The Oklahoma City Thunder are an enigmatic bunch that leaves everyone, probably including themselves, perplex each time they take the court.
Based on the talent, and offensive firepower they throw on the court, one would expect them to be invincible. But, their offensive nuclear power can also drive them to the ground. They can kill you, or themselves as quickly, and ruthlessly as a shark to blood infested waters. The catch: nobody knows, on a nightly basis, if they are the predator or the prey.
How many teams in NBA history could go at the Roar-acle, home of the 73-9 Warriors, the greatest team of all-time, and pull off an upset despite watching their two best players struggling to shoot the basketball?
Kevin Durant shot a pedestrian 10-30 from the field, and finished 10 points below his scoring average against the Warriors this season.
Russell Westbrook shot 7-21, partly due to his awful first half, but managed to end the game with a respectable 27 points, and 12 assists.
So, while Westbrook and Durant will continue to dominate, and lead the Thunder in scoring, I want to take some time to reflect upon the unsung heroes that have contributed immensely to the Thunder’s success in these playoffs.
Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter are proving to be extremely valuable to this team, and their dominance on the boards is what is keeping the Thunder alive.
In Monday night’s win at Golden State, Adams dominated the Warriors’ frontcourt with a 16 points, 12 rebounds, and two blocks effort that helped catapult the Thunder back into that game.
In the previous round, when everyone – including myself – thought the Spurs would laugh them off the building in four or five games, Kanter, and Adams became the mismatches that propelled the Thunder into the Conference Finals.
The two unheralded players established their rugged-and-rough style of play in their series against San Antonio, and thus far have kept it going against the Dubs.
Both Kanter, and Adams will never mistake anyone into believing they are key centerpieces to build a franchise around, but they play with as much heart, and fire as their indomitable point guard.
Adams was born, and raised in Rotorua, New Zealand. He is the youngest of 18 kids, and grew up in a rugby-mad country, and a city dominated by street gangs. In other words, toughness and attitude is his DNA.
And, that is what he brings to the table on every play. A relentless warrior willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win the ball game. He is the guy who will trip Danny Green. A guy who will, fearlessly, push Tim Duncan over and stare him down without an ounce of care as to who ‘the Big Fundamental’ is.
Kanter, the Switzerland-native, Turkish basketball player from Kentucky, has yet to live to his 3rd overall draft pick status, but provides instant energy, heart, and hustle.
He and his Kiwi teammates have graciously accepted their roles as the ‘dirty job’ men. They patrol the paint forcing guards, and forwards to re-think their shot selections, and intimidate the opposition.
Against the Spurs, Adams averaged 3.5 offensive rebounds per game (21 total), and Kanter 3.3 (20 total), meaning that they gave their team an extra six to seven possessions each game of the hard-fought series.
And, when you think that three of those games were decided by four points or less, and two by fourteen, those extra possessions are where the Thunder won. An extra possession puts pressure on the defense, gives you more scoring chances, and with Kevin Durant, and Russ on the court, you will lose that battle.
Pat Riley famously said, “no rebounds, no rings,” and thus far the Thunder are outrebounding everybody.
In their first round series against the Mavericks, Adams recorded 38 rebounds in five games, a tad shy of eight boards per game. His partner in crime hauled in 35 in five games, meaning he averaged 7 rebounds per night.
As a team, the Thunder averaged 47.2 rebounds per game against Dallas who could only muster 35 rebounds per night. The biggest reason behind the Thunder whooping of the Mavericks was their dominance on the boards.
In their second round series against the Spurs, the Thunder hauled in 44.3 rebounds per game while the Spurs grabbed 38.8 boards a night. A much closer battle, which resulted in a much closer series, but in the end the result, was the same.
Monday night, the Thunder outrebounded Golden State 52 to 44, and this trend is likely to continue the rest of the series.
There is an old expression in French that goes “never twice without thrice!”
The Warriors Came Out To Play This Series
Even without the fantasy Basketball of Kevin Durant in this series, the Golden State Warriors still brought out the brooms like ‘Fantasia’.
And swept out of Game 4 like Thanos click finger dust, the Portland Trailblazers may have only lost by a bucket (119-117)…and in overtime at that. But with all the Splash they had to contend with this series from brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they were left dealing with more leaks and holes in all of their own ones like Mickey Mouse in said Disney epic.
This was meant to be the showdown between Dell Curry’s boys Steph and Seth which divided a household. And although the youngest gun stepped up to the plate, swung big in this carnival and knocked them down, big brother was always watching.
Steph Curry averaged over 36 points a game this series. Just read that again. 36 points. Right now we don’t need to talk about Kevin.
The Warriors are a dynasty for the ages even without their best player (although this writer thinks he wasn’t missing this entire series). The first team to make it to five straight finals since the Boston Celtics. The 1960’s Bill Russell Celtics. That’s King James crowning legendary. And Steph Curry with the shot and that facet of the game is just as iconic and dominant as a Bill block.
Give some credit to a blazing Portland side who never gave up despite the box score. They can hold their heads in the PDX. Even in their Moda Center home-stand City Of Roses end in RIP City. Their season eulogy should read as a celebration and commiseration, not a trolling condescension from critically entitled fans who have done nothing to determine the outcome of these games and could never make it this far in their wildest memes. They call themselves “influencers”? Well no one’s going to remember them in 50 years.
The NBA will remember one of their Top 100 greatest of all-time in a half century though. As after hitting the biggest buzzer beater in playoff history against Paul George and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, Damian Lillard played through the pain of separated ribs this series and still made the Basketball God’s look down from the hoop heavens with praise. Like New York singer St. Vincent tweeted, “Damian Lillard is my hero”. Even his backcourt brother of splash CJ McCollum in the only small man set up to rival Curry and Klay came out to play against the Warriors after midrange mining the Nuggets into submission in Denver just over a week ago.
But Curry’s red hot triple double, starter, mains and dessert dish of 37, 13 and 11, to go along with a playing not crying, Draymond Green’s day of 18, 14 and 11 assists also was just too much in the clutch. As Stephen and Dray became the first teammates in NBA history to have a triple double in the same playoff game. Forget how much this team can unbelievably keep winning, how does this ball manage to get shared this much?
Well that just may be the secret of success?
The real test is dubbed next however in the Warriors last season in Golden State before they move across that Golden bridge to the Silicon Valley of a digital age in San Francisco. They will play the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks (probably…Giannis…MVP. Sorry Toronto but come on!) and Raptors series. But by then they should have some guy called Kevin back.
I mean come on. This has been getting crazy. This is just out of hand like said ball in Splash City.
Now Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics’ record of eight straight finals and wins doesn’t look far out of reach for Steph Curry and the player and team with the biggest range in the association over the gate of the Pacific.
Welcome to the Toronto Raptors’ Jurassic Park
“In Jurassic Park, Raptor fans wait until after dark. Even if the cold might eat them!”
Fans find a way.
An ace serve or two away from being as legendary as Wimbledon’s ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ outside the Scotiabank Arena, the Toronto Raptors Maple Leaf Square’s “Jurassic Park” may just be the ticket for this sold out crowd.
Raptor Klaw, Kawhi Leonard ruled the earth last night. He and the T-Dot at the final tick beat the Sixers in The Six, as his shot bobbled like a beach ball on the surface of a swimming pool before making the biggest splash of these postseason playoffs. Taking longer to fall than Leonardo DiCaprio’s spinning top in ‘Inception’. But this was no dream.
And if you thought the Scotiabank Arena in downtown Toronto erupted last night, then outside in Maple Leaf Square it was like the volcanoes that killed the dinosaurs after that big ball dropped. An Armageddon even Bruce Willis couldn’t save like he wish he could his career.
Welcome to Jurassic World.
With all due respect to the Linsanity of Jeremy Lin, or pick your poison whoever is your flash card pick of the bench mob pack, but the Jurassic Park crowd fenced in outside of Scotia is the
Forget rain or shine. You see the slickers. These faithful fans will pitch a spot waiting for game time like the ball to drop in Times Square for New Year in New York, sleeping bag lining up all day in their hordes huddled for warmth. These beautiful fans will brave the harshest, most frigid temperatures to be the coldest fans in the game in more ways than one. Part of the ‘We The North’ community in the 6 that the Basketball God’s look down on with pride, whilst other armchair fans watch this game for the throne from home. Or leave early like those suit and tie corporate seats trying to catch that last red eye Matt Bonner home.
Can you imagine of they called game early before Kawhi last night?
I could imagine Drake taking in the CN Tower looking up views of the Jurassic
Well those in the park for recreation stayed until the beautiful end to a game Butler almost delivered bitter. And you could could phantom cam see every emotion in slow motion last night as Leonard’s buzzer beating ball toyed with the rim like three dots on messenger, or Damien Lillard even further downtown in Oklahoma City.
This is the spirit of the stadium and the soul of the squad, expanding the capacity arena and the Canadian ballclubs worldwide fanbase watching on their own Jumbotrons.
And the Toronto Raptors are going to need all the north they can get if they’re going to stop the Bucks in Milwaukee.
But this club has the claws to do it. And if you don’t think they can win in Wisconsin on their own road to being the first franchise outside of the United States to be NBA finalists and who knows what next against the Warriors(?), then just watch this Canadian cornerstone from the Jurassic era.
Extinct in six? Nah! Get ready to hear the North roar.