Small-Market Upstarts 105, South Beach Supernovas 94.
Game 1 to the Thunder and the ungodly roar of Chesapeake Energy Arena, which combined to discombobulate Miami in the second half and banish the idea that Oklahoma City’s youth could not withstand the grit and perseverance of the Heat’s playoff experience.
Instead, in the middle of the Midwest, at the start of this high-octane showdown between the NBA MVP and the league’s leading scorer, something is clearly happening — the result of a tectonic shift that began at the start of this decade in, of course, Northern California.
Remember when Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and their offensively gifted teammates became the world’s stop-and-pop, church-league team, making the Kings’ jerseys the hottest seller in the NBA, handing so many big-market, beaucoup-TV-bucks franchises their lunch with a beautiful brand of basketball that focused on, of all things, moving the ball to the open man?
Yeah, well, meet the Sacramento Kings — the next millennium. Durant jackknifed his way through the lane, drew fouls, rained down three-point shots and poured in 36 points, leading the Thunder back from a double-digit deficit in the first half.
He outscored both LeBron and Dwyane Wade in the fourth quarter, 17-14, wearing for the moment the mantle of best player in the game proudly. Westbrook was equally flammable at times, finishing with 27 points and 10 assists. The entire Thunder offense in the second half should have come with a childproof cap.
The local whooped and hollered their way to a 1-0 series lead, repelling LeBron and Everybody’s Favorite Team to Root Against.
The underlying story: It’s actually now considered cool to play in Smallville. Elite players don’t need to call Miami, New York, L.A. or Boston their NBA home to validate their professional existence.
Aside from a bigger shoe contract in a bigger market, all the same amenities, the same fame and fortune, exist in the nooks and crannies of the country. Durant understood this when he signed an extension with the Thunder at the same time LeBron was leaving Cleveland to join forces with Wade and Chris Bosh.
But as the Thunder has kept up its ascension to the NBA pinnacle the past few years, it continued to affirm the notion that a boffo box-office team can sell in the sticks.