For a team going nowhere except into the hearts of Oklahomans, the Thunder certainly needed a victory Sunday night. The NBA doesn’t exactly produce must-win games in November. This isn’t college football.
And it’s not like this death match against the T-Wolves will affect the playoff race. These Boomers won’t get within 20 games of the postseason. But after a dudsville opener against Milwaukee, a home loss to Minnesota would have made everyone — players, fans, Thundershirt vendors — wonder exactly who this team could beat. Iowa State and Texas Tech aren’t on the schedule. But then Russell Westbrook ignited a rally late in the third quarter, and Nick Collison made a left-handed shot that would make Phog Allen proud, and Minnesota’s Ryan Gomes missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Oklahoma City had its first NBA win under the Thunder flag, 88-85. Two emotions erupted. Celebration in the Ford Center. "Feels like an NBA Finals in here,” said one fan, who before the game predicted an 18-win season. Relief. One big sigh of relief. "Everybody wanted to win this game bad,” said Chris Wilcox. "It was a home game. This is a team we were supposed to beat.” I know, I know. Players aren’t supposed to talk like that. But they’re as clued in as the rest of us. You circle Minnesota at the Thunderdome as a victory, and if you don’t get it, it’s opportunity lost. Lose this game, with the Celtics coming to town Wednesday, and you’re starting off el stinko. Heck, there for a while Sunday night, you didn’t wonder if the Thunder would ever win at the Ford Center.