Game Notes: Heat at Thunder
Not a bad city to finish a long road trip.
by DeMarco Williams
Oklahoma City is the greatest place in America. Don’t knock yourself for not knowing that bit of American trivia. Before my wife and I made the halfway-across-the-country road trip from Atlanta to Oklahoma to visit her grandpa, I didn’t know it either.
How can I make such a declaration? Easy, OKC is the national headquarters for Sonic drive-in restaurants. For those unfamiliar, Sonic is the unofficial home of the slushee, sundae and shake. The place gets customers for its hot dogs, tater tots and onion rings too, but it’s most famous in the South for its cool treats. And in Oklahoma City, you can find the unmistakable yellow nearly everywhere—even three blocks down from the Thunder’s Ford Center. After tearing up some onion rings and a watermelon slushee, I made my way inside the building…
– The first thing you notice upon reaching the arena is that they take the name in the most literal fashion. I mean, there is a Ford dealership right outside. Like everywhere else in the country, the lot is full of cars and empty of potential buyers. Still, it’s kinda cool seeing one that close to the gym.
– The Ford Center has a more collegiate feel than any NBA facility I’ve ever been. That may have something to do with Oklahoma City being smack dab in the middle of Big 12 country (Norman, the home of the OU Sooners, is less than 15 minutes away). Then again, all the excitement could just be folks still ecstatic that a professional sports team thought enough of the place to relocate there.
– Some cover band, wearing generic referee uniforms, is inside the Center, playing Outkast’s “Hey Ya.” Yikes!
– There are a couple of those photo booths that allow you to take six or eight quick snaps of yourself. That’s different. Oh, and it’s free. The line is ridiculous.
– We make our way to our seats. The place is rockin’. Jeezy is blasting from the PA system. These Oklahomans know how to party… and they know how to pray, too. Right before tip, in fact, a revered goes to center court and has a prayer. The Ford Center’s lights are dimmed. Just about every head is bowed. It’s unreal. I’ve never seem a stadium-wide prayer at a pro sporting event. It’s the weirdest thing. As 80 percent of the gym says “Amen” in unison, my wife and I look at each other in disbelief.
– As we expect, Dwyane Wade gets sizeable applause when he’s introduced. Mario Chalmers, the former Kansas star, gets an even bigger reception. Hmm, wonder how many folks made the drive down from Lawrence? The man sitting next to us sure is a fan. He’s wearing a shirt that says “The Shot Heard Round the World: Kansas 75, Memphis 68,” commemorating Chalmers’ game-clinching OT shot to win the national title last season.
– The game starts. Thunder star Kevin Durant has on a t-shirt under his jersey. Of course, he’s the only one on the floor with one. He looks 17 years old and not a day older.
– Thunder fans stand from tip-off until the home team scores its first points. Thanks to Jeff Green, they aren’t on their feet long. Every time Green scores a bucket, by the way, they play the John Legend snippet, “Give me the green liiiiight.” It’s a good look… the first two or three times. But Green ends up with 22 points, so it grows a bit old.
– Wade’s got 8 points by the 8:00 mark in the 1st. He’s definitely here to set some kind of tone. This is the Heat’s seventh game on a 12-day road trip, but Dwyane looks hella fresh. He ends the first with 18. Might we be on the verge of something special?
– Thunder guard Russell Westbrook looks good. His game isn’t terribly flashy, but when it’s time to get to the hole or get the numbers-high pass out to KD or Green, Westbrook generally gets it done. That’s all you can ask of a rookie. End of the first, 31-27 Heat.
– I’m so caught up in Wade’s 18 that I barely notice that Durant has 11 after an early shot in the second. Man, if this kid ever ate a couple more biscuits at dinnertime and got some more strength, he’d be a REAL problem in this league.
– During one of the timeouts, OKC does this “Season Ticket Holder of the Game” promotion, where they acknowledge one of its faithful fans with their mug on the jumbotron, a shout-out in the program and a gift bag. Hey, like everywhere else, Thunder season tickets cost a fortune. Joy Heidebrecht deserves the recognition.
– The 45- or 50-point night I’m hoping from DWade reaches a serious roadblock when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra rests dude ‘til the 6:00 mark in the second. No. 3 doesn’t score his 21st point ‘til 49 seconds are left in the half.
– Green hits a circus 3 as time expires, sending the place into a tizzy, but the officials wave it off. It was the right call. 57-50, Miami.
– On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day eve, the Thunder periodically does tributes to the late civil rights advocate. During one, members of the team read an inspiring poem. During another, the screen flashes black pioneers in different fields. When Barack Obama comes up, a healthy round of applause fill the Ford Center.
– The 3rd quarter is pretty quiet… well, besides the guys to my left who are in the Kansas State shirts, trying to urge Coach Spoelstra to let their guy, Michael Beasley, get some more playing time. I told you OKC was in the heart of Big 12 country, right? Beaz finishes with 4 points and 4 boards in about 10 minutes of work.
– The Mid First Bank Shot Contest is a winner. The contestant gets three shots: one is a lay-up, the other is a free-throw and the last is a half-court heave. You get $50 for the first, $100 for the second and $500 for a half-court bank shot. If it swooshes, you walk home with $20,000. The guy airballs…
– Wade’s scoring tapers off tremendously this quarter. Yet, he does have one potential highlight where he works his way to the hoop, does this crazy 360 spin and finds center Jamaal Magloire for what should be an ESPN highlight. Magloire fumbles the ball out of bounds. 84-73, Heat.
– This is the NBA, so every team makes a run. Kevin Durant leads the Thunder’s 4th quarter assault. He hits 3s on two consecutive possessions, sending the Ford into full throttle. The kid’s got 30, t-shirt and all.
– But for every KD or Green point, there’s a 4th quarter answer from DWade. Had Dwyane gone hard in the two middle quarters like he did in the bookends, these game notes would read a lot different. Still, the NBA scoring leader finishes with 32 points and 10 assists. (Folks, please stop sleeping on the man’s passing skills!)
– While the ninth sellout of the year for the Thunder, the energetic home fans are sent home with another loss, the 34th of their inaugural season. Says Durant after the 104-94 defeat: “It’s just one of those games you look at the stat sheet and say, ‘I don’t know what happened.’ I think overall we played OK. We could have played a lot better. I think the one main thing I’d have to pinpoint is that they played harder than we did.”