OAKLAND - Sensory overload. Yellow shirts. Flashing lights. Bernie Sanders and Danny Glover sitting side-by side and E-40 hanging out courtside. Pounding thunder sticks and a crowd ready to react.
The team with the cooler head prevailed. After falling behind 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals, the reigning NBA champion Golden State Warriors took the last three games of the series to advance to the NBA Finals for the second straight season.
With the season on the line, both the Warriors and Thunder turned to their best superstars to get it done. Stephen Curry came out firing and Kevin Durant was spectacular.
Curry was electric. He finished with a game-high 36 points, including 15 in the fourth as the Warriors pulled away for the 96-88 victory. He had a bounce in his step from the opening tip and once the shots began to fall, it was all but over.
Durant wasn’t the same player that hoisted up 31 shots in both Game 5 and Game 6. But he was every bit the star that he has been throughout his nine-year career.
While Klay Thompson started the game 0-of-7 before hitting four straight 3-balls to light up the Oracle Arena crowd in the second quarter, Durant patiently kept his team in the lead. When Curry started bombing fallaway 28-footers, Durant turned up his offensive effort to keep the Thunder close.
“I thought Kevin was great in the first half,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought his leadership, I thought his poise, I though his composure, I thought the way he passed the passed and shared the ball, I thought the way he was generating shots. They were running at him. He was getting guys wide open looks. We could have made a few more shots, but he really played the right way.”
Maybe that was his way of quieting the critics. Durant walked into the final frame with 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting. In a game of this magnitude, he played decoy for much of the night while OKC went with a balanced approach.
When the Thunder needed their best scorer, he hit the switch.
Triples. Fall away jumpers. Slashes to the rim. Durant finished the night with 27 points, 13 of those coming in the fourth. If this was his swan song in OKC, it was a spirited effort.
Durant dodged the questions about his future during postgame. He’s a free agent on July 1 and this very well could have been his last game in a Thunder uniform.
“I mean, we just lost like 30 minutes ago, so I haven’t thought about it,” Durant said of his future. “I’m just embracing my teammates and just reflecting on the season. I’ll think about that stuff. I don’t know when. But we just lost lost like an hour ago, 30 minutes ago, so I don’t know.”
Durant moved with the team from Seattle following the 2007-08 season. He’s spent his entire career as a member of this franchise and for the last eight seasons, he’s had Russell Westbrook as his wingman.
But the Thunder, who advanced to the NBA Finals in 2012, haven't been able to get back since. And there are no promises that the young Thunder roster will develop quickly enough to keep him in OKC.
For now, he played the role of a star. He said all the right things and he let the accomplishments of his team take center stage, instead of opening up a can of worms.
“When you sit down and look back at what happened throughout the season, you can be proud of not just the players, but everyone in the organization from top to the bottom. People that you guys don’t know or ever see contribute to what we bring on the court.
“That’s just pride, effort, passion for the game,” Durant continued. “Pure love for the game every single night, and that comes from just walking into our practice facility every single day and feeling those vibes and feeling that energy from everyone.”
Durant doesn’t sound like a player ready to jump at the first max offer that comes his way. It will be a deliberate decision that will not only shape the future of the Thunder, but potentially another team as well. He’s a franchise player in the truest sense and at 28-years-old, he has plenty of basketball left in the tank.
For the Thunder, there is no shame in losing to the Warriors. Golden State is the defending champion. They won 73 games in the regular season and they are packed with All-Star players.
Has Durant taken the Thunder as far as they can go? Is there enough room for development from young players like Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters, Steven Adams and Enes Kanter to entice him to stay?
This is one of the league’s biggest question marks that has to be answered this summer. In the matter of a week’s time, Oklahoma has gone from a 3-1 advantage in the Western Conference Finals to elimination. And now they are forced to ponder the fate of their best player. Welcome to the high stakes game of the NBA.