If it were anyone other than the Dallas Mavericks — a team whose past playoff flameouts are legendary — the Western Conference championship series would be over today.
The word “devastating” is the only apt one for Monday night’s developments: Oklahoma City, at home, blew a 15-point lead with 5 minutes left and now find themselves down three games to one, teetering on the brink of losing, again, in the Western Conference Finals. They were poised to knot the series at 2–2, on the verge of overcoming what appears to be a postseason-long hierarchical rift between maybe the best player in the game, Kevin Durant, and the NBA’s fourth-best point guard, Russell Westbrook. It is almost comical watching Durant stand idly by while Westbrook fritters away the 24 second clock before vainly trying to thread the needle to Nick Collison, who is a smart player and a rugged defender, but who couldn’t finish a sentence, much less a lay-up, with Tyson Chandler on his back. James Harden has been saving the team on many nights, but now even he seems frozen out of the offense.
Okie State head coach Scott Brooks attempted to wrest the team back from Westbrook by benching him during the fourth quarter of a Game 3 victory. It was a move so courageous his nickname should be Braveheart. And, it should be noted, it resulted in a victory. Hint hint.
But Dirk Nowitzki, man. He has been so tough. And Jason Terry has hit about 300 treys from the corner. (I refuse to acknowledge J.J. Runt’s existence. His play irritates me.) They were aided, however, by Westbrook, who was back to his old tricks in Game 4: lazily defending switches, practicing his highlight-reel driving forays (unsuccessfully, I might add) and generally keeping his own offense so off-balance, it’s hard to see them threading the needle now, and winning three straight games. Especially since two are in Dallas, a team whose crowd actually seems to out-white Okie State crew of white-haired seniors. And yet … two of the games are in Dallas and that team knows from epic collapses. Whether they have one left in them is the question.
Rarely does Reggie Miller make as much sense as he did in the closing minutes of last night’s game: the Chicago Bulls were gassed. Their starters had played too many minutes and, heading into overtime they looked like Oscar de la Hoya in the 6th round versus Manny Pacquiao. Like, “Really? Another one?”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau admitted as much during a timeout when he exhorted them to “push through” their exhaustion. They couldn’t and didn’t. The team’s performance was miserable during the extra period — MVP Derrick Rose played as if he had a fork protruding from his head — and the players’ complete lack of energy gave LeBron James an opportunity to practice his funny faces and dance moves for when, if he has such an occasion in two weeks, he actually wins something significant, other than a high-school championship. His behavior, even while the game was still going on, was tasteless and crass and… the crowd loved it, at least when they managed to look up from their iPhones. Former NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant looks like a pillar of probity in comparison. (Let me know if I need to repeat that statement for emphasis.)
The Bulls looked so beaten after the final buzzer that, like the Thunder, it seems difficult to envision them winning three straight games. While two of those contests are at home, they are facing a team that won last night with Dwyane Wade hardly contributing. Unfortunately for Chicago, Wade, unlike LeBron, has actually won an NBA championship. And you get the feeling that he will shoulder the load in Game Six, leaving LeBron more time to scowl and taunt the crowd.
God help the Bulls.
Tony Gervino is a New York City-based editor and writer obsessed with honing his bio to make him sound quirky. He can also be found here.
Photo by Keith Allison.