A wild week for the Oklahoma City Thunder started off well, with an impressive win at home over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unfortunately, the Thunder couldn’t spin that positive momentum into a win streak, as the Thunder dropped the next two games to the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards.
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Victor-y. Against the Cavaliers, Victor Oladipo scored 20 or more points for just the 12th time this season (he scored 23). Oladipo needs to do this more, as the Thunder are 9-3 when Oladipo scores 20 or more, with all three losses coming at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. Oladipo is the only player on the roster who really has the potential to be a go-to scorer, aside from Russell Westbrook. It’s no coincidence, then, that the Thunder have had so much success when Oladipo is scoring.
So what about Steven Adams? Not only did Victor Oladipo score 20+ against the Cavs, but Steven Adams did as well. Put this in the category of “it doesn’t matter, but it is mildly interesting,” but the Thunder have not fared near as well when Adams puts up 20 or more. In the seven games where Adams has scored 20+, the Thunder have limped to a 4-3 record.
Mind games. Leading up to Thursday’s tilt against the defending champions, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue apparently couldn’t decide whether to play his big three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Up until 90 minutes before tip, it was speculated that the Cavs would rest their starters. While the San Antonio Spurs made the practice of resting starters for national broadcasts famous, it appears the Lue and the Cavs find the appeal in it. As a fan, I don’t like it. I’m not sure I agree that teams should be penalized, but fans spend good money to attend games, most notably those against marquee opponents. These games are national broadcasts because fans at home want to watch. It’s a slap in the face to the people who support the NBA to sit healthy guys in the name of rest. And the most ridiculous part of this entire boat and pony show by the Cavs is that James played 41 minutes.
Bricks. Following Saturday night’s emotional game against the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder were probably due for a letdown. And letdown it was. Not only did the Wizards straight gut-punch the Thunder 120-98, but the Thunder played maybe their worst game of the season. It got so bad that, as the Wizards lead stretched out to over 30, Billy Donovan pulled his starters midway through the third. In the saddest stretch of basketball maybe in Thunder history, beginning late in the second and carrying over to the third quarter, the Thunder missed 21 straight shots, then promptly turned the ball over four straight possessions, before bricking three more shots. No NBA team has missed 24 straight shots in a game this year. I would be shocked if another team matched the Thunder’s futility.
Alex “Air” Abrines. May I present to you, His Airness, Alejandro Abrines.
Andre the Giant. After Andre Roberson lightly (if that) tapped Durant on a fast break, Durant took exception to the foul. Roberson didn’t back down, giving an already raucous arena more fuel for their fire.
AND ONE MORE THING MAKES SEVEN
Cupcakes. On May 6, 2014, Kevin Durant accepted the the 2013-14 Most Valuable Player award in Oklahoma City. The entire Thunder organization was present, and Durant took the time to name every single teammate, saving his comments on Russell Westbrook for last.
I know you guys think I forgot Russ. But I could speak all night about Russell. An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me. I don’t take it for granted … I love you, man. I love you. A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and I’m the first to have your back, man, through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you. I thank you so much, man. You make me better. You know, your work ethic, I always want to compete with you. I always want to pull up in the parking lot of the arena, or the practice facility, and if you beat me there I was always upset. I always wanted to outwork you. You set the bar. You set the tone. Thank you so much, man. Thank you. You have a big piece of this. You’re an MVP-caliber player. It’s a blessing to play with you, man.
Fast forward to that final, fateful dinner in 2016 with Westbrook, Durant, and Nick Collison, just prior to Durant’s decision. Westbrook, his effervescent desire to win trumping any individual acclaim, asked Durant, “What can I do?” It was a question that served also as a statement. It was Westbrook, again, saying to Durant, “I will run through a wall for you.” It was Westbrook asking, “Will you have my back?”
And Durant said no. With a text message days later.
Oklahoma City’s relentless support of Westbrook is fitting, as Westbrook is by far the most relentless force in the NBA. Westbrook puts more effort into Game 33 of the regular season than most players put into Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Giving 110% might be a cliche, but to Westbrook, it’s the standard. Westbrook embodies everything that the people of Oklahoma City believe they can, and should be.
On Saturday night, the relentless support of Westbrook was as loud as ever. The crowd remained fierce throughout, even as the Thunder struggled. The fans rained boos every time Durant touched the ball and chanted “cup-cake” when he shot free throws. And most importantly, and loudest of all, the fans reverently chanted “Russ-ell, Russ-ell” and “M-V-P.”
It would be a lie to say that Saturday night wasn’t a therapeutic release of pent up disappointment for Durant’s departure to the supposed greener pastures of Oakland. But above all, Saturday night was about Russell Westbrook. It was 18,203 fans letting Westbrook know that they have his back, even if someone else no longer does.