There’s nothing in the world like a game 7. All of the sports cliches come along with it. Win or go home. Leave it all on the floor.
Every single drop of Golden State Warrior and Oklahoma City Thunder sweat, every drip of blood, every tear ever shed culminated to this game where only one team could advance and face the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After clawing and scratching their way back into the series after two consecutive blowouts in games 3 and 4 and a disappointing Game 1 loss, the Warriors made history for the umpteenth time this season. For the first time since the Boston Celtics in 1981, a defending champion came back from being down 3-1 in the conference finals.
But, honestly, shouldn’t this have been our expectation the entire time? Winning three straight games and taking one in Oklahoma City seemed impossible after the earlier waxing the Thunder put on earlier in this series, but this is a team that won the most games in league history. Winning three straight is something they’ve done all season long.
Kevin Durant said it himself. In games 6 and 7, after taking early leads against the Warriors in both games, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson hit shots they weren’t hitting earlier in the series. And that was the biggest change from game to game.
“We beat them from everywhere else, but they beat us from the three point line,” Durant, who scored 27 points in the loss, said. “It sucks to lose. It sucks.”
It does suck to lose and, really, against any other team, the Thunder wouldn’t have. Both of these teams deserve to play for a championship and both teams are very well capable of handling the Cleveland Cavaliers. But only one could do it.
And if you didn’t believe it before, the Thunder made sure you did by halftime. They had a 13-point lead in the first half of this game, killed the Warriors on the glass for tons of extra possessions and took a 48-42 lead into halftime with an impossible shot from Stephen Curry to inch the Warriors just a bit closer.
But the Thunder were the better team at the half. They were a better team for a majority of the series and they could have been in Cleveland preparing to face the Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon instead of preparing for the game of their lives on Monday.
But history has a way of consistently writing the most pristine stories with amazing finishes. This instance is no different with a champion standing on top in triumph after facing its biggest challenge yet.
This was foreign territory for the Warriors. After winning 73 games and facing little to no adversity throughout the season, a 3-1 deficit is something that teams rarely come back from. But the Warriors never stopped believing in themselves and that belief manifested itself on the floor and into three straight wins.
Draymond Green, who had an up and down series, to say the least, filled with drama on and off the court, said there were little moments throughout the season that prepared the Warriors for adverse moments. But nothing compares to being on the brink of elimination for three straight games. As brash and confident as Green is, even he admitted it.
But, strangely enough, after a blowout loss in game 4, Green said the moment where the Warriors had their epiphany.
“It took a great, tremendous amount of effort and fight to overcome it. But, like I said after game 4, if anyone can overcome it it’s this group. Once we figure something out, we can get it rolling,” Green said at the podium after the Warriors’ game 7 win.
A splash of Andrew Bogut minutes here, a mystical 41-point performance from Klay Thompson there, and a 36-point Game 7 cherry on top from Curry and voila. The Warriors are back in the NBA Finals.
And despite them losing the series, the Thunder are winners here too. Their team could potentially look a lot different next year with a huge free agency decision from Durant looming in the horizon. But is there a team that you’d rather play for, at this point, if you’re Durant?
Going back East is fine and well, but there is no Russell Westbrook waiting for you. LeBron James and the Cavaliers, while not as formidable as Golden State, still present a challenge. Joining the Warriors makes sense, but where is the fun in that? Especially after you’ve pushed them to the brink of rendering their historical 73-win regular season meaningless.
Immediately after the loss, Durant had nothing to say about his upcoming decision. But you can rest assured his team’s performance in these playoffs will be taken into account. Whether the reflection is good or bad remains to be seen, but the future is bright for the Thunder.
It isn’t fair that these two teams had to play each other for a measly conference title. This series was worthy of the Larry O’Brien trophy. Sure, there were three blowouts. But there were strategic shifts, epic scoring performances, masterful defensive stretches and peak performances all around.
This series is up there with the 2006 Western Conference Finals between the Dallas Mavericks and the immortal San Antonio Spurs. This was as good as Michael Jordan’s closing chapter against the Utah Jazz in 1998. This tops last year’s Los Angeles Clippers and Spurs series. This is one of those moments where you’ll look back in 20 years and say “Wow, I still can’t believe they pulled that off.”
This new era of basketball is just warming up. The future is now and, as they say in Cleveland, we are all witnesses.