When: Friday, Feb. 27, 2009
Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
Who: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder forward
What: Sprained ankle
Why: Landed awkwardly coming down from a jumper midway through the first quarter
How the Thunder responded: With patience, resilience, and letting Durant know they are a good team without him and are capable of pulling off W’s.
When Durant went out of the game with 4:51 in the first quarter with a sprained ankle, and not due to return, the Thunder gathered themselves and knew they would not have their ace in the hole for the rest of the game.
From this point on, every member of the Thunder understood their role, and instead of relying on the go-to guy to keep them in the game, they knew they would have to step up their game a notch and help the team win. After all, these men wouldn’t be in the NBA if they were the best at what they did.
It would have been easy for the Thunder to give up. They saw their star player was missing for over three quarters of the game, and they could have easily thrown in the towel, had a negative mindset, and thought there would be no way for them to win the game.
But the Thunder responded with a sense of urgency. As so many games before, the Thunder kept the game close, only down by five at halftime. After taking a 12-point fourth quarter lead, not only did they see their lead disappear, they went down five points in the last minute of the game. With the heroics of Russell Westbrook, the Thunder forced the game into overtime, where they eventually lost by a mere two points.
Looking back, the Thunder: A) played without their future All-Star for the majority of the game, B) kept the game competitive throughout and forced overtime, and C) lost in a building where only the Mavs have only lost eight times all season. There is nothing more the team could have done. They played their best.
The next night at FedEx Forum in Memphis against the Grizzlies was a different story. The Thunder knew Durant would be out, and knew their mission, as always, was to win. Not only did the Thunder win, but they lead wire to wire, and the teams’ two emerging stars, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, went for 27 and 25, respectively. The Thunder also received a double-double from Thabo Sefolosha, who was recently acquired in a trade from Chicago.
The Thunder returned home on Monday, March 3, to face the same Mavericks team that defeated them just three days earlier. And again, just like a couple of nights before in Memphis, the Thunder led from bell to bell, and defeated the Mavs by nine points, despite the Thunder playing without Durant and Jeff Green, the team’s two leading scorers. Nenad Krstic led the team with 26 points, and Russell Westbrook added a triple-double (17/10/10).
While Durant still sits on the bench with crutches, the Thunder have learned how to play without their star player, responding with a 2-1 record in their last three games, and could have legitimately have won all three games.
The Thunder have grown as a team in the last three games while learning how to play without Durant. When one of the pieces is missing, the Thunder have put in satisfactory parts in order to keep the machine going and to get the team to their final end destination, which is a victory. The Thunder have shown they are capable of taking Plan B and turning it into Plan W, by earning back to back wins.
So, who is the mastermind behind the operations of getting the Thunder to play and win? Stay tuned, the answer will be revealed in the next article...