Could there have been a more perfect way for the darling Oklahoma City Thunder—an energetic bunch of youngsters who for years were described as “waiting their turn”—to make their first trip to the NBA Finals?
Since moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder have simply climbed the Western Conference ladder step by step. After missing the playoffs in 2009, they lost to the eventual champion Lakers in Round 1 in 2010 before falling to eventual champion Dallas in the Western Conference Finals in 2011. In 2012, they dominated the NBA’s last two champs in the Mavericks and Lakers, and have now dealt the league’s top-seeded Spurs, once winners of 20 straight, four consecutive losses en route to the NBA Finals.
Wednesday night marked the Thunder’s final exam, as Tony Parker and the rest of San Antonio’s offense erupted early and dropped Oklahoma City into an 18-point hole with a hostile Game 7 in San Antonio on the horizon. But like every test they’ve faced this postseason, the Thunder passed with flying colors, erasing the lead before the third quarter ended and pulling away late in the fourth thanks to swarming defense and impeccable shotmaking.
Even Gregg Popovich acknowledged the storybook feel to the Thunder’s playoff run, saying it was “almost like a Hollywood script.” He also pointed out that OKC’s three playoff victims of 2012 have combined to win 10 of the last 13 NBA Championships, and that the Thunder’s potential Finals opponents are each among the last 13 champions as well.
Can we say that the torch has officially been passed?
After toppling the three kings of the West in succession—no team outside of Los Angeles, San Antonio or Dallas has won the West since the Jazz in 1998—there’s no question that the Thunder are conference’s new rulers.
And as if it wasn’t enough to come from 18 down to beat possibly the best Spurs team of the Popovich era, the Thunder actually played like they’d been there before. Like they KNEW they were going to win. Like it was only a matter of time before the veteran Spurs would crack. Durant even admitted afterward that the team had never played a tougher game. And yet, OKC never let the pressure show, methodically running their offense and draining every open shot down the stretch.
We witnessed the Thunder growing up before our eyes Wednesday night, their once irrational confidence turning into a steely resolve. Of all the things that should worry the Thunder’s eventual Eastern Conference foe, this resolve may be the scariest. It seems unfair for a team that young and that talented to play “like they’ve been there before.”
Just imagine how they’ll play once they actually have been there before.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks