So, Garth Brooks is from Oklahoma. Naturally a team christened with the name “Supersonics” would just have to go Chad Ochocinco on its history. Utah found a way to stick with the Jazz team name. That was not good enough for Oklahoma City.
Not when a Garth song would provide both a mascot while moving from Seattle, then years later a theme song for what might been seen as the franchise’s turning point in history.
Because “When the Thunder Rolls”, games like Game 5 happen to change everything.
Like this perception: 2012 might be OKC’s time after all. One week ago Oklahoma City and their just-over-23-years of age average of their starting lineup looked at least a year away.
Attitudes can change in a hurry when the Thunder rolls.
For instance, when the Thunder rolls, Oklahoma City can withstand all the wizardry Manu Ginobili slings from his left hand. And still win always pivotal Game 5 on the road, 108-103. OKC’s 3-2 Western Conference Finals series lead pushing the once-unbeatable Spurs one loss away from kick-starting summer vacation.
When the Thunder rolls, Daequan Cook can come in cold off the bench and drain 3 straight shots for 8 difference making points for OKC. In just two minutes of playing time. Meanwhile Gary Neal lost all his Game 1 mojo, going a perfect 6-for-6 on field goal misses. Difference making misses.
Kevin Durant can patiently wait to strike up his lethal offensive game, and OKC can still hold a eight point halftime lead when the Thunder rolls. KD didn’t wait for the final quarter to shift into closer mode. The Durantula began his Game 5 assault in the 3rd quarter, answering the Manu Mudslide of 3-point bombs that pushed the Spurs back on top. Not for long. KD instigating and initiating the 20-5 OKC run to end the third. Sealed with a buzzer beater that felt like a sledgehammer to the side of the Spurs’ collective heads.
You know what else happens when the Thunder rolls? A team known for not wilting under the playoff heat lamp melts at home for 21 turnovers. The rolling Thunder can turn that many miscues into 28 points while sleep walking.
When the Thunder rolls, the Spurs role players do a lot of rolling over. Besides Ginobili and Steven Jackson (who you know would kill to have another look at that missed runner late in the 4th), who else produced for the Spurs? Kawhi Leonard at times offensively, much more defending and with his 10 rebounds. Boris Diaw? Inconsistent. Matt Bonner? Dejuan Blair? Tiago Splitter?
Somebody stop me when I finally hit the hot hand in the supporting cast.
When the Thunder rolls, the best coach in the business is forced to do away with the mantra he started this playoff run with: Gregg Popovich said before the Jazz series that the Spurs would “go with what got us here.” Not anymore. It’s easy enough sticking with the 9-10 man rotation when everyone is making open shots. Once again, not anymore.
Pop going with Manu in the starting lineup did allow Ginobili to blow up for 34 points, but at what cost? The Spurs’ offensive sets became adventures in X’s and O’s. The Spurs once had a rock solid rotation where every player knew their role. Now in Game 5 SA instead subjected us all to periods of preseason ineptitude.
Then there’s the other big collateral damage of starting Manu: it’s like Pop takes a wrecking ball to the fading confidence of Danny Green. Charles Barkley said as much on the TNT pregame when the switch was announced. Unfortunately, Sir Chuck couldn’t have been more on target. Green was ineffective, unsure and borderline unplayable.
Then when the Thunder rolls, moments like the one James Harden was facing have to be met. The Beard’s hairy-tough, arcing, shot clock winding down, machete of a 3-point shot with 28 seconds left is the kind of snapshot where you frame the theme of the young team crashing the championship party. Leonard’s defense on Harden was as well as the Spurs could have wished for, and the NBA 6th Man of the Year still swished it home for the five point lead.
Then still, even despite all that, here stood the Spurs: 15 seconds left and the ball, down by three. Time for some more Manu Magic. Only this time his three point attempt rims out. One shot goes in. The other misses.
Harden doing to the Spurs what Ginobili has spent a career doing to other teams. Torches are passed down to younger generations that way.
Former Spur, and current TNT analyst Steve Kerr asked as much near the end, “Are we witnessing the passing of the torch in the Western Conference?” The thing is, it sure felt that way.
The Spurs messed with their starting lineup and their rotations. Manu mixed up another bag of tricks for an MVP-caliber performance. SA threw at them runs buoyed by the rumbling, White-Outed T-shirted AT&T Center home crowd. OKC even tried giving the Spurs a bucket of extra-life chances to get back in the game.
And OKC still won Game 5. That’s what happens when the Thunder rolls.