NBA’s Rolling Thunder: Oklahoma City’s on a playoff mission


The Oklahoma City Thunder are on a playoff mission to make the NBA Playoffs

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If there was any doubt about the Oklahoma City Thunder making the monumental leap from ninth to eighth place in the Western Conference, and ultimately qualify for the NBA playoffs, it was surely quashed with their latest effort against the very fast Washington Wizards.

Washington, which usually attacks with bustling maneuvers on the break, and toward the hoop, seemed to pop a tire on the home stretch Wednesday night. The Thunder, by contrast, cruised for a while and then raced to the finish, mostly because its two chargers, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, play with the type of thrust that distinguished Michael Jordan from, well, everyone.

This is about the highest compliment one might be able to pay the duo, short of calling them Batman and Robin, which really isn’t something we should throw around frivolously.

But these two are very much like superheroes, bounding and swooping, as if the action within the basketball arena unfurls like the pages of a DC comic book, filled with ‘zaps’ and ‘kapows’ and the wild possibilities that come with that.

As the Thunder struggled to keep pace in the early periods, Westbrook and Durant kept fighting, fearless to the end, as only super-beings know how. And as desperate teams on the fringe of the NBA playoffs do, too.

By the time the fourth quarter arrived, they’d evened the score and the usually spellbinding Wizards looked bedazzled by the Thunder’s intensity. Oklahoma City’s stars raced beyond the wonderfully appropriate ‘DC’ logo painted at mid-court, a steely look about them as Washington’s men back-pedalled.

These are the moments big players lace up for, so you knew the likes of Paul Pierce wouldn’t let up either. He was tough down the stretch, but then, he’s tough out of the block as well.

The home crowd stood to chant ‘defense’ with 34 seconds left, and Durant sparked a play with such Spurs-like movement that, while watching at home, San Antonio coach Greg Popovich had to phone the Verizon Center to be sure he hadn’t missed a road game. The inside – outside passing sequence ended up in Westbrook’s hands and he laid it in. It was tied again.

These are also the types of games a prospective eighth seed truly must win. OKC’s defense held, keeping the dangerous John Wall at bay, and suddenly the Thunder gave itself a chance. It was on to overtime.

Apparently these new and much wiser seeming Wizards never lose when leading into the fourth period. I wondered if that applied to games forced into OT, but then the thought drifted, when, in the extra stanza, Durant practically dribbled through the entire Wizards team, elevated and flipped the ball up off the glass for two.

Westbrook followed the next trip down the floor with a similarly lofted score, and while those two plays simply held the teams even, a Thunder victory was palpable.

If there was any doubt of that, just go back and have a look at the ensuing play, which may become a definitive moment for this ball club in 2015. Durant shimmied left from the wing and dribbled across the interior, before hurling a dunk down over Marcin Gortat, as if he were a cardboard cutout. He probably wished he was: I mean the people behind the basket are still seeing the flash from that lightning bolt.

How could the Wizards possibly overcome such a run?

It’s not just the force and relentless of Durant and Westbrook that lifts this Thunder team, and which should carry them into the postseason, it’s the incredible supersonic speed, perhaps something they inherited in the move from Seattle.

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