Oklahoma City became an NBA city, a real, man-this-is-something NBA city, four years ago on a Saturday night against the Lakers. On this Saturday night against the Lakers, Oklahoma City became an NBA force.
Beating the Lakers is one thing. Making the Lakers give up the ghost is quite another, and that's just what the Thunder did Saturday night at the Ford Center. Phil Jackson pulled Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol after three quarters, and Scott Brooks did the same with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant as the Thunder rolled to a 110-89 victory to tie at two this seven-game Western Conference playoff series that was the talk of the NBA before Saturday night and will be all the rage now. Loud City? How about Rout City? This series is tied 2-2, and it's a lot closer to being 3-1 the Thunder's way than the Lakers'. The Thunder lost two close ones in Los Angeles and never came close to the woodshed the Lakers found themselves in Saturday night. The Thunder won without even Durant's A game. The Thunder won with Westbrook dominating the floor and the tempo. It won with Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison again foiling the step-stool superiority of Gasol and Andrew Bynum. It won with such muscle that many folks, and not just those in Bricktown taverns, are starting to believe the Thunder can produce an epic series upset. “This is as big a game as a game can be,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. Brooks said he sat on the bench thinking, “Wow, we're up on the Lakers by 29. You don't expect that. They are the defending champions with a lot of pride.” That pride was shattered Saturday night, though expect it to be repaired Tuesday night in LA. The Thunder still is climbing uphill; the Lakers still have homecourt advantage for a virtual three-game series. But the Thunder has young legs and soaring confidence. And maybe the karma from knowing the NBA is paying serious attention to a team whose future suddenly is now. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here,” Durant said. “Once we got here, I know people were saying we were going to be swept.” OK, OK. I picked a Laker sweep. So shoot me. Just do it after this series, because I don’t want to miss it. “We knew what we were capable of,” Durant said. “We’re playing every day hard and practice every day hard, and with those attributes, we can go far as a team.” In February 2006, the Lakers came to town for a memorable Saturday night showdown against the Hornets. Kobe scored 19 points in the first quarter, but Kirk Snyder made that poster dunk and Chris Paul made that dazzling spin-and-split move, and the Hornets won. We knew that night we never could let the NBA go. But this was even more spectacular.