JOSH DUBOW, AP Sports Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.
The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while Durant’s future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.
Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 on Monday night.
“We wanted to win the whole thing,” Durant said. “There’s no moral victories in our locker room after the game. We were all upset. We wanted to get a chance to play for a championship in the finals, so that hurts.”
Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain offseason with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent.
Durant said it was too soon to even think about what will happen in July.
“Unfortunately we didn’t come out on top,” Durant said. “That’s something that all the guys are upset about. But we laid it all out there. Everybody left their soul out on the court. We have no regrets.”
If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant’s tenure was when they lost the NBA Finals in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.
They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to San Antonio before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.
But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67-win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.
But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home on Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108-101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.
“There was an opportunity for us to close the series out in 5 and 6 and 7 and we came up a little short,” Donovan said. “But I don’t know if that tells the story of the full seven games if you look at the entirety.”
The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of 3-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 3-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.
“They beat us in the 3-point line the last two games,” Durant said. “We beat them everywhere else, they beat us from the 3-point line and that was the series.”
Oklahoma City’s stars were no match. Russell Westbrook missed 14 of 21 from the field and shot just 36.8 percent in the three potential clinchers. Durant finished with 27 points but took only 10 shots in the first three quarters.
Durant did score seven straight points to cut an 11-point deficit to four with 1:40 remaining. But Serge Ibaka then fouled Curry on a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, allowing Golden State to build the lead back to seven.
“That was the dagger for us,” Durant said. “That kind of hurt us.”
Durant then missed two shots and could only stare blankly when Curry ended Oklahoma City’s season with a 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Now the Thunder can only hope it doesn’t end Durant’s tenure in Oklahoma City as well.
“We just lost like 30 minutes ago,” Durant said. “I haven’t even thought about it. I’m just embracing my teammates and reflecting on the season.”
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