Moral victories only offer a mere consolation of the “what-could-have-been” narrative and if you’re an Oklahoma City fan, the sting of losing to the Golden State Warriors should run deep. Over the past few hours, we’ve heard all sorts of laments on what could have been for the Thunder if they had just won one of their last three games.
Yep. The gamut of emotions run long and deep. And yet, it could’ve been avoided if Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the Thunder closed out the series in Game 6. They had a six-point lead with five minutes left in the game. They were at home. They had the Warriors on their heels and on the brink of the biggest letdown in team sports in recent history. 73-9? Don’t mean a thing if you don’t win the ring, right? To be fair, it took a historical shooting effort from Klay Thompson to get the Warriors to force a Game 7. Even in Game 7, the Thunder seemingly played with more purpose in the first half. They had a game plan that called for rebounding, rebounding, and more rebounding. Forget about transition defense; let’s crash the boards. And it worked.
It really did.
At least for a time, and certainly not long enough to prevent a morose post-game press conference from these two:
Sometime during halftime, the Thunder decided to move away from the strategy that got them a six-point lead going to the half and at one point, got them a 3-1 series lead. They started getting cute. They started playing ISO ball. And worst of all, they lost their way on defense. They played right into Golden State’s hands and predictably enough, the Warriors started raining threes from all over the court. Game. Set. Series.
So what happens now for the OKC Thunder? Kevin Durant is an unrestricted free agent, which means that he gets to choose his team next year. As soon as Game 7 ended, our feed immediately got flooded with wishful thinking fans clamoring for him to join the Lakers, Celtics, Wizards, Bulls, Spurs, and yes, the Warriors, the same team that just handed him the most heartbreaking loss of his illustrious career. This storyline will dominate the offseason until Durant’s announcement and this puts the Thunder in a huge bind, knowing that if they lose their franchise player, the other cornerstone—Westbrook—will likely follow suit next season.
That said, KD could sign a two-year extension with the Thunder with a player option in the first year if he wants to maximize his earning potential for the next six or seven years of his career.
That’s the most likely scenario considering how this season ended but that won’t stop the rest of the NBA from trying to pry him away from Oklahoma City. Rest assured, there’s going to be a lot of drama in OKC for the next three months.
If Durant stays, then the team can reload and make another run for the title next season. If he somehow ends up leaving, well, consider the Thunder’s title window to be officially closed. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one that every fan of the Thunder may be forced to do should that time come.
And yet, none of this would’ve happened if Thompson didn’t hit 11 threes in Game Six. None of this would’ve mattered if the Thunder closed out the Warriors and won the title against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They controlled their own fate, until they didn’t, and it was too late to get it back.
But that’s why basketball is such a beautiful game. You think you have it…and then it slips through your fingers. It’s cruel. It’s heart-breaking. It’s basketball.
And once the pain of losing subsides, all you have left are the moral victories that really don’t mean shit anyway.
What could have been, right?
Image via Usatoday.com