It's sad to think that these Oklahoma City Thunder may never win a championship. Four years ago, when they lost in the 2012 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat, it seemed inevitable that they would be back. On Friday, when they fell 116-108 to the Golden State Warriors, it was a reminder that the timing just wasn't right.
To completely rule it out would be an exercise of foolishness, but with Kevin Durant's free agency pending and Russell Westbrook's arriving in 2017, the finality of these Thunder is on everyone's mind. A fully healthy Thunder squad still hasn't lost in the playoffs since trading James Harden, mind you, but injuries don't provide mulligans and sympathy retains no cash value.
Oklahoma City is a title contender this year, but perhaps more in name than actuality. Their strategy coming into Golden State was smart: stop Stephen Curry, switch everything, stay big. Despite a 20-point first half deficit on Saturday night, it almost worked, as the Thunder methodically trimmed the lead until for a moment late in the game, it was all tied at 104. That's when Curry finally ran free, just for a moment but long enough to earn a couple layups, throw the decisive assist for a Harrison Barnes three and hit a step-back jumper over Durant just to twist the dagger a bit further.
Despite the strategy, despite getting Golden State on a night where they were good but not great, the Thunder couldn't make it happen. In Oklahoma City, maybe they earn the win. If their execution had been flawless, then yes, also then there's a good chance they pull it off. The Thunder can beat the Warriors, there's no doubt about that. But enough things have to go right that it's so hard to imagine it happening four times in a seven games series.
So that's where the Thunder stand, and we haven't even discussed the idea that there's the San Antonio Spurs, who almost unfairly passed them this summer by signing LaMarcus Aldridge. We didn't talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers either, who will take full advantage of the fact that their trip to the Finals is a gold-plated road compared to the West.
This should have been the Thunder's year. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are as good as they've ever been, and they were sensational Saturday. Durant dropped 40 points on 25 shots with 14 rebounds and five assists. Westbrook threw in 27 points on 22 shots and 12 assists while only turning the ball over three times. Their teammates, while still too one-dimensional, are better, too. Sure, the Warriors attacked Enes Kanter every possession down the floor with quite a bit of success, but Kanter also scored 14 points and notched 15 rebounds in just 20 minutes. Kendrick Perkins sure wasn't doing that.
If you'll remember, Golden State came out of nowhere. Not entirely, with some people having anticipated their rise, but nobody expected a dynasty. In fact, if you had said five years ago that there would be a young team dominate this decade, the Thunder would have been the most obvious choice. (The Warriors aren't there yet, of course, but the path they're on right now certainly would take them there.) Without the playoff injuries to Westbrook and Ibaka and Durant in consecutive years, there's a good chance we're viewing this team in a totally different light.
The NBA moves fast -- literally, figuratively, physically. The same injuries that have derailed the Thunder could happen to another team, putting Oklahoma City back in the forefront of contention. But right now, it just feels like they're hopelessly awaiting a lucky break like that. The Thunder are great -- they really are -- and in another year, another decade, they'd be the team that inspires the question, can they be beaten? Unfortunately for the Thunder, that time has passed them by -- maybe for good.
2 more things from Saturday
Kobe Bryant leaves San Antonio with something to remember
In his final trip to the AT&T Center, Kobe Bryant decided to give San Antonio fans one parting gift. Even though San Antonio has easily been the second best team in the NBA this season, Bryant very nearly led his team to a win, falling just short in the 106-102 defeat. Bryant scored 25, and even though it came on mediocre 9-of-28 shooting, we got this vintage Kobe moment when he knocked down these shots back-to-back-to-back in the third quarter.
Believe it or not, the Lakers went into the fourth quarter up 81-79 and had the game all tied up at 99 each with 2:25 left in the fourth. But the Spurs are the Spurs, and even missing Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, they found a way. Tony Parker hit consecutive buckets and LaMarcus Aldridge iced it with a short shot in the lane with 31 seconds left to play.
Bryant didn't leave San Antonio with a win, but he was honored prior to the game with one of the best tribute videos any franchise has put together for him during this retirement tour. Seeing the greatest team of this decade reflect
The Mavericks notch a meaningful win finally
One day after bemoaning Dallas' inability to win games against good teams, the Mavericks beat the Grizzlies 114-110 in overtime on the second night of a back-to-back. Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams played great, great basketball and the eternal Dirk Nowitzki nailed a shot to put the Mavericks up three in the final seconds of the game. It was a huge win for Dallas, who had come perilously close to slipping past the Houston Rockets into the No. 7 seed after dropping three in a row, because it gives them the tiebreaker against Memphis, a team just a spot ahead of them in the standings. While Dallas still really has a small resume of quality wins, this one in Memphis can clearly be added to the list.
Play of the night
Slow motion cameras make everything better.
5 fun things
Kerr zinged the entire NBA during a timeout
This really is Steph's world and we're just living in it
Steven Adams' mustache is straight outta 1827
Even the Spurs forget how to play basketball against the Lakers
Trail Blazers 96, Rockets 79 (Blazer's Edge recap | The Dream Shake recap)
Mavericks 114, Grizzlies 110 (Mavs Moneyball recap | Grizzly Bear Blues recap)
Hornets 108, Wizards 104 (At the Hive recap | Bullets Forever recap)
Pacers 112, Pistons 104 (Indy Cornrows recap | Detroit Bad Boys recap)
Cavaliers 99, Pelicans 84 (Fear the Sword recap | The Bird Writes recap)
76ers 103, Nets 98 (Liberty Ballers recap | Nets Daily recap)
Timberwolves 112, Bulls 105 (Canis Hoopus recap | Blog a Bull recap)
Spurs 106, Lakers 102 (Pounding the Rock recap | Silver Screen & Roll recap)
Jazz 98, Suns 89 (SLC Dunk recap | Bright Side of the Sun recap)
Warriors 116, Thunder 108 (Golden State of Mind recap | Welcome to Loud City recap)