Commentary: Remember Annie’s message, not Chicken Little

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Kevin Durant dribbles toward the basket in a game against the Golden State Warriors. Durant missed 55 games due to injuries.
Russell Westbrook won the NBA scoring title this season after Kevin Durant was sidelined with injuries.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks came under heavy criticism for Oklahoma City's failure to make the playoffs, but received huge endorsements from Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

By Tim Farley

A 40-foot, last-second desperation shot by Anthony Davis has to be one of the plays the Oklahoma City Thunder will see as pivotal to their season.

It was that shot that gave the New Orleans Pelicans a 116-113 win, the season-series edge and ultimately a spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Granted, there were still 32 games left on the schedule at that point, but it could easily be considered one of the turning points in the season since OKC and the Pelicans were neck-and-neck at that time.

If Davis misses the shot and the game goes into OT, the Thunder could have walked out of that Sunday matchup with a victory and potentially a playoff berth.

Be that as it may, the reality is that one game and that one shot did not determine Oklahoma City’s fate. In fact, there was not one single game that cost the Thunder a playoff position. It was a culmination of injury after injury after injury. No ifs, ands or buts.

Take a look at the OKC schedule and you’ll see more than a dozen games that would have gone into the win column if Kevin Durant had been in the lineup. Instead, he missed 55 games but still averaged 25 points per contest.

With Durant on the sideline, the Thunder started 3-12. If he had been on the court, it’s likely Oklahoma City would have won most of those matchups. The Thunder lost five of those games by five or fewer points. Then, there was the loss to the lowly New York Knicks, a game that probably haunts the Thunder.

Yet, when all is said and done and the experts have their say, the bottom line is an injury-plagued team like Oklahoma City still had a chance at the playoffs. Head coach Scott Brooks and the players should be heralded for their effort this season.

At one point, Durant and Russell Westbrook were out of the lineup. At another point in the season, Oklahoma City had so many injuries the team had to request the league approve a roster exemption so the Thunder would have enough players.

Take away the best two players from any team in the league and it’s likely they would experience the same results as OKC. Take away Steph Curry and Klay Thompson from the Golden State Warriors and they’re not the No. 1 seed in the West. Place Chris Paul and Blake Griffin on the bench at the same time and the LA Clippers don’t make the playoffs. Even the Spurs would be hurt if Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard were injured and out of action at the same time.

When training camp opens in the fall, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and the rest of the Thunder team should be healthy and ready to contend for the NBA title once again. This season will be a distant memory as the Oklahoma City team and its fans look to the future. Learning from mistakes made this season is important, but you can’t dwell on the injuries. As Brooks said several times during the regular season, it’s part of the game. Unfortunately for the Thunder, injuries played too big a role.

When the 2015-2016 season rolls around, the story lines will change substantially. There’ll be a lot of talk about Durant’s contract and if he’ll stay in Oklahoma City. There’ll be talk about Brooks and whether he’ll be the Thunder coach the following year. Real basketball conversations may get the least amount of attention in the press and on social media.

But in the Thunder locker room, those topics will be off limits. Since coming to OKC, the Thunder coaches and players have consistently talked about playing for each other, getting better on a daily basis and working hard. That strategy paid off until this season when bad luck was the only luck OKC seemed to have.

This season was an anomaly for the Thunder, highly unusual and freakish with the number of injuries to key players. It was no one’s fault. Stuff happens. Fans should not resort to the Chicken Little battle cry. Rather, they should remember the theme song to the play “Annie.” Yes, the sun will come out tomorrow. Or if you’re going by the NBA clock, it’ll appear in about six months.

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