Exactly one year ago today, the NBA was changed forever. Not in that instant. But in those that followed.
It was Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals. After leading 3-1 in the series, Oklahoma City dropped Game 5 at the Oracle. But that was no worry. They were back at home now. And they had two of the five best players in the NBA. Surely they’d close it out.
And as Game 6 unfolded, it looked like they would close it out. The Thunder were going to take down the 73-win Warriors in 6 games. They held a double digit lead for much of the first and second quarters, and held an 8-point lead by the end of the third.
Golden State was actually lucky to be this close. Their usually explosive offense wasn’t able to find many open looks. None at all, really. But one man was keeping them within striking distance with hero-ball 3’s: Klay Thompson.
Going into the 4th, I even doubted Klay’s ability to bail out the Warriors with more contested, (a lot of the time) fadeaway 3’s. But I was proven wrong that 4th quarter. He got even better.
The Thunder held a 6-8 point lead for the majority of the quarter, but you just felt that they should’ve put the game away. But Klay didn’t allow it. And eventually, Steph Curry got in the mix, and it was over for the Thunder, in Kevin Durant’s final game as an Oklahoma City player.
It’s ironic, actually. The player who’s been zoned out this postseason as his KD-led team rips through the West was the one who caused it all. In an alternate reality, if Klay Thompson doesn’t have the game of his life, the 2016 Finals matchup is a 2012 rematch between the Cavaliers and Thunder.
No matter who won, the NBA wouldn’t be what it is now.
If the Thunder had won, that means that Durant definitely stays. That should be obvious. He was beloved in the city (even after his Game 6 collapse), and would’ve just beaten his arch-rival for NBA supremacy. There’s no scenario that I can think of that results in KD leaving after winning.
If the Cavaliers had won, Durant still stays in most scenarios. The Thunder would’ve already proven that they were the best in the west, as the victory over Golden State would’ve been fairly comfortable. A move to Golden State comes with too many risks to sacrifice a west-winning Thunder team.
Even as Golden State went on to choke a 3-1 lead of their own, which played just as big a role to KD’s departure, it would’ve never happened in the first place had Klay not gone bananas. And the Warriors blown lead was because they were beaten top to bottom. It wasn’t as if the Cavs were getting bailed out by miracle shot after miracle shot. Games 5 and 6 were comfortable wins, Game 7 a hard fought one. I’ve never seen anything like what Klay Thompson did exactly one year ago today.
Let’s just picture what the NBA would be like had Klay had an average game on the night of May 28th, 2016. Kevin Durant is still a Thunder player. The Thunder may or may not be defending NBA champions. Steph Curry may or may not be the favorite to 3-peat as the MVP. And the Thunder and Warriors may or may not still be duking it out for Western Conference supremacy.