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The Unlikely Heroes Behind OKC’s Conference Finals Run

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Getty Images

Andre Roberson, the Body Snatcher

Danny Chau: It seems to be missing in the tape, but there was a specific moment when I realized the Thunder were going to take over this series. Again, I can’t seem to find it, but there was definitely an instant when Andre Roberson devoured Draymond Green whole, absorbed all of his abilities, and in his place, left a shell devoid of everything that made Draymond Draymond — like if Kirby was the main antagonist in Body Snatchers.

Roberson had a negative net rating against the Spurs in the second round, and was the only Thunder player who played meaningful minutes in Game 1 against the Warriors to record a negative plus-minus. He was left for dead after the first two games. Then, as the "opposition phenomenon" allowed humanity to stare up at Mars without the aid of telescopes, Roberson emerged as the new Draymond Green. He’s been dogged on rebounds, he’s been draining 3s, and he’s making reads and passes that he’s never made before. The man who had been known as an offensive nonentity finished with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting, 12 rebounds, three assists, five steals, and two blocks last night. Draymond Green was always going to be the player to swing the series, but it appears the idea of Draymond is now intellectual property in the Thunder’s possession.

Raynard Westbrook, the Prophet

Chris Ryan: With the Warriors on the brink of elimination, basketball fans are faced with the distinct possibility of an NBA Finals without the extended Curry family. No Ayesha and Sonya celebrating 3s in the stands; no Dell and Seth stoically looking on; and — bass drop — no Riley during postgame press conferences.

Dark times. A hero must rise, and that hero’s name is Raynard Westbrook, former University of Central Oklahoma football recruit, brother of Russell Westbrook, model of incredible Russell shirts, and great American basket celebrator. You may remember Ray from that time he called for Scott Brooks to be fired. Reckless? Sure. BUT WAS HE RIGHT?

Billy Donovan, Who Might Be Keyser Söze

Jason Concepcion: Is Billy Donovan Keyser Söze? Is it possible that the former Florida coach and two-time NCAA title winner is also the mysterious Turkish crime lord whose tentacles stretch unseen and insidious across land and sea to all corners of the globe? Could the lilting Long Island bleat of Donovan’s voice actually be an elaborate put-on? A detailed flourish to hide his true upbringing in streets and alleys and counting rooms on the coast of the Black Sea? During the regular season, the Thunder lost 14 games in which they had the lead going into the fourth quarter. Enes Kanter was playing significant minutes. Dion Waiters was shooting a malarial 39 percent from the field in the final three months of the season. Serge Ibaka moved through games like his heart pumped liquid Ambien. Andre Roberson was a liability. The world howled for more Cam Payne, for either Russell or Kevin Durant to be on the court at all times, and wondered why Kyle Singler existed at all as a person in the universe. Was that all a feigned limp? A tall tale about a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois?

With the Thunder now up 3–1 over the 73-win Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals, it’s a question worth asking.

Stephen Curry, Who Is Off

Chau: The gears inside Steph Curry’s god machine were exposed last night. His flick of the wrist was glitching. The constant pressure of having to evade the massive trees and branches of the Thunder brought him to moments of lapse once he actually got to the rim. One small inconvenience begets another, until it becomes an actual problem. Maybe it’s true that we only point to the lingering injuries on bad nights. Everyone is laboring around in the locker rooms this time of year. If anything, Curry’s struggles highlight how remarkable it was that he was able to maintain such a near-perfect season for so long. But his machinery is faltering, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. You wonder why the wear hasn’t caught on for Curry’s counterpart in Russell Westbrook, and then you remember Russ is pure kinetic energy encased in Teflon.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 25, 2016.