Most Memorable Games from the OKC Thunder's 2012-13 Season
Though the full attention for the Oklahoma City Thunder and their fans is now on playoff basketball, it's safe to say that the regular season was the best in years.
With a 60-22 record, sometimes it's hard to pick out memorable games. The contests we remember are often underdog/Cinderella stories where a team overcomes a large deficit of talent or points to finish on top.
For the Thunder, though, they were carrying heavy expectations. These expectations were that every game is a winnable game and that there were no moral victories in a season following OKC's trip to the NBA Finals.
Knowing this, Oklahoma City performed well, especially considering the major roster shakeup it went through before the season started.
There were contests, however, that are worth recalling. Whether it's a close finish, making a statement or another underlying storyline, these select games were memorable for OKC.
11/28/12: Houston Rockets @ Oklahoma City Thunder
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It was a big deal when James Harden left Oklahoma City, and it was a really big deal when he came back.
The Thunder were forced to deal their budding star sixth man just before the start of the regular season in a blockbuster trade with the Rockets.
With this game just about a month into the season, the emotional wounds still were fresh for Oklahoma City fans, but they warmly welcomed Harden back with mostly cheers.
The game was still a bit surreal, seeing Harden in opposing colors and hearing his name called by the Thunder's PA announcer with little to no enthusiasm.
What was most important about this contest, though, was how powerfully Oklahoma City came out of the gates for the first half, taking a 12-point lead into halftime. This was a matter of the Thunder emerging and playing well against one of their former cornerstone players to show him what he's missing in Houston.
The Thunder eventually ran away with the game and won 120-98, finally fulfilling the emotional closure involved with the Harden saga and completing his metamorphosis from ally to enemy.
11/6/12: Toronto Raptors @ Oklahoma City Thunder
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When compiling a list of most memorable games for OKC this season, most people would easily skip past this one.
It's understandable because it was a standard Thunder 108-88 victory at home against a bad Raptors team, but this game carried a lot more significance than that.
Entering this game, the Thunder were 1-2, dropping games to the San Antonio Spurs (thanks to a Tony Parker buzzer-beater) and the Atlanta Hawks. In other words, this wasn't exactly where the defending Western Conference champions wanted to be in a season where they were expected to dominate once more.
To make matters worse, a loss against the Raptors would have raised questions about the Harden trade. These questions could have eaten away at the Thunder, distracting their focus and dissolving team chemistry.
That's not what happened, though. What happened on this night was the Thunder played cohesively as a team, with everyone pitching in. Six players posted double digits in points and the entire team played outstanding defense to limit an already offensively deficient Raptors team.
This game was a spark for the Thunder to silence any doubt of Harden's absence. After the victory, the Thunder went 20-2, getting them well on track to their first 60-win season in Oklahoma City.
So while it wasn't memorable in terms of being an instant classic on the court, this OKC victory was part of something much larger and built momentum for the rest of the regular season.
1/18: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Dallas Mavericks
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For Kevin Durant, who had won three consecutive scoring titles, you'd think scoring 52 wouldn't be much of a milestone.
On the contrary, it was a big milestone for KD who took advantage of the extra five minutes of overtime to post a career-high for single-game scoring at 52.
This game pitted the Thunder (31-8 at the time) against a desperate Mavericks team that was looking to stay relevant. Despite the disparity in records (Dallas was just 17-23 coming in), this contest had a rather thrilling finish for the fourth quarter and overtime.
Durant hit two-game winners against the Mavs (including one in the Thunder's opening playoff game last season), and he put OKC ahead once more and for good in overtime for this one.
There wouldn't have been an overtime, though, if it weren't for the heroics of O.J. Mayo, who tied the game on a heavily contested three with just 2.3 seconds remaining.
With the opportunity in overtime, Durant finally eclipsed the 50-point mark to set a career-high with his 51st and 52nd points coming on a jumper to put the Thunder up for good with 16 seconds remaining.
This was a good win for Durant and Oklahoma City, who beat a determined Dallas team en route to one of KD's best games in his young career.
3/7: Oklahoma City Thunder @ New York Knicks
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This was definitely a memorable game for the Thunder, as it took place against a much-improved New York Knicks team (compared with last season) and on one of the biggest stages in sports: Madison Square Garden.
Though there wasn't the always fun matchup of elite scorers in Durant vs Carmelo Anthony for this particular contest, there was still a nice back and forth between KD and the Knicks' J.R. Smith. Durant, who went for 34 points along with eight rebounds and six assists, proved to be too much for the Knicks (led by Smith's 36 points) when he guided OKC to a decisive fourth-quarter run to seal the victory.
It was a solid, all-around game for KD, as he did a little bit of everything. His struggles from the field (9-20 shooting) were remedied by his 14-15 shooting at the foul line, which is where he put the Thunder up 95-94 with 1:16 left.
After several chances for Oklahoma City to ice the game and for the Knicks to tie or take the lead, neither team was able to convert on its opportunities and a missed Smith jumper at the buzzer left the score unchanged and clinched OKC's 45th victory.
This type of gritty win was a good postseason prepper for the Thunder, especially against a tough defensive team such as the Knicks. While it wasn't the prettiest win, it was memorable, not only for KD's individual performance, but also for how unusual the closing 76 seconds were with the Knicks being unable to retake the lead.
2/14: Miami Heat @ Oklahoma City Thunder
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There was definitely no love in the air for this Valentine's Day NBA Finals rematch.
After the Thunder were defeated in their first crack at the Heat on Christmas Day, they were hoping a little home-court advantage could swing the game in their favor.
This OKC team was hungry for revenge after Miami blew past it fairly easily last summer, winning the NBA championship in just five games.
Despite their best efforts, the Thunder got off to a slow start and trailed 32-17. Try as it might, Oklahoma City couldn't truly get back into this game even with Durant's 40-point performance.
This game was memorable because it left a bad taste. While it wasn't imperative that OKC beat the Heat in two relatively unimportant regular-season meetings, they were expected to compete on their own home floor.
As bad as this might seem for Oklahoma City's title chances, I can't help but think that dropping these two games might be beneficial. Should the Thunder reach the finals once more and encounter the dominant Heat, they would be faced with the underdog role, which is a role they could thrive in against a possibly overconfident team.
Right now, this last loss against Miami seems to be more forgettable than memorable. However, should the Thunder finally win Oklahoma City's first NBA championship, this game could be cited as a major motivation.