On the calendar of Oklahoma sports history, Wednesday is a significant anniversary.
June 12, 2012: At Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, the Thunder defeated the Miami Heat 105-94 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
As we left the gym that night, I and about 18,000 other people had the strong belief that OKC would win that series.
After seeing an injured Kevin Durant being helped from the floor on Monday – during Golden State’s Game 5 Finals victory at Toronto – I tapped the Tulsa World archives and revisited the 2012 Finals.
The 2011-12 Thunder was driven by a 23-year-old Durant, a 23-year-old Russell Westbrook, a 22-year-old James Harden and a 22-year-old Serge Ibaka.
In 46 Game 1 minutes against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat, Durant totaled 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting. He had eight rebounds and committed only two turnovers.
Westbrook scored 27 points and finished two rebounds shy of a triple-double. He also had only two turnovers.
While Ibaka contributed 10 points and six rebounds – and while Nick Collison grabbed 10 rebounds – Harden had a quiet Game 1: the 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year had five points on 2-of-6 shooting.
For the Heat, James, Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 59 points. An important stat: OKC had a 52-38 advantage in rebounds.
If any one period stands as the excitement zenith of the Thunder’s Oklahoma run, it would have been the 45 hours that separated the end of Game 1 and the start of Game 2. There was the very real possibility that the state of Oklahoma would celebrate an NBA title.
For Game 2 on June 14, 2012, Chesapeake Arena was striped. There were blue T-shirt sections and white T-shirt sections.
Entering the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City trailed by 11 points. After the Thunder forced a Wade turnover, Durant converted on a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left. The reaction from ABC’s Mike Breen: "Bang!" The OKC deficit was two points.
James missed on a 3-point attempt. Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha rebounded. After a timeout, Durant tried a baseline shot. James bumped Durant with a forearm. No foul call. As Westbrook fought for the rebound, his wrist appeared to be chopped by James. No foul call.
With seven seconds left, James got the rebound and was intentionally fouled by Westbrook. James was good on two free throws. Miami won 100-96.
The Heat prevailed in the next three games – all played in Miami – and wound up with a four-games-to-one triumph.
In 2014 and 2016, Oklahoma City advanced to the Western Conference finals but couldn’t get back to the Finals.
In 2016, even after having led three-games-to-one over a Golden State team that recorded a league-record total of 73 regular-season victories, Oklahoma City was denied a second run to the Finals.
In Game 6 in OKC, with a chance to finish the Warriors and advance to a Finals meeting with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Thunder led by seven points with 5½ minutes left.
Because of the lights-out shooting of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, who were a combined 17-of-31 on 3-pointers, the Warriors rallied for a 108-101 victory. During the fourth quarter that night, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 3-of-14 shooting with six turnovers.
That game was Durant’s final game in aThunder uniform.
Two days later, in Game 7 played in Oakland, California, the Thunder was beaten 96-88.
Thirty-five days later, Durant announced that he would sign with Golden State. At the end of three seasons since, OKC has been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.