Caron Butler pumped on the wing, darted toward the lane and rocked in a one-hand highlight hammer dunk.
The Thunder crowd let out a collective roar. But it was preceded by a quick moment of confusion – a momentary silence indicating a general “Wait, what?” feeling.
“Caron’s dunk probably surprised 18,203 fans,” Scott Brooks joked. “As well as the staff and our players.”
But it fired them up, too.
Before the dunk – which came with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter – Memphis had outscored the Thunder 35-16 to start the second half, cutting a 22-point lead to three. After the slam, OKC closed the game on a 28-17 burst, putting away a pesky Grizzlies team, 100-86, for a Game 1 victory.
“It gave us a spark,” Brooks said. “At that point, we were bending a little bit. But we didn’t break. And I thought that was a great opportunity by him. He took it strong and he finished.”
"It felt good," Butler said. "I've been taking care of my body as a tribute to the training staff, got my body fat down. So that was big. It felt good to get up."
The dunk, though, wasn’t all that Butler did.
Throughout the night, he was a tough, steadying force in a frantic environment. He provided an on-court veteran calm that the Thunder envisioned when scooping him up off the free agency scrap heap in late February.
But since his arrival, he’s provided the kind of consistent production that only the biggest OKC optimists could have predicted.
In 22 games to end the regular season, he averaged nearly double-digits and shot 44 percent from three. On Saturday, he chipped in with nine important points and five rebounds, coming through in big moments.
“His minutes were good,” Brooks said. “He’s a very good basketball player. Sam (Presti) did a great job picking him up and putting us in this position to have him.”
The greatest indication of Butler’s on-court impact, though, came in the plus/minus column, where he was a game-high plus-18.
With Butler on the court, the Thunder were dominant. And that's why he continues to get a starter’s share of the minutes. He played 31 on Saturday, the fourth-most on the team and 20 more than starting forward Thabo Sefolosha.
And it’s hard to argue with Brooks’ use of the Thunder’s newest contributor. He’s been playing that well.