The OKC Thunder had the Warriors right where they wanted them -- and they let it slip away. Remember, back in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, OKC had waltzed into GS's arena and beat them. It was only the third time all year -- including the playoffs -- the Warriors had suffered a defeat at home. Few saw it coming.
The Warriors would romp in Game 2 to even the series. Still, OKC had stolen home court advantage. The consensus at the time was GS would win at least one of the next two games in OKC and eventually prevail. But it didn't work out that way.
The Thunder would demolish the Warriors in both Games 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead. The almost unthinkable had happened. The defending champs, who had put up the best regular season record of all time -- were on the ropes facing elimination.
Game 5 back in the Bay area was a see-saw affair, but the Warriors were able to eke out a victory to close the gap to 3-2.
Yet they faced a daunting task. Going back to OKC for Game 6, where they'd been blown out the last two times. The vast majority of "experts" and hoop fans predicted the Thunder would finish them off. Likely even another blowout. After all, the Thunder had all the momentum on their side, their home crowd would be rocking, and they were feeling quite confident. And wasn't this the same team that had dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in the previous round and was playing lights out basketball? They had gotten on a roll and appeared unstoppable.
But true champions die hard indeed. They just keep plugging away and hope the challenger makes a mistake. The Thunder did.
The ever-lovable Charles Barkley probably summed it up best. When the pressure is at its highest, that's when you see what teams and players are made of. That came to pass in the 4th quarter of Game 6. OKC had led the contest throughout, by sometimes well into double digits, but the Warriors had one last run left in them. They would close the gap.
Certainly the pressure was all on GS. Win or go home, period. When the pressure REALLY ratcheted up in the fourth quarter of what had become a tight game -- the Thunder blinked.
According to the above-mentioned Chuckster, they had reverted back to their old ways of playing "hero ball". In essence, that translated into stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook forgetting they had three teammates on the floor and playing like they were back in a street game somewhere. Basically, they tried to be too spectacular by themselves -- and it backfired.
While the Warriors kept coming, it appeared the Thunder started choking when it mattered most. In the closing minutes, GS would have zero turnovers while OKC would cough up six -- including four by Westbrook.
The Thunder would wind up losing by seven. This, after once leading by thirteen. A twenty point turnaround on their home court. They had them -- and then they didn't in a close-out game to reach the NBA Finals. It had to be demoralizing for the OKC players and their fans to be so close -- only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
So now there will indeed be a deciding Game 7 back in Oakland on Monday night. Which team will be under the most pressure is a good question.
If the Warriors prevail -- and they'll be favored to do so -- OKC would have blown a 3-1 lead and the media will not be kind to them.
However, if the Thunder somehow manage to go into GS's Oracle and win yet ANOTHER game to move on, the media will chew up the Warriors. The best regular season record of all time, but they lost two games at home in the Conference finals?
One way or the other, one team is going to come under a lot of scrutiny and criticism in a couple days, while the other marches on to meet Lebron and Co. in the Finals. Put another way, though perhaps unfair, somebody's going to get raked over the proverbial coals as being a "failure", while the other will be considered as having "sucked it up" in crunch time. No pressure. Right.
But that's Monday.
Bring on the glorious Indy 500.