Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Close call a bad sign?

by Berry Tramel Modified: April 26, 2013 at 10:35 am •  Published: April 26, 2013

The Thunder’s close save with the Rockets — a 105-102 victory Wednesday night that gave OKC a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series — was a little close for comfort. The Thunder led by 15 points in the fourth quarter, then Houston went on a 21-2 and led 95-91 with 31/2 minutes left, before the Thunder rallied.

That’s against an overmatched, short-handed opponent, which is often the case in a series between a No. 1 seed and a No. 8 seed. So it got me to thinking. How often does an NBA Finalist have such a first-round game at home? Is it rare? Is the Thunder playing like that a sign that it’s not Finals-caliber.

To find something similar, I had to go all the way back to … 2012. The Thunder won the Western Conference last season despite opening the playoffs with not one but two survival games at home against seventh-seeded Dallas, which entered with a 36-30 record, a winning percentage of .545 that actually is slightly worse than Houston’s this season (.549).

Last season against Dallas, the Thunder opened with victories of 99-98 (Kevin Durant hit a game-winner) and 102-99 (Jason Terry missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer). And then the Thunder rolled. In 2011, the Thunder beat Denver 100-97 in Game 5 at Chesapeake Arena, after trailing 91-82 with 31/2 minutes left. Of course, that Thunder team didn’t win the West. It lost to Dallas in the West finals.

So I kept looking for other NBA Finalists who had a nail-biter at home in the first round. How about the 2010 Lakers, who in Game 2 against the Thunder survived 95-92?

And the 2009 Magic, which lost Game 1 at home to sixth-seeded Philadelphia 100-98 before winning the East.

There were no nail-biters in 2008, though the 66-win Celtics had to go seven games to dispatch Atlanta in the first round.

In 2007, the Spurs won the title, but they lost their playoff opener to the sixth-seeded Nuggets 95-89 in San Antonio.

In 2005, the Spurs won the title, but they, too, lost their playoff opener, this time to the seventh-seeded Nuggets 93-87 in San Antonio.

In 2004, the Lakers won the West but opened the playoffs with a 72-71 squeaker at home over seventh-seeded Houston. That same year, the third-seeded Pistons won the NBA title but lost Game 2 of their first-round series at home to Milwaukee 92-88.

In 2003, the Spurs won the NBA title but opened the playoffs with a 95-94 home loss to eight-seeded Phoenix. Go back and check out the Spurs. San Antonio won NBA titles in 2003, 2005 and 2007 — and lost their playoff opener all three times, despite being an overwhelming favorite.

That same 2003 season, the Spurs beat the Netropolitans for the title. New Jersey was a second-seed yet lost Game 2 of its opening series 88-85 to Milwaukee.

In 2002, the Nets made the NBA Finals — and lost their playoff opener as a No. 1 seed, 89-83 to Indiana.

In 2001, the 76ers made the NBA Finals — and lost their playoff opener 79-78 to eighth-seeded Indiana.

In 2000, the Pacers made the NBA Finals — and top-seeded Indiana survived Milwaukee 88-85 in Game 1 of their opening-round series and then lost Game 2 104-91.

So that just goes back to the turn of the century, and the playoffs are full of eventual NBA Finalists who had their opening-round struggles.

 

 

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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