OKLAHOMA CITY -- The game had ended some two hours earlier. The San Antonio Spurs beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in overtime 112-107, advancing to a second straight Finals while ending Oklahoma City's season short of it. The postgame clean-up crews were scrubbing the arena, television reporters were doing their wrap-ups and the production team was packing up all the cords and cables.
But Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were still out on the floor. It was the last night they'd be on it for some hundred days until they are back in the fall, and they didn't want to leave it. Their season was over, their dream of a title put on hold for at least another year. They couldn't force a Game 7 and instead will watch with envy as the Spurs get to take on LeBron and the Heat.
The way it happened for the Thunder seemed kind of fitting. Only five players scored, with four players combining for 107 of their 112 total points. Durant and Westbrook combined for 65, but 14 turnovers as well. They were relentless and reckless, aggressive and audacious. They played to their identity to the end, overcoming themselves with sheer force, talent and athleticism, and were up two with 32 seconds left. Durant had given them the go-ahead bucket on a sweet finger roll, and they were a stop and a couple of free throws away from a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday night. They couldn't finish, though, as the Spurs got it to overtime and made the plays the Thunder didn't.
Those extra five minutes never went as planned for the Thunder, with Durant going scoreless on 0-of-3 shooting, and Westbrook with four points but on 1-of-7 shooting. Durant had a clean look from 3 with 16 seconds left to tie the game, but maybe without any legs left, he hit front iron. The Thunder fouled, and it started to wash over him in that moment. He clapped his hands together and looked toward the rafters. He wasn't going to be hanging anything up there this season.
"We fought as hard as we could all night," Durant said. "We left it all out there. They made plays down the stretch. We didn't."
As the league's MVP, the expectation for Durant was to respond, to lift his team to a higher place with it backed into a corner. He struggled at times while still flashing his brilliance. He turned the ball over five times in the third quarter alone but scored 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting in the fourth. It wasn't his best performance, or really anything close to it. He battled through a nasty roll in the second half and couldn't find the ball in overtime as Kawhi Leonard denied him.
The outside world is going to say it's a monumental failure, that the Thunder spoiled yet another chance, something they can't afford to be doing with the kind of preeminent talent they have. They disagree, though.
"They should [see the season as a success]," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "I know we still have a ways to go. We're not where we want to be, and our guys know that. Kevin and Russell, they should be proud. They've led us to places that we want to get to, and I'm proud of what they've done. I'm proud of who they are, and I'm sure our fans feel the same way."