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Scott Howard-Cooper

The Ford Center crowd is unlike any around and has been pivotal in the Thunder's historic playoff run.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

OKC's sixth man pushes Thunder to Game 5

Posted Apr 25 2010 2:07AM

OKLAHOMA CITY ( exclusive) -- Just when the love affair between team and city couldn't get any better, just when the Ford Center couldn't get any louder, just when the season couldn't get any more improbable, along comes the electric Saturday night and the reminder there is no such thing as a ceiling on anything with the 2009-10 Thunder.

There may not be a ceiling to their arena either. The crowd noise, the one-sided energy of the Thunder running the Lakers out of Game 4 to tie the best-of-seven series, the madness of all that has gone amazingly right the last six months -- it has to at least be shaking down tiles.

This time, it was a 110-89 victory for Oklahoma City with the added imagery of playing in the clouds, the entire crowd having been given white T-shirts in a change from the royal blue of two nights earlier. Some background. The Lakers and a lot of white.

L.A. was somewhere in the rearview mirror, unable to impose the half-court game it desired and getting caught under the Thunder's wheels by a 24-2 margin in fast-break points. The best the Lakers could do was keep it close for 11 minutes. Then Oklahoma City turned dominating, dominating like never before in the latest bit of perfect timing in a season that previously had merely included going from 23 wins to 50, Scott Brooks going from interim coach to Coach of the Year, and the atmosphere going from thrilled just to have a team to believing anything is possible.

Anything is because the Thunder just went from 0-2 and clocking the rest of their season with a stopwatch to 2-2 to taking the momentum from the more-experienced defending champions and earning one more home game in the series. What remains is Tuesday in Los Angeles, Friday back here in the noise factory and, if necessary, May 2 at Staples Center. You'll want the ear-plug concession Friday or the aspirin concession Saturday morning.

Fun stuff. For actual impact, though, for the real perspective of what the two wins mean, there is the realization that the Thunder just took the city from what would have been one of its greatest sports days to a forever week. It's been nothing short of historic.

Monday was the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Building, a day of ceremonies at the beautiful memorial that now lives on the grounds and somber, deeply personal remembrances around the area. President Bill Clinton was in town Wednesday to receive an award and give a speech in conjunction with the memorial. The Thunder had played the first NBA postseason game in Oklahoma City on Thursday, the same night local product Sam Bradford went No. 1 in the NFL draft, local product Gerald McCoy went No. 3 and other Oklahoma and Oklahoma State players were picked in the first round. The young Thunder won with the fourth-quarter composure of a veteran club. An arts festival drew large crowds downtown. The Thunder scored a crushing victory Saturday to even the series. Hours later, around dawn Sunday morning, an estimated 22,000 participants were scheduled to line up for the 10th annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.

"Playing at home always gives you a lift, especially how intense it's been in this building," reserve big man Nick Collison said. "The crowd's been great. It definitely gives you a lift. We definitely needed it, especially in Game 3. It got us going. Now we're guaranteed to come back here for another game. We have fun playing at home. So it definitely was a big boost for us."

They have fun playing at home?


That's one way of looking at it. Another is that they just beat the Lakers three times in a row at the Ford Center, once near the end of the regular season and twice in the playoffs in the biggest games in years for the franchise that began as the Seattle SuperSonics, once with a heart-pounding finish and twice with early knockouts that were just as exhilarating.

Saturday, the lead was 13 points late in the first quarter, never less than 11 the rest of the way and peaked at 29 about midway through the final period. It was such a dominating performance that someone asked Brooks in the post-game press conference if he wished he could have saved some of the magic for another day.

"That didn't cross my mind," Brooks said. "The only thing that did cross my mind was, 'Wow. We're up on the Lakers by 29.' And a big part of me thought that."

Just when he thought it couldn't get better, there they were. Wow.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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