Just A Start To The Thunder’s Challenge

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HOUSTON – It was 44 years ago when Don Nelson’s foul-line jumper kicked improbably high off the back of the rim, fell right down through the net and kept all of those celebration balloons trapped up there at the ceiling in the Forum.

That was an ending.

Nelson’s shot gave the Celtics the two-point margin they needed in Game 7 of the NBA Finals for another championship over the Lakers.

Kevin Durant’s shot with 41.9 seconds left on the clock took Nelson’s little tap dance on the rim and turned it into an entire chorus production. The first bounce kicked so high off the back of the rim that it cleared the top of the backboard, then teasingly hit the front rim and then the back rim two more times before sliding down into the basket, a Tibetan prayer wheel offering that was answered immediately.

This was just a beginning.

Before the Thunder get to jubilantly race off a court somewhere to celebrate a championship, there will likely have to be many more nights like this, where they sizzle and fizzle, where they thrive and survive, where they just grind on.

It was the first time in five years — and 440 games — that Durant ran out onto a basketball court wearing an Oklahoma City jersey without running mate and buddy Russell Westbrook at his side.

The lightning rod point guard was back at home watching on TV after having undergone surgery Saturday to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. That means the road to the top of the mountain just got far bumpier and more treacherous.

“It feels the same,” Durant said. “I just go out there on the court, and I knew I had to give it my all no matter what. That’s what I’m going to do for however many games we have to play…I’m going to give it my all no matter what and not worry about missed shot, turnovers or anything.”

But Durant knows that the margin for error just got slimmer than a supermodel’s waist. No more nights when Westbrook and all of his inherent idiosyncrasies and flaws will be able to bail out the Thunder with his bodacious talent and his sheer audacity.

Now there will be far more nights like this one where wilo-’o-the-wisp Durant has to go the virtual distance, getting all of 44 seconds to rest on the bench while putting up 30 shots to equal his career playoff high of 41 points.

Now there will be more nights when the Thunder will have to rely on the combo of second-year Reggie Jackson and 17th year Derek Fisher to hold down Westbrook’s position at the point.

Now there will be more nights when Serge Ibaka has to be the leaping, dominating monster at both ends of the floor with 17 points, 11 rebounds, two official blocked shots and about a dozen more altered.

The Thunder built a 26-point lead early in the third quarter and had to hold on to the final tick of the clock because they’re now missing one of the legs they usually stand on.

“It definitely was an emotional time the last 48 hours,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We all love what Russell is about. The guy has probably the biggest heart I’ve ever been around. He’s done a great job of putting us in this position.”

But now the season-ending injury puts the Thunder in the position of having to, if not reinvent themselves on the fly, at least make a major adjustment.  So here they are against an inexperienced No. 8 seed in Houston — the youngest team in the NBA this season — getting burns on the palms of their hands as the rope slips through.

If it wasn’t a case of being physically spent, then OKC had to be mentally exhausted from battling all night to fill in the gaps. Brooks had said before the game that it’s just a matter of getting everybody to do “a little bit.”

However, in playoff games that little bit can become a quite heavy lift.

There were the Rockets, playing with few expectations and not much to lose, roaring back. Here was picking up a loose ball that Kevin Martin seemed to lose as the shot-clock ran down and Ibaka flicking it up over his head and off the glass with 1:25 left in the game. Here was the untested-in-the-playoffs Jackson, standing at the foul line and draining two nervy free throws with eight seconds remaining and then leaping up and latching onto the final rebound of the game when Carlos Delfino’s 3-pointer missed just ahead of the horn.

“We learned Russell was going to be out at practice (Friday),” said forward Nick Collison, “but eventually we have to get over it. You have to be able to move on and play. We’re basketball players and we’re in the playoffs and we have to get ourselves ready to play.

“Our problems were more execution and a lot of that has to do with playing without Russell because we rely on him for a lot on the court.”

It took the Rockets missing numerous opportunities down the stretch — open shots that clanked off the rim and turnovers that were fatal – for the Thunder to escape.

For a team that entered the playoffs with its sights set strictly on playing all the way into June and getting back to The Finals, now each game, every day, each ensuing round will be a challenge.

They will need to learn to get by without the nonpareil talents of Westbrook to pull them out of the fire, get things done with pure execution or enough similar fortuitous bounces as Durant’s improbable 3-pointer, a tantalizing dance-of-the-seven-veils shot that pulled them back from the brink of what could have been a crushing defeat, giving birth to recrimination and doubt.

“The Lord was with us,” he said. “That’s all I was thinking. I knew as soon as that shot hit the back rim, I was thinking, ‘Not again. Tough 3 shot. Maybe I should have drove. Maybe I should have got a foul.’ But it was able to bounce in and all because of the good Lord. I really can’t say too much else about that. I’m glad we made it.”

A happy ending for now. But really just the start of a grind.

– Series Hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

38 Comments

  1. victor lebron says:

    The Grizz and the Clippers will make corn beef out of them easily….

  2. RocketsThunderFan says:

    I still think it’s going to be Thunder vs. Heat in the finals. Spurs got lucky getting Lakers in the first round. Not because Lakers are bad but they are plagued with injuries.

    • 34yr fan says:

      ….Spurs don’t need luck ……. they have experience, talent , great coaching AND character…..nuff said

  3. Thunder says:

    Nahh they will not need westbrook they need an all around center like chandler and a true point guard like JJ Barea, jackson for barea is good enough for the thunder i think

  4. Is it possible?? says:

    then,wb and curry will be guard,kd sf,ibaka pf and collison for c

  5. human 39 says:

    Kevin martin he should play better to replace the scoring output from Russel Westbrook, Kevin martin must step up.
    every team know that right now OKC just hang on to KD and Serge Ibaka back, so its better to prove that decision to swap kev martin and james harden is worth …. not only for this series thou …. OKC need that title. hope that westbrook get better real soon. go go thunder!!

  6. ThereCanOnlyBeOne says:

    This commentator needs to be removed. Id rather watch the highlights WITHOUT ANY COMMENTATING than his annoying voice.

  7. The big three + Miami says:

    KD’s HOT!
    That was a test.
    He’s ready
    He’s gonna want revenge and go back to the finals against heat.
    KD’s got the skill but tough match up against LeBron.

    BUT ONE CRUCIAL PIECE IS MISSING FROM THE GAME OF OKC. A TRUE PG.

    • WESTBROOKisTHEbestPGinLEAGUE says:

      Russ is the best PG in the league hands down. Chris Paul gets completely shut down everytime he plays WB and even admits hes just too atheletic for him to guard. I cant stand how no matter what WB does he gets no respect. He is ungaurdable by any one man! He’s the only PG in the league that is in that category. OKC will not go far without him. He is the reason we are where we are. Yes KD is important too but Russ is just as important. If KD proves me wrong I’ll be surprised…..

  8. Alan Hollway says:

    From last year the Thundef have lost Westbrook and Harden and for a period i thought they were even better without Harden because Westbrook and Ibaka increased their load and delivery but without Westbrook its a simple fact that they are worse off and cannot challenge the Heat or probably get past the Spurs in the West. Even with Westbrook in the team, the Heat has had the Thunders measure and now without him the gap has widened further. Lets see how Mr Gold Watch, Derek Fisher responds or will he suddenly have a family crisis needing his family to move to Miami or to San Antonio to get that 6th ring.

  9. MJfromOKC says:

    Fran, the opposite side of your argument is that OKC just played their first game without RW, will make adjustments and has a pretty deep bench and will be able to hang in there.

  10. Bob M says:

    If Kevin Martin gets in a scoring groove, the loss of Russ will be a little less damaging. K Mart was a crazy scorer!! He’d shoot over double teams routinely. Give him the ball, it’s like riding a bike. He has to step up for OKC to get to the Finals.

  11. coolguy1975 says:

    Yes the thunder won but the big picture here is losing westbrook for the playoffs. Yes as great as Durant is yes he cant do it by himself now losing Harden to the rockets really looks bad you cant second guess yourself you never know whats going to happen but there is no way the thunder is winning the title without westbrook. Even going back to the NBA finals this year is now a major question mark. This gives teams like the spurs clips grizzlies and nuggets hope for the NBA finals. I dont think any of these teams will beat Miami in the finals and yes the bulls could give the heat some problems in the second round but I cant see them beating miami 4 times in a 7 game series. But I do think if somehow the thunder made it to the finals they would get walloped. I just dont see the thunder winning it now.

  12. Foolishness says:

    7 apg along with his 24 ppg isn’t a good enough PG for you Bobby? Yeah lets move him to SG and have another Monte Ellis =/. Cause the league will surely be dominated by an undersized SG.

  13. Kimmy says:

    Kevin Martin and T. Sefalosha need to step up like 10 notches. Kevin Durant cannot carry this team. I do think they will make it next 2 rounds then thats it. They will beat whoever wins between Golden State/Memphis in 7 games. And they may go further just from sheer luck. Who knows?? It’s still fun to watch. Go OKC!

  14. Macky says:

    The only way this team makes the playoffs is if the Spurs get bounced by GSW/Denver and if the Clippers advance. OKC plays great team defense on Chris Paul. I don’t think they’ll beat the Clippers for sure but they have a chance. They have no chance against Memphis, San Antonio or the Heat if they play those teams down the road.

  15. BobbySac says:

    It has been said plenty of times before… OKC doesn’t have a true point guard. RW0 is a shooting guard. A true PG would serve OKC well.

  16. nothing special says:

    they have a good team but not enough offense power. When WB was in charge he took all the shots just like what Kobe did to the Laker. W/o WB there a lot of points that needed to be make up. KD can not play the point guard role and cover everybody else. Unless Kevin Martin need to wake up and other guys to chip in OKC might not advance very far…

  17. holyspectator says:

    this is prolly the best test for KD, lets see if he has what it takes to get to the finals

  18. ???? says:

    i would like to see Reggie Jackson penetrate more, and not give KD the ball at the top of the key EVERY SINGLE POSSESSION. have KD post up or come off a screen, PR with Ibaka, not just give KD the ball and have him create opportunities for each possession.

  19. Gary Payton says:

    They will take Rockets, but do not think 2nd? Although, anything can happen, they are doing better without Westbrook than I would have thought! Good bench so far…

  20. Enda says:

    can we make a rondo for westbrook trade happen?

    okc’s playoff success last year was all about westbrook.. this year its all about DURANT.. I know which I prefer and which is better

  21. Foolishness says:

    This is confirmation that okc is going to reach NBA finals

  22. KD says:

    This is the confirmation that okc is not going to reach NBA finals

  23. Ad says:

    The thunder should Lin play and they can win easily. Mr.turnovervball stopper is the mainvreason why the rocket lost,vacant understand rocket couch letting the guy on the floor

    • W/E says:

      In the end Rockets lost cause of Mr turnover number2 on the team = James Harden making his usually awfull turnovers at the most critical time of the game, Durant was just jacking shots the whole game ,Thunder got lucky with that three pointer but what really lost the game for Houston it was the fact that they just couldnt take care of the ball in last minutes.

  24. amitpal says:

    That last game was way to much durant at the top of the key trying to do everything. They need to run sets and dursnt off the ball more and post up durant a lot more. The thunder might beat houston with iso durant but wont beat anybody else. And the role players need to step. Martin missed a lot of open shots and so did thebo. Role olayers need to make shots.

  25. Fisher says:

    beside KD and Ibaka none of the guys step up another notch. HOw can you play important games and miss 6 out of 7 open shot like Thabo did. Same thing with Kevin Martin. OKC will eventually have to make adjustments to advance down the road….

  26. Leon says:

    Add oil thunder!!!

  27. johnny dawson says:

    Durant says the Lord was with them in their victory over the Rockets, when his shot bounced around and then down through the basket. But the Lord was with the Rockets when Westbrook went down with his injury. Funny how the Lord can be so fickle. But then, if the Lord is fair it is only right that he remain impartial.

    On second thought, could it have been the Devil?

  28. W/E says:

    Lucky three point from Durant. But OKC is a better team than Houston anyway.