Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Oklahoma!

After making an NBA finals appearance in 2012, the Oklahoma City Thunder were right back at the top of the standings this season, owning the best record in the league at 26-7, as they rolled into the Verizon Center Monday night to take on the 5-28 Wizards, owners of the worst record.

Oklahoma City fans shopping in Chinatown sporting their Thunder apparel
The Wizards were coming off a disappointing finish in Miami against the Heat. After keeping it close until the last 6:58, Washington was run off the court 21-0 to end the game. Despite their struggles, the Wizards roster was bolstered for tonight's game Oklahoma City with the return of both guard A.J. Price, and forward Trevor Ariza from their respective injuries.
Thunder guard DeAndre Liggins goes one-on-one with center Hasheem Thabeet during pregame warm-ups 

Liggins drives to the basket, as Thunder guard Eric Maynor looks on

Maynor  practices with some ball handling drills




I arrived outside the Verizon Center administrative entrance customarily early, but decided to wait until around 4:45 to enter the arena. Instead of sitting idly in the lobby as I usually do, I took a little walk around the Chinatown area in D.C., in which the Verizon Center is located. It wasn't too long into my excursion that I realized how many Oklahoma City fans were going to be in attendance tonight, and it was a lot, maybe just as many as Wizards fans. Not only were the Thunder the best team in the league, but they also featured NBA superstar, and Suitland, MD native, Kevin Durant. In urban outfitters alone, I saw at least 6 Oklahoma fans. It was clear that most people were at this game to see the man some call "Durantula."

Upon entering the arena, I made my way down to the first level of seating, but stayed up by the top row of seats to not make myself seem too conspicuous, and get sent back to the concourse, as had happened a week ago when Dallas was in town. I wasn't able to see much more than Thunder center Hasheem Thabeet warming up with assistant coach Mark Bryant. None of Oklahoma's marquis players were on the court until several minutes before tip-off.

When I finally picked up my camera for work, I was greeted by my supervisor with donuts and coffee. He had told us he would buy us donuts if we all reached over 300 pictures the last game against Brooklyn, but I was still pleasantly surprised to get a game-time snack before embarking on my photographic mission for the evening.

I was able to get up to around 100 shots of mostly Oklahoma City fans before the game started, which set a good pace for the rest of the night. One of my favorite pictures was of this fan who had a shirt that read Oklahoma City with the Seattle Supersonics symbol on top. Interestingly, the last time the Wizards won a championship, back when they were still the Washington Bullets, was 1978 against the Seattle Sonics, who moved to Oklahoma City to become the Thunder at the conclusion of the 2008 season.

NBA legend Elvin Hayes, nicknamed the "Big E," was a part of the Wizards 1977-78 championship team.
Wes Unseld's retired number hangs from the rafters at the Verizon Center. 


The Larry O'Brien championship trophy from 1978 sits in a glass enclosure in the Verizon Center, surrounded by memorabilia and photos from the Bullets lone title season

1977-78 championship banner. Despite going to the finals in 1975, 78, and 79, the Bullets only earned one NBA title, defeating the Seattle Supersonics in 7 games.

By the end of the game, I was able to just barely crack 300 shots, ending with 301 fan photos for the night, and as I was dropping off my SLR camera to the office, I heard loud murmurs from the crowd, and stepped outside in the concourse to find the Wizards and Thunder all tied up at 99 with 12.2 seconds left. Immediately, I rushed to the nearest section to catch the finish. Everyone in the arena was standing. Bradley Beal had the ball in his hands, and with 5 seconds remaining started putting the moves on the much slower Thunder center Kendrick Perkins. Beal faked the shot, maintained his pivot foot and sank an off-balance 2-pointer from the top of the key with 0.3 seconds left on the clock. Beal's shot gave the Wizards a 101-99 lead, and turned out to be the game winner, giving D.C. fans something to cheer about, after being sedated on Sunday by the Redskins playoff loss to Seattle.

The Wizards were led by Beal and Martell Webster with 22 points apiece. Webster was heroic late in the game, converting a 4-point play with 1:43 remaining, to give Washington a 99-94 lead. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 29 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. Serge Ibaka had a great game, as well, contributing 26 points and 11 rebounds in a losing effort. Washington will have four days off, before hosting the Atlanta Hawks at the Verizon Center on Saturday.