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Remember when Damian Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder in Game 5 of the 2019 playoffs?
It set off a wave of memes that OKC fans had to endure for weeks.
Then Paul George was traded to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook was traded to the Rockets, and the memes got a whole new lease on life. This time around, social media relished in the fact that Dame wasn’t just saying goodbye to the Thunder’s playoff hopes, he was signifying the end of the entire franchise. The new narrative was that Lillard ripped apart the entire organization with his shot. OKC was now banished to the shadow realm, headed to lottery purgatory, and even worse, exiled to irrelevancy.
Since that iconic moment, this is what each team has done:
OKC: 10-12 record, currently tied for the 7 seed.
Portland: 9-19 record (including 0-4 in the playoffs), currently the 12 seed.
Oh, how the turntables.
The Thunder exorcised some Andrew Wiggins demons on Friday by beating the Timberwolves, a team they’ve struggled to beat recently.
The Thunder soothed some lingering bruises and aches by whipping the Warriors three times already so far this season.
But beating the Blazers in Portland may have been the sweetest and most gratifying redemption win of the season.
Sure, the Blazers are shorthanded without Zach Collins, Rodney Hood and Jusuf Nurkic. But they didn’t have Nurkic last season, Collins has been out all season, and Hood just got hurt last game. So this was their 2019-2020 iteration minus Hood.
For one keen, cathartic night for Thunder fans, the best player on the court wasn’t Damian Lillard. He wasn’t even the second best point guard on the court. Nor the third. All three of OKC’s point guards had a better game than Dame. He even struggled to score against the Thunder’s fourth point guard, a rookie two way player. He didn’t hit any 40 footers.
And he certainly wasn’t waving goodbye to anyone or anything…
…other than maybe his team’s playoff hopes.
- With that win and a Wolves loss, OKC is now tied for 7th in the Western Conference.
- The Thunder has won four of its last five games and three of its last four road games.
- I know these wins are a bitter pill to take for Team Tank, but here’s the bright side: the Thunder are playing so well because of guys like Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams and Dennis Schroder. The four players who just happen to be in play as trade assets. Gallo’s value has always been high, but CP3, Adams and Schroder started the season off shaky. That trio has played lights out and undoubtedly increased their trade value over the course of the first quarter of the season.
- This team is either going to stay together and compete for a playoff spot, or the Thunder is going to get positive assets for some of their best players and end up with a better draft pick. This season has gone about as perfectly as Sam Presti could imagine thus far.
- Back to that goodbye and how everyone thought Portland was going to be a perennial contender and OKC was a broken team: who would you rather be for the next decade? Lillard, McCollum and Nurkic are a nice core, but this season is a lost cause, Dame and CJ will be 30 and 29 respectively next year, and those three guys tie up all their salary cap. I think I’d rather have SGA and infinity 1st round picks.
- I know this was a great Thunder win and all, but is anyone else still thinking about that Steven Adams to Dennis Schroder touchdown pass to beat the Timberwolves?
- Melo showing love to Donovan and the OKC staff was nice to see. I have a feeling he won’t be so friendly when he plays against Houston.
- Lou Dort, and not Abdel Nader, should take all the Terrance Ferguson minutes while TFerg is out. Dort’s defense and energy are Diallo-ish. So is his shooting, unfortunately.
- The always classy Chris Fisher saying, “This is a patented Carmelo Anthony game: 4 of 14” cracked me up way more than it should have.
- Nerlens Noel scored 13 points, grabbed 12 boards and blocked 2 shots in only 19 minutes. He really deserves to be a starter somewhere, but until then, we should enjoy having one of the best bench bigs in the league.
- SGA has been struggling with his shot lately, but he has been attacking and getting to the free throw line at such a high rate. That’s another big indicator of star quality: manufacturing points at the line when your shot isn’t falling.
- Another great sign from Shai: he took over and dominated in OT against the Wolves and in the closing minutes against the Blazers. He’s been his best the last two games when it counted most.
- Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder, the Thunder’s three headed point guard attack, have each scored 20+ two games in a row. Is there a better point guard trio in the NBA?
- Next up: at Utah on Monday night. Continuing with the cathartic theme, the Thunder have a chance to avenge their last two back to back playoff series defeats on back to back nights.