By Jeffrey Newholm
In a best of seven series in sports, usually game seven gets the most attention, seeing as it in and of itself decides the series.
But oftentimes, it seems as if game six is the most memorable, whether it was the ’75 “Fisk waves it fair” World Series game, the epic St. Louis comeback in the ’11 series or Ray Allen’s last second shot in the ’13 NBA Finals.
Going into this year’s Western Conference Finals game six, it was clear that an unusual amount of intrigue was hanging on the Thunder-Warriors elimination game. The Warriors had set an NBA record with 73 wins, but if they were to lose another game they would go down in infamy as just the best team not to win the title.
As Patriots and Kentucky Wildcats fans can attest, such a postseason flop would turn the preceding success into a noose: it would just make coming up short that much more heartbreaking. The Thunder, on the other hand, were trying to achieve the biggest win in the history of the franchise since relocation to Oklahoma.
Yes, the team had made the finals before, but with the franchise’s foreseeable future riding on Kevin Durant’s free agency, a win could provide a very compelling reason for “KD” to stay put, while a loss could plant another seed of doubt into his head about his ability to win a title in OKC.
Yes, the Warriors had eked out a win at home in game five, but it didn’t seem to bode well considering both games in Oklahoma had been blowouts in favor of the home team. Game six seemed to be going the same way, with the Thunder racing out to a 13-point lead with four minutes to go in the first half.
But the lesser-hyped of the “Splash Brothers”, Klay Thompson, nailed three treys before halftime to cut the Thunders’ lead to five. Thompson’s marvelous three-point shooting kept the dubs in the game, but the Thunder still held a seven-point lead with just five minutes to go. For the hometown fans, the close out of a historic upset and triumphant and unexpected return to the Finals seemed tantalizingly close.
But two things put just a sliver of doubt into the game’s outcome. One was that the Thunder had a hard time finishing games in the last five minutes in 2015-2016, and the other was the dubs always seemed to have a knack of somehow, someway finding a way to steal a win even when all hope seemed lost.
Sure enough, the Warriors battled back to tie, and then-catastrophe.
Russell Westbrook lost control of the ball, and Thompson hit a transition three to give his team the lead. All the air came out of the Thunders’ sails as the team was shut out the rest of the game and only managed to get all of one shot off in the last 80 seconds. When the horn sounded, the Thunder fans filed out silently, knowing in their heart of hearts that this was the most devastating loss in their team’s history.
Yes, there was another game, but few thought the Thunder would perform well on the road after such an epic collapse. The Thunder managed to keep game seven close, but the winningest team ever found a way to pull it out, as they always inevitably have.
The Thunder and Warriors have a completely different outlook on life at the present moment. The Dubs regained their swagger and are strongly favored to win the title over the Cavs. Warriors fans could soon be dreaming of the prestigious NBA three-peat that made the Bulls and Lakers famous.
But for the Thunder, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the franchise.
The future of the team hangs in KD’s hands, and the fans know they are completely powerless to influence his decision. Game six restored the best of times for the mighty Warriors, but could soon spell the worst of times for the Thunder, who could always be left ruing the one that got away.