Scott Brooks didn't see the shot, but he heard the reaction.
The roar told him all he needed to know.
“It happened again,” the Thunder coach thought.
It sure did.
Sunday night, another Thunder fan hit another half-court shot to win $20,000. Larry Hill, a counselor at Britton Elementary School in Oklahoma City, became the third fan this season to win the MidFirst Bank Shot Contest, and just like the first couple times, it sent a charge through the arena.
Through the team, too.
Lest you suspect players and coaches are robots who would be unaffected by a fan contest, think again. Even though they were huddled up doing whatever they do when they huddle up before the start of the fourth quarter, they couldn't help but notice.
“You have to when the crowd goes nuts,” Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook said.
The cheer was deafening when Hill's shot found the bottom of the net. What's more, the buzz kept going as an already amped playoff crowd went to another level.
The Thunder rode that wave, too.
Already leading by 23 points heading into the fourth quarter, the boys in blue scored seven unanswered points in less than 90 seconds. Kevin Durant threw down a dunk and was fouled, Kevin Martin nailed a pullup jumper, and Nick Collison made a layup.
Just like that, the Thunder lead was 30 points.
Did the half-court shot help?
Sure didn't hurt.
“It gives us a lift,” Westbrook said.
You can see it in the players' reactions.
On March 24 when Justin Dougherty hit the half-court shot, Durant became part of the celebration. Dougherty happened to notice the Thunder superstar watching him, and he motioned to Durant to come out on the floor.
Durant ran to midcourt and playfully tackled Dougherty.
Sunday night after Hill's shot, he made a beeline for the Thunder bench, where the team was huddling. He got a high five and a hug from Thabo Sefolosha.
Half-court mania isn't a new phenomenon. Brooks remembers getting a charge when fans won the half-court shot contest during his playing days in Philadelphia.
“I don't even remember what the giveaway was,” the coach said. “Probably Tastykakes.”
“But always as a player, you're excited about the fans participating and being involved.”
Hill never imagined he'd be part of Sunday night's game like he was.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Far from it.”
But when he and girlfriend, Niki Wright, arrived at The Peake for the game, they were approached by a member of the Storm Chasers, the Thunder's fan squad.
“Have you ever played basketball?” the Storm Chaser asked.
Hill played at Douglass High School.
“How would you guys like to be in a free-throw contest?” the Storm Chaser asked.
That's how contestants are pegged for the shot contest. There is no application table. There is no official process.
“It's just us being on the lookout for the right people,” Thunder spokesman Dan Mahoney said.
So, what makes for good contestants?
Mahoney said that they need to look like they'll have fun with the contest and like they could make the half-court shot.
Hey, the franchise knows what a boost it is to the building when someone hits that shot.
Hill discovered as much Sunday night.
“It was the best feeling you've ever had but 10 times better,” he said. “It was like a euphoric feeling. I just felt great. I couldn't believe it, but at the same time, I was like, ‘I just did it.'”
Crazy but true, Hill was attending his first NBA game on Sunday.
Not a bad intro, huh?
Get selected for an on-court contest, hit a half-court shot, win $20,000 and in some small way, help spur the Thunder to a convincing playoff win.
“If I did (help), power to the team,” Hill said. “I'm a team player.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.