Oh, are you down there, Kawhi? Didn't see you. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE
It’s over. The Thunder have figured out how to get Kevin Durant open enough, and in a close game the team with the phenomenally gifted scorer always triumphs over the one without. It doesn’t have to get close—that’s why the Spurs have won a million of their last million and one—but when it does, Kevin Durant, who’s showing more edge than we’ve ever seen from him, will win. Even Russell Westbrook, who not coincidentally has taken 25 shots total in the last two games, after shooting 24, 21, and 25 in the games before, seems to recognize what he’s found.
Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka combined to make 18 out of 20 shots. Add Collison and its 22 out of 25, for 49. And SA only got 16 free throws, with Manu, one of the most adept foul-drawers in the game, and Tony Parker, still one of the fastest guys out there going against Kendrick Perkins, the game’s best scowler and among its best foulers.
Basketball’s funny. We learn a lot, and a lot of it, sometimes is stuff we already knew but forgot like, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett are really good, or Kevin Durant’s the most gifted scorer in the game and still only 12 years old. I mean 23. If he’s healthy, the extent to which he’ll obliterate scoring records isn’t even funny. But other stuff changes game to game.
How, tell me how, did the Celtics lose a game where Rajon scored 44 on 24 shots, shot perfectly from three, dished 10 assists, grabbed 8 boards, and snatched 3 steals—then win a game by 10 in which he scored 21?
The answer? Basketball’s funny.
A lot of what we talk about, when we talk about basketball, has to do with our need to talk about SOMETHING—which goes double for bloggers like me, and quadruple for talking heads who do four or five sportscenters a day. You want to know why Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless are crazy? Part of it is that they were born that way, and in Skip’s case, WENT into sports reporting because it’s a natural move for an asshole who likes to shout. But it’s also because, however many times of day they’re on the air, they have to be saying something interesting, provocative in some way.
The biggest myth in basketball is also the one most depended upon—that you can tell anything from how the last game went. Not that you never can, and we’ll get to that, but think about this. Given that there are only about four teams that have a realistic shot at the championship from the minute the season starts, nearly every game a contender plays is against somebody else. Some teams, like the Spurs and Lakers, tend to handily dispatch non-contenders. Others, like the Mavericks never do, but pull it out—then do the same when beating a contender.
And so we call these few regular season high profile matchups statement games, and we say one team is better than the other because of that one game, and then when the playoffs come round we say x team is 0-2 ‘gainst y team this year, and then we see the Thunder go down 0-2 and we feel good, and then we see it even at 2-2 and we just have to say---gosh, what if they’d played two more games during the regular season?
And so it goes.
The first Mavs-Thunder game was so close, and so hard fought, everybody just knew it was going 7. The second game was just as close, and just as hard fought, but it was a lot less likely that it would go 7. The third was not close. The fourth was, but it didn’t really matter. It was close. All except one. In another universe, all of ‘em could have gone another way. They didn’t.
And the same was true last year, when the Mavericks were on the opposite end of a sweep. You remember that one, I’m sure. And we all remember the glorious last game, the only Mavericks playoff game that I didn’t sweat out, probably in the history of the Mavericks. But Game 1?
The Mavericks outscored the Lakers 25-16 in the 4th to win by 2. After Kobe hit a shot to keep the lead at three with a minute to go, Dirk drained a jumper, Kobe fell down coming around a screen and Terry came up with the ball, Pau fouled Dirk who hit two free throws to go up by one with 19 seconds left, Kidd stole the ball from Pau, got fouled, and hit one free throw---and Kobe was still wide-open for a three (thanks, indeed, to the movingest Bynum pick) that would have won the game and put the Mavs down 0-1 with another to play in LA. And Game 3 was basically the same, with the Mavericks out-scoring the Lakers 32-20 in the fourth to win by 6.
(By the way, looking at these box scores—did you know Dirk had a stretch of 9 games, in the playoffs, from the last game of the Portland series to the first game of the Miami series) where he shot under 50% once and over 60% 4 times? And averaged 57%? Man, I hope that guy has a good offseason—like to have THAT Dirk back. Anyhow)
The truth is, you just don’t know. Just because two teams are roughly evenly matched doesn’t mean a series is going 7---it could go 4. 5 or 6, obviously, are even more likely. You’re always going to have a random Serge Ibaka game, or Derek Fisher game, or Kawhi Leonard game. Heck, you’re sometimes going to have a random Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic go 15/16 from three game. These things are not predictable, and they are not controllable.
And we don’t know if the Thunder are going to take this series because "Russell Westbrook learned to play team basketball", because "Kevin Durant developed into a closer" or if they aren’t because, with all of that, the Thunder still needed 50 from Ibaka, Perkins and Collison to win by 6.
And that, my friends, is why we watch.
I hope you’re enjoying this series, I think it’s terrific. And one thing I can boldly predict is that there will be at least two more games.