May 29, 2017, 10:03 AM
I wake up, check my phone and look at the date. May 29. It’s been one year since that fateful day. It may be weird for some, but a date of an NBA game has actually stuck to me. It’s a date that I consider a turning point, when a game led to the changing of the NBA landscape.
Right now, Kevin Durant is a Golden State Warrior. He’s heading to his second NBA Finals after blowing opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.
The rest of the players whom he’s with, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Draymond Green, are headed to their third straight NBA Finals. Right now, Golden State is a perfect 12-0, but that wasn’t the case last year. They finished the regular season with a 73-9 record, only to find themselves on the brink of losing in the Western Conference Finals against a Kevin Durant-led team that was determined to start the dynasty that had been derailed by multiple injuries.
On this date last year, the Warriors faced do-or-die against a raucous Oklahoma City crowd. Many expected it to be OKC reclaiming their throne as the Western Conference’s best. But that wasn’t what happened. Far from it. Let’s look back at everything that happened.
May 29, 2016, approx. 11:00 AM
Well, crap. I didn’t wake up to my alarm. That isn’t surprising. No time to be frustrated, because I was excited at the prospect of Kevin Durant and OKC going back to the Finals. Considering how they demolished the Warriors the previous two times they were at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, this feeling of excitement that I had was warranted. Betting against the Thunder seemed relatively foolish considering the odds that their foes were facing.
I jump up from my bed, make a run to the TV and immediately turn to the channel that was showing the Warriors-Thunder game. I immediately see this:
Closer than what I initially expected out of this game, but hey, at least OKC is leading right? I keep the TV on, stand up and run towards the kitchen to cook myself some breakfast first. It’s only proper for me to have some food while watching the game.
I run back and the score reads 89-81, OKC leading with about nine minutes remaining in the game. Plenty of time for the Warriors to make a comeback, but at least the Thunder were up.
All of a sudden, Klay throws up a shot after a crazy sequence which ended with Andrew Bogut handing him the ball and screening for him, which results in a three for Golden State. Just like that, it was a two-possession game.
Thunder 89, Warriors 84
There was still a ton of time remaining, so I decided to eat while in front of the TV. Every now and then, I would look at the score and see how the game was going. OKC was holding steady, and that was enough for me at that point. JUST WIN THE FREAKING GAME. As I wrap up breakfast, Klay is isolated near the midcourt logo with his feet positioned awkwardly.
All of a sudden, KLAY FREAKING THOMPSON PULLS UP FOR THE THREE. My eyes open wide as the ball slowly swishes its way through the net.
Thunder 96, Warriors 92
It’s easy to dismiss the three and just say that it just turns the game into a two-possession game. Any made shot by Golden State at that point would have made it as such. But this shot by Klay was different. I had no idea how he was doing before that make, but it just felt like the beginning of the end for the Thunder.
I immediately grab my phone, open the NBA app and check the box score. It reads: Klay Thompson, 10 three’s made. “TEN FREAKING THREES?!” And Marv Albert immediately says on the broadcast that same three by Klay set the NBA record for most triples made in a Playoffs game. Absolutely ridiculous. I start to hug the electric fan and watch the game more intently.
For OKC, it looked like they were playing not to lose. They weren’t running any sort of play, which was the complete opposite of what the Warriors were doing. Both teams were slow, but at least the Dubs were setting solid screens and were making sure there was always space for cutters. For OKC, they would just dump the ball to either Durant or Westbrook, and hope that something would happen.
The result of all that movement for Golden State led to two big shots by Steph Curry.
The first one was this shot which came off a simple pick and roll with Andre Iguodala. Steven Adams wasn’t ready to switch, so it led to this long bomb and, well, crap.
Thunder 97, Warriors 96
Westbrook is fouled on the other end of the floor and I breathe a sigh of relief. He calmly sinks both free throws to give OKC some semblance of breathing room. But even though that was the case, they still weren’t playing to win. It was a case of the Warriors’ defense scrambling correctly, and the OKC offense stagnating like crazy.
A couple of minutes later, Durant finds himself getting double-teamed. He tries to pass it to a cutting Ibaka, who wasn’t ready to receive the ball. Harrison Barnes comes up with the steal and runs to the other side of the court. Oddly enough, OKC forgets to defend the one guy whom they should be defending in transition situations.
Curry three. Bang.
Thunder 99, Warriors 99
My heart rate rises dramatically as OKC tries to make its way to the other side of the floor. OKC continues to play iso ball and dumps the ball to KD this time. Durant drives to the right, stops, and attempts a difficult shot against two Warriors defenders.
Andre Roberson is at the right place at the right time, and immediately scores the put-back. The Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City GOES WILD. The one man crowd in the Lovenia household goes bananas as well.
Thunder 101, Warriors 99
As the Warriors advanced the ball to their side of the court, I immediately thought to myself, LAWLER’S LAW. First to 100 wins. It wasn’t a sure thing, by any means, but it was something which I chose to hold on to. All of a sudden, Igoudala penetrates to the rim against Andre Roberson for the easy basket.
Thunder 101, Warriors 101
TIE GAME AGAIN. But it’s alright. OKC has the ball. All we need is one basket to get the lead. Try to run something for crying out loud. JUST GET A DAMN BASKET AND HOLD ON TO THE NBA FINALS.
Except, it was the complete opposite that happened. After Durant getting his turn, it was time for Westbrook to get a crack at the basket. Igoudala plays excellent defense, swipes the ball and immediately goes to the other side of the floor. He advances the ball to Klay who finds himself on the right wing and…
Klay over Durant. Bang. For most of the quarter, I was hugging my electric fan out of nervousness. Now, I was hugging my electric fan, telling myself as my heart sank, “This is over.” My excitement had turned into utter sorrow as the ball swished through the net.
Warriors 104, Thunder 101
Sure, OKC technically still had a chance. But with the way they were playing? Nope. They were playing not to lose, but here they were, losing. On their last possessions, nothing good came up. Curry’s floater and free throws were mere formalities. It was Klay’s transition three which truly served as the dagger for the Thunder.
FINAL: Warriors 108, Thunder 101
I wanted to believe that OKC still had a chance. But then I remembered.
Game 7. In Oracle. An upset was likely not going to happen. A part of me wanted it, but a part of me also knew that the chances of it happening were very small. I turned off the TV and slowly walked back up to my bedroom with no idea of what was to happen next.
May 29, 2017, 11:50 AM
As I write this, KD is no longer with the Thunder. When you think about it, that game six kind of served as the pitch of the Warriors to KD. Stay in OKC, and play in an offense that stagnates like crazy come the clutch. Come to Oakland, and you have an offense that is quick, crisp and free-flowing.
Many brand that game as KD choking, but they failed to remember that OKC was practically running nothing, causing KD and Russ to take difficult shot after difficult shot. No matter how good a player is, playing two against five is not an easy thing to do.
Now, KD no longer has to do that. Throughout the year, KD has managed to blend himself well in the offensive scheme of the Warriors. Going iso is no longer the primary option of Durant. Instead, it’s their panic button option, and when they press it, the things which KD does are downright terrifying, thanks to the swathes of space that the Warriors privide.
For Klay, it’s easy to think that he killed OKC throughout that series. That wasn’t the case at all. He averaged “just” 24.7 points in that round, with his game six explosion helping prop up that number
Right now, Klay finds himself in the midst of a shooting slump, averaging just 14.4 points per game on 38 percent field goal shooting. But that’s the thing with Klay. You can’t count him out. The last thing you want to do is sag off him, or send his man to double someone else. When Klay goes nova, there’s no one in the world who can come close to the amount of points that he can put up in a limited amount of time. Not even Steph can match it.
Need proof? Just take a look at Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. It wasn’t just the game that saved the Warriors from getting eliminated from contention for a title. It was a game that arguably changed the entire landscape of the NBA.
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