Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oklahoma City Chokers

There was really no need to play game seven of the NBA's Western Conference Finals. Officially Golden State beat Oklahoma City,96-88, to win the West. But the winner was a forgone conclusion. No way were the Warriors going to lose a game seven at home..

The matter was really settled Saturday, when the Thunder frittered away a lead at home in the final minutes, losing 108-101. The Thunder owned that game, leading nearly all the way, But they couldn't handle the pressure of those last few minutes. Nerves and anxiety gripped the Thunder players near the end. Instead of playing smoothly in those critical last few moments, they got rattled and flustered.

There's no other way to say it. The Thunder players choked--big time..

In those pressurized minutes, they couldn't do anything right. They were throwing wild passes, bricking shots, making horrible decisions, playing sloppy defense. You could see it in their eyes--the fear, the tension.

The Thunder had a 101-99 lead with nearly two minutes to go. But they didn't score again, while the Warriors scored nine points, looking confident in the clutch..

During the season, the Thunder blew many games in the fourth quarter. What would happen is their two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, would suddenly play selfishly. When the Thunder got the ball on offense, either one would hog the ball, never passing. Either player would drive for a layup or take a heavily-contested jump shot, ignoring their teammates. They would revert to one-on-five, playground basketball.

Both would forget in those moments that the way they built the lead was playing team ball, with lots of passing, with Durant and Westbrook dishing off to teammates who had open shots. That's how they won the opening game of the Western Finals in Oakland, how they crushed the Warriors in Oklahoma City in games three and four, taking what seemed to be an insurmountable 3-1 lead.

But the Thunder played less intensely in game five, losing in Oakland, gearing up to clinch the series in game six in Oklahoma City. Things went according to plan, until those last few minutes, when they had to keep their heads and play with poise. But they couldn't do it. The situation was too overwhelming. They collapsed, while the Warriors played like champs.

Series was really over then..

Both teams still had to play game seven but the outcome was never in doubt, even when the Thunder had a double-digit lead in the first half. The Thunder wasn't going to win. Deep down they knew it. So did the Warriors, who outscored the Thunder 29-12 in the third quarter. That was the game. In the fourth quarter, the Warriors lead all the way, with Stephen Curry leading the way. The Thunder crept close a few times, but could never hit the clutch shots to put them in the lead. Meanwhile, the Warriors hit clutch shot after clutch shot.

According to two sources close to the team, the Thunder players were squabbling and finger-pointing while flaming out late in game six. Apparently the bickering continued up to game seven. That solid, united front the Thunder presented up to game time was just that--a front..

The Thunder second-half collapse in game seven was no surprise. They were doomed--and they knew it. They played tentatively and erratically in crunch time--just what you'd expect from chokers.