OGTW: Free Throw Contests, Overtime and an OKC Thunder Victory


What if you only had One Game To Watch? After years of following the Oklahoma City Thunder – hundreds of wins, buzzer-beating shots and historic moments – and you could only re-watch one game in Thunder history…which would it be? This week, our writers will answer that difficult question and relive some of their favorite memories. Their responses might surprise you. 

Kevin Love hit his sixth 3-pointer of the night, but this one hurt the Thunder more than the previous ones. After having a near double-digit lead for a large part of the fourth quarter, Love brought the Wolves all the way back and tied the game with one second left. This may have been the moment that I would remember as the reason that I will forever overrate Love, but in a game that witnessed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook score over 40 points, Love was the most unstoppable player on the court that night.

The reason I chose this particular game from March 23, 2012, to recap isn’t just because the Thunder and Timberwolves combined to score almost 300 points, or that Love, Durant and Westbrook combined for almost half of the total points, but because they did this while I was in attendance. 

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At the time, I lived in Lawrence, Kansas, and had to travel over four hours to get to a game. I’d always hoped that something spectacular would happen while I was in attendance, but spectacular things don’t usually happen otherwise they wouldn’t be labeled as spectacular.

This game was different, however, and it started early.

My wife and I always plan to go to one game a year with another couple, and were also joined by some college friends. We arrived at the arena plenty early to watch the teams warm up. Durant was going through his pre-game routine, Westbrook was as fierce as ever and Michael Beasley was working on his 40-foot floaters from the free throw line, despite not being active for the game due to a sprained big toe.

While we were watching the teams, a man asked my friend if he would like to participate in a free throw shooting contest after the third quarter. My friend was not the best free throw shooter in high school (as I reminded him often), so he politely declined. As the only other person around, the man then asked me if I would like to participate. I accepted.

The way the game started was indicative of how the rest of the game would go. Kevin Love had 13 points in the opening quarter and was a perfect 3-for-3 from long-range but the Thunder led after one quarter, 30-29.

At this point, I texted my friends in attendance, telling them to pay attention at the end of the third quarter – they had different seats than we did – without revealing exactly what was to happen.

The second quarter was much like the first. Love dominated anyone the Thunder tried to defend him with, but James Harden punished the Timberwolves to the tune of 14 points and two assists on only one missed shot. Harden was brilliant in the quarter, and at that point I thought Harden was the spectacular event I was going to witness in person.

The half-time entertainment in Oklahoma City is always interesting. There is the typical trampoline dunkers – which are fantastic to witness in person – the random magician the team seemingly had to find at the last minute or a Christian rock band because it’s Oklahoma. I don’t remember what the entertainment was on this particular night because something more important was happening.

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Before the start of the third quarter, I was to meet the man who asked me to shoot free throws in a designated area. After meeting him there, I was led to the court where I got to watch the entire third quarter. The Thunder were scoring at the basket directly over my head for a quarter, and what a quarter it was.

Westbrook had nine points on only six shots, Durant took over the quarter scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, had four rebounds and two assists including a breakaway dunk that I watched from just 10 feet away.

Do you see the guy in the middle of the screen with his hands up facing the crowd 26 seconds into the video? That’s me after I was told I was a little too close to the people that actually paid for the front row seats.

The end of the quarter was my time to shine. Our instructions were to make as many free throws as we could in 20 seconds, and whoever made more would have the opportunity to shoot a half-court shot for some amount of money, although that was the secondary prize.

Having a 6-foot-11 Durant run into my arms was going to be an awesome experience. Stepping on the court and knocking down a few free throws would be great, and witnessing a highly entertaining game from only feet away was great, but this was Kevin-freaking-Durant.

I choked.

I missed my first two free throws, got a little nervous and only made my final three free throws, while my opponent (as my friends informed me) was grabbing the balls off the rack and hurling them in the direction of the rim lucky enough for more than three of them to go in.

It did ease the pain a little to watch him curiously shoot a set shot from half court and miss by 20 feet, and I did get to walk close enough to Joe Crawford that I could have patted his bald head, although I refrained.

The rest of the game was fantastic. The Timberwolves outscored the OKC Thunder by six in the fourth quarter, capped off by Love’s three-pointer with one second on the clock. Love scored the first few points of the first overtime for the Wolves causing the friends that weren’t sitting with me to leave to watch Kansas play North Carolina State in the NCAA tournament (that’s right, willingly chose to watch college basketball over a live NBA game in overtime). What they missed was a vicious comeback by the Thunder, including another dominant quarter from Durant (whenever they bring up my free throw debacle, this is instantly by rebuttal).

The second overtime proved to be too much for the Wolves. Love was clearly exhausted from the first five periods of the game and could only muster one point to finish with 51 on the night. Westbrook dominated the last overtime hitting all four of his shots, and scored nine points in the five minutes.

The Thunder won 149-140, and I was there for all of it. If I hadn’t been a Thunder fan before that night, I would have converted after the experience. Nights like that are the reason basketball, and more specifically the Thunder, is so special and keeps us coming back for more. It doesn’t matter what happened last time because it’s an entirely new experience with every viewing.

This was the most memorable Thunder game I’ve ever been to, and I can’t express how excited I am to watch the team at full strength again soon.

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