For Oklahoma City Thunder fans, it was a familiar sight. On a night in which the Thunder played like the far better team for most of the night, they were unable to maintain a fourth quarter lead once again, and instead of cruising to a comfortable victory over the Philadelphia 76ers they were forced into a late game possession-by-possession battle that eventually led to overtime. One overtime led to another, and then another.
And as possession after painful possession passed, filled with the usual forced shots or wide open shots that are inexplicably missed, it seemed like the game would go the way so many had before. A head-scratching, head-shaking loss. Then something happened. Coming out of a timeout in the third overtime, the Thunder showed a bounce to their step that really hasn’t been seen all season. The team looked like it was having…dare I say it…fun?
All I’m saying is this: The demons may have been exercised last night.
This has been an emotional road trip that has included fiery crowds in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, with another one promised on Saturday night in New York City. It’s the perfect breeding ground for a stretch that may finally be galvanizing this Thunder team into a unit.
While having fun doesn’t fix every problem or make every shot go in, that added bounce to the step changes the whole complexion of the team during those situations. Who knows how many ball movement issues would be solved if the that feeling of constant strain was lifted off of everyone’s shoulders, or if we’d see the team’s superstars start to actually play like it.
Anyone who watched the OKC Thunder last season knows the difference between when Russell Westbrook plays with “fun rage” instead of “annoyed rage,” and this season it has been almost entirely the latter. What if that were to change? That dunk with the vein-popping reaction seemed like it may have flipped the switch.
So what made this unimpressive finish different than all of the others? Well everyone had their moment to shine.
Carmelo Anthony carried the offense for a lot of the first three quarters, while Paul George was on the bench with foul trouble and Westbrook couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean. But George saved the game with a contested three during the first overtime when the team was trailing by five, grabbing a rebound on the other end and getting the ball to Westbrook for a driving bucket to tie it up. Westbrook then took over in the third overtime when he finally found his shooting rhythm. Even the role players had their moments to shine, from Raymond Felton’s four three-pointers to Patrick Patterson’s game-winning block in the third overtime.
And the game was chippy. With Joel Embiid talking his usual smack throughout the whole game, there were a couple of heated exchanges during the game between Embiid and Anthony, with Westbrook stepping in to defend his teammate.We all know there’s nothing that unites and bonds a group of men like getting into a fight together. Just ask Shane Falco:
Despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding the team, Friday night’s victory brought the team back to 14-14 for the season, just two games out from the western conference’s fourth seed in the loss column. That’s looking more and more like a second round matchup with the Houston Rockets, exactly what the goal was coming into the year. If the Thunder can find a way to win Saturday night against the Knicks, they’ll be 7-2 in their last nine games with three straight home games upcoming.
I won’t be looking for perfect basketball on Saturday, which is highly unlikely considering it’s the second night of a back to back in which heavy minutes were logged, but if I see the spark of fun and the bounce in the step? I’ll know the team has hit that tipping point.