Blue flame

What’s wrong with Russell Westbrook at point guard?

Why can’t Scott Brooks properly design and coach end of game executions that don’t result in hoping hero ball working out?

When is Kevin Durant going to learn how to get space from defenders so he can be in a better position to score at the end of games?

Why is Serge Ibaka considered such a great defender if he just bites on pump fakes all day?

WHY WON’T KENDRICK PERKINS SMILE OR THABO SEFOLOSHA MAKE A JUMPER OR JAMES HARDEN SHAVE THAT BEARD OR DEREK FISHER RETIRE OR NICK COLLISON… well… okay, we actually love his plus/minus so Nick Collison is cool…

These are all of the things myself and thousands of bloggers, fans, and consumers of the Oklahoma City Thunder have questioned over the last two years. We were curious when it was all going to come together to fulfill our wildest yearnings for this team to grow up before our eyes and be great. We even wanted this before we knew about super teams. We love seeing young potential grow together, and with the Thunder it’s always been about young potential. 

The point guard came out of nowhere and became a wrecking ball as the lead guard. Sometimes he got out of control and ended up wrecking his own team, but most of the time he was right on target with whom he was intended to demolish. The small forward was a gift from the basketball gods. He was Dirk Nowitzki in a spry, wing player mold. He could hit seemingly impossible shots and was simply too long and agile for anybody to cover. The backup shooting guard was a bearded cauldron with the ingredients of everything you’d want with an offensive game. The problem was we wanted something microwavable. We wanted an instant meal like we were getting with Steph Curry and Tyreke Evans’ delectable attacks in their shared rookie season.

With Serge Ibaka, we saw a physical freak and wondered where he’d improve. He could soar through the building and attack rims on both sides of the floor. Would he develop a jumper to make him more than a lob weapon – a catapult of sorts? Could he develop a post game to help balance out the offense?

What about Scott Brooks and his first head-coaching job that made him figure out how to wrangle his team into the title dreams we wanted? Was he tough enough on his point guard that would take opponents a little too personally at times? Could he design an attack to make the small forward the Five Fingers of Death we hoped he’d morph into? Was everything going to come together?

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Children, arsonists, pyromaniacs, and even totally normal adults can be fascinated and drawn to blue flames. We all know the typical Draw Something version of fire in which you have red, orange and yellow split-tongues flicking heat into the air from any bonfire or campsite. But there’s something about seeing a blue flame glow that can captivate your attention. The reason a flame often glows blue instead of yellow is because there isn’t a presence of soot. Soot can often come from burning organic matter that doesn’t completely burn up. It’s impure and gets in the way of gas molecules (or any flammable substance/element) glowing from the process of burning.

Natural gas is something that burns blue. If you use a stove with natural glass and ignite the burner, you’ll see a blue flame reaching up to heat your pots and pans. While it can appear to be extremely dangerous (you know… because fire is hot), natural gas is often controlled. When something is controlled and used responsibly, it’s hard for it to get out of hand – unless there’s a gas leak present.

A natural gas leak is a scary thing because you rarely know it’s coming. Most people can smell the leak and repair the source, and in those cases it’s quite manageable. But what if the leak has been occurring over time while you’re away from your home? What if over time, the leak has been spreading throughout a home or establishment and the littlest spark sends the place up in flames?

During the building process and the growth of the Thunder, we’ve been watching a gas leak happen before our eyes. We’ve been waiting to watch them glow so hot that the flame is blue, without any traces impurities or gunk to keep that fire less satisfying. We’ve seen our expectations of Russell Westbrook, poor play calling from Scott Brooks, a lack of separation between Kevin Durant from his defender and many other things act as the soot that kept their flame yellow.

It didn’t mean they weren’t successful and it didn’t mean that they couldn’t become what we desired them to be. It just wasn’t completely captivating.

In the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the Thunder-Spurs series, we finally saw their fire in a completely pure form. Mired by a horrible scoring and shooting game, Westbrook willingly deferred to Kevin Durant, not taking a single shot attempt. We saw OKC adjust the way they were using Durant. They had Westbrook giving the ball up to Harden and then setting a pin down screen to free up Durant around the free throw line. Durant wasn’t catching the ball out at 30 feet anymore and hoping to rock and fire. He was fighting for his space, getting it, and turning a great play call and adjustment by Brooks into an unstoppable swarm of points.

All in all, he made six straight shots and we saw the Thunder burn as brightly as we’ve ever seen. There was no soot mucking up the color of this flame. There was no Westbrook shot selection or Brooks’ poor play calling or Durant weakness. There was only a bright blue flame burning through Chesapeake Energy Arena.

It doesn’t mean this is how things go from now on. We’re not only going to see the blue flame of the OKC attack. Popovich and his Spurs will be back at home tonight and we’re going to see adjustments. It might even put out the Thunder’s fire entirely for an evening or two.

But for a moment, we got to be captivated by the blue flame. Six straight shots by Kevin Durant made entirely possible by the team effort and the potential coming together in its purest, natural form.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

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