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Thunder Journal: Next Man Thunder Up.

Thunder Journal: Next Man Thunder Up.

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“Next man up” is one of those clichéd empty phrases thrown around all loosey goosey by coaches and players in every sport at every level of competition. As inspiring as the words may sound, I’ve always thought it was a preposterous proposition.

How did next man up work out for the 2013 Thunder team that won 60 games, clinched the #1 seed in the West and had  a historically elite MOV? Once Patrick Beverley kneed Russell Westbrook and gutted every OKC fan, next man up Tears of Joy helped Kevin Durant get blasted 4-1 in the next round by the Memphis Grizzlies.

How did next man up work out for the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line that was missing both their starting tackles in Super Bowl 55? Patrick Mahomes is still suffering from Post-Traumatic Sack Disorder. Next man up helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense carry Tom Brady to another ring, but nobody’s ready for that conversation.

Let’s say you are going in for brain surgery and discover one minute before the anesthesia injection that your doctor, the best at the hospital, is out due to load management. The clinician operating on your cerebrum is now a 26 year old who had just graduated med school and wasn’t accurate enough with his flu shot or his scalpel handles to be hired by any credible institutions. He’s on a two way contract, spending part of his time at the big league hospital and part of his time honing his craft at the community college clinic. Next man up!

Next man up is a nonsensical notion because in most cases the man being replaced is one of the elite people in his field and the man taking his place has hardly seen the field. Sure, the words sound courageous, but it’s a put on to put on a brave face. Or so I thought. Until I witnessed this 2021 OKC Thunder team.

The Thunder lost both games of a road double header against the world champion Lakers and they might have been the two most impressive OKC games since the days of the James Harden and Nick Collison two man game. Man, game two was especially awe-inspiring.

The Thunder were without their best player and emerging superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, top three player George Hill, backup point guard Theo Maledon, and bench big Isaiah Roby. A roster already bottomed out had hit rock bottom. OKC had zero point guards. The Lakers actually had more Thunder point guards than the Thunder. Mark Daigneault started his backup shooting guard who can’t shoot at point guard and his one-time third string power forward at shooting guard.

The purple and gold’s best player was a four time MVP, four time champion and GOAT runnerup. The blue and sunset orange’s best player was considered the worst contract in the league just three months ago. The home team’s second best player boasts hair streaked with golden dust. The road team’s second best player sports the Joe Dirtiest Oklahoma sports hair since The Boz.

The Thunder only had eight available players. Three were 2nd round picks, two were undrafted, and two were picked after the lottery. Only one player was drafted inside the top 16 of their class, and that was 34 year old Al Horford. Three of the eight players were third stringers to open the season. One of the eight was playing just his eighth game in the past two years.

And somehow, through pure effort, determination and will power, this rag tag potpourri of players pushed LeBron James and Friends to the brink of defeat. At one point, a squad led by Kenrich Williams and Hamidou Diallo was leading the Lakers by 20 points. If not for an unlikely (I don’t care what his percentage is this season, a LeBropard can’t change its spots) last second LeBron bomb to tie the game, Justin Jackson strolls out of Staples Arena knowing his 27 minutes took down the champs.

No Shai? Hami, you’re next man up. No Hill? Kenny Hustle, next man up. No Maledon? Darius Miller, next ma… wait, you’re on this team? Yes? Okay, next man up.

After back to back bouts with last year’s West winners, OKC plays the West runner-ups tonight in Denver. Once again, Daigneault will be without SGA, Hill or Maledon.

Next man Thunder Up!