With a city's backing, Thunder roll

Russell Westbrook

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Six blocks north of the arena where the Oklahoma City Thunder play and 12 hours before they started another promising playoff run, there was silence for 168 seconds on Saturday morning.

For the 19th time, the survivors and families of the 1995 bombing at the Murrah Federal Building marked the grim anniversary with a quiet second for each person killed. The most somber day on the calendar in Oklahoma coincided with the start of Oklahomans' beloved Thunder's postseason, an occasion that has quickly rated as a holiday.

The bombing and the Thunder: the two things that have come to be Oklahoma City as much as the churches and the buildings with the names of oil and gas companies on the sides. It might not seem logical or really germane when discussing the NBA playoffs, but they are intertwined, as many residents can explain and routinely show.

It's why the Thunder take every new player to the memorial as part of his orientation. It's why general manager Sam Presti, who has become a hero here just below the spots reserved for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, was among the families with flowers, letters and heartbreaking stuffed animals for the memorials of the 19 children who died in the day-care area on the second floor at 9:02 a.m. that day.

The unison of that heartbreak has carried over into the unison displayed at Thunder games. Both are part of the town's character. Their arena has the most energy of any in the league and has proven to be a reliable ally for the home team in the postseason. It was a factor in how the Memphis Grizzlies fell down 24 points by halftime -- as they were overwhelmed by the atmosphere at the game's start -- and it led to the Thunder's 100-86 Game 1 victory.

It's not that the Thunder are unbeatable at home -- the Grizzlies ended OKC's season on the same floor last May. The Grizzlies have it within their power to find a way to win this series, too, though they're certainly the underdog. But it was no real surprise the Thunder were the only high seed to defend its home court on the first day of the playoffs.

Beating the Thunder when Durant and Westbrook are fully engaged -- and they were in this one -- is a task. Playing against the Thunder in Oklahoma City in a playoff game on April 19 -- you're playing against more than the players in uniform.

"The crowd was unbelievable," said Caron Butler after playing in his first playoff game with the Thunder. "I can't even put it into words."

"They came out with so much force," said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who was coaching his first playoff game. "They ran downhill from the opening tip."

"They came out running," Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. "We were embarrassed in the first half, quite frankly. And that hurts."

At one point, the Grizzlies complained the music in the sound system was turned up too loud. It's not the first time such a complaint has been lodged, and perhaps it is true that the decibels were outside the acceptable range, but it just confirmed what was already clear: The Grizzlies had trouble dealing with that early stress, and it effectively cost them a game in the series.

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