final few minutes of the game. But Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 17 threes, with Thompson's 11 totaling the best shooting performance in NBA playoff history. In Game 7, the Thunder led by as many as 13 and held a lead past halftime. But Curry and Thompson combined for 13 threes, including a string of increasingly ridiculous bombs on well-defended plays in the second half.
Because the Thunder tried, they got close to one of the most impressive victories the NBA has ever seen. That tantalizing nearness will haunt them. The Thunder have been one of the best teams for about half a decade now, but they've never asserted themselves as the NBA's best, leading to Kevin Durant's ongoing complex about always finishing second. This time, he nearly got to be first. He's learned the hard way that coming in second is worse than a distant third or fourth. This is the closest he could've possibly come to ending the cycle, and it will sting.
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The Thunder shouldn't have tried, because Golden State appears to be an unstoppable juggernaut. It was peaceful to imagine that the Warriors were merely dominating because nobody had emerged with the right plan to beat them.
But OKC had a plan, and their goal was to systematically disprove every reason for Golden State's greatness.
Golden State's success posited that size doesn't matter in today's NBA; Oklahoma City countered this with an incredibly long lineup featuring multiple mobile 7-footers who can shoot. It worked, as OKC's unrivaled length frequently frazzled Golden State and forced them into bad shots, turnovers and transition opportunities.
At its best, Golden State seemed never to lose control of games. But Oklahoma City managed to turn up the tempo to a frenetic pace that frazzled even the upbeat Warriors.
Golden State went 45-2 at home this year. But OKC beat them in Oracle in Game 1. Golden State went an entire year without losing consecutive games. But OKC trounced them by 28 and 24 in back-to-back outings.
Curry was the league's unanimous most valuable player. But against the Thunder, he looked gassed from guarding Russell Westbrook and was often ineffective by his standards. Draymond Green was the unflappable anchor of the Warriors. But the Thunder abused him on both ends of the floor until his only recourse was to kick people in the penis.
Oklahoma City outplayed Golden State in almost every facet of this series. They rebounded better. They forced more turnovers. They blocked nearly twice as many shots. They drew more fouls and hit from the free throw line more effectively after drawing those fouls. They actually scored more points over the course of the series. The Thunder had the perfect personnel and game plan for Golden State, and more than enough talent to pull it off.
But the Warriors are better at shooting basketballs than anybody has ever been. And shooting basketballs is really important in basketball. When the going got tough, Golden State bailed itself out by drilling increasingly difficult shots. Their shooting is a force of nature, and it does not appear to be stoppable.
Criticizing somebody for getting beaten by Golden State's shooting is like criticizing a dead person for not being immortal. Death, and the Warriors' jumpers, will come for us all.
The Thunder shouldn't have tried, because resistance is futile. Even the best-laid plans get blown up by their shooting. Oklahoma City deserves credit for surviving longer than anybody else, but they died nonetheless.
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The Thunder shouldn't have tried. Because Oklahoma City tried, we know that they are chokers, and being a choker is pretty much the worst thing you can be in the NBA.
Oklahoma City probably just had the greatest losing performance in NBA playoff history. The Thunder just took three games in a single series from a team that looked better relative to their competition than anybody has ever looked. The 1996 Bulls, who won fewer regular season games than these Warriors did, only lost three games in their entire playoff run. OKC lost, but they showed the incredible caliber of their talent.
And to some, their failure to win is a mark against their character. To some, it's more embarrassing to blow an incredible victory -- to choke -- than it is to get blown out.
Once upon a time, Icarus tried to escape from the Labyrinth by strapping feathers to his arms, binding them with wax and flapping his arms. It worked! He flew! He flew so well that he got too close to the sun and died. Greek sports columnists proceeded to write about the hubris and selfishness that led to his death. Sure, Icarus choked, because he was unable to survive in a clutch situation. They ignored that he flew to the freakin' sun with his garbage wax wings.
The Thunder scraped the sun with their incredible play. That deserves to be celebrated, even if they did plummet to the earth and die.
The Thunder shouldn't have tried. They were supposed to lose, and they lost. But instead of simply losing, they chose to play brilliantly against one of the best teams ever to play basketball. Their reward for their effort was a fresh batch of broken hearts and ridicule. It would have been better to have sucked.
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