Oklahoma City's love affair with the Thunder

To this day, members of last year's Thunder roster struggle to explain how they felt after Game 6, when their magical season ended abruptly with a 95-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
By John Rohde, Staff Writer, jrohde@opubco.com Modified: October 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm •  Published: October 20, 2010
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To this day, members of last year's Thunder roster struggle to explain how they felt after Game 6, when their magical season ended abruptly with a 95-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Even more inexplicable is what happened roughly 30 seconds after the final horn sounded inside the Ford Center on April 30, 2010.

That night's dagger was in the hands of Lakers Spaniard Pau Gasol, who followed up a Kobe Bryant miss with 0.5 seconds remaining.

When Russell Westbrook's desperation heave from the right sideline missed the mark at the final buzzer, the Ford Center fell silent, except for the hollow sound of L.A. fans scattered in the stands and a group of relieved Lakers on the court.

Before exchanging pleasantries with the victors, the Thunder immediately huddled at midcourt. "Next season starts now," NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant told his teammates.

That's when goose bumps overwhelmed heartache.

Already on their feet and wearing the complimentary blue T-shirts that adorned each seat upon their arrival, the 31st sellout crowd of the season began to cheer. The noise quickly built to a crescendo, as if Westbrook's jumper from the corner actually had gone in and forced Game 7.

Thunder players couldn't believe their ears. They broke their huddle, turned around, raised their hands and gave a wave of thanks. Several players applauded the crowd.

It was a raw sports moment that couldn't possibly be choreographed — disappointment, followed by emotion, followed by gratitude — a sequence rarely experienced by any team whose season ends with a loss at home.

The 18,342 fans inside the Ford Center won't forget that moment, nor will a national audience on ESPN, nor will the Lakers.

Nor will the Thunder.

"I've never seen a response like that," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who played in the NBA for a decade and has coached for another. "That never happens. It was heartfelt and our guys appreciated it."

Brooks paused and searched for more words.

"That's, um... not common," Brooks said. "That's not common, but there are so many things we love about Oklahoma City. Our fans are so loyal to us. They had tough times early on (a 3-29 start in 2008-09), but hopefully those times are behind us."

Backup point guard Eric Maynor hails from North Carolina, the Bible Belt of college basketball, and still shakes his head at what he witnessed.

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