May 22, 2012, 2:10 AM EDT
The future is now.
It can be said that the Thunder have done nothing more than advanced to the same position they reached last season before falling to another team from Texas in the Western Conference Finals. But this doesn’t feel that way. The Thunder exorcised their Mavericks demons in the first round, then took out the team that bounced them from the playoffs in 2010 in the semifinals, dropping the Lakers in five games with a 106-90 win in Oklahoma City. The ghosts have been defeated, the Spurs, who the Thunder have not faced in the playoffs but who have vexed them in the regular season and who stand as the old guard complete with OKC’s general manager coming from the Spurs tree, are all that stands in their way of the Finals. The Thunder are taking care of business. They took care of business in Dallas with a chance to close out. They took care of business in Oklahoma City with a chance to finish Kobe Bryant‘s season.
They’re still kids. But they’re kids who have come with business on their mind and in their hearts, and their business is winning.
In Game 5, it was a back and forth aware. The Thunder seemed to have all the momentum, getting out and running, running, running the ball down the Lakers’ throat. But the Lakers responded by slowing the game down, and behind Kobe Bryant’s valiant 42-point effort, the Lakers hung. They were scrapping. They had a lead, even, in the third. There was a chance they could grab this game, hold it this time, get a win and take it back to L.A.. Just one more win to hold on to the season, to get control back just a bit, and hope the Thunder’s inexperience would break under pressure.
Instead? The rain came.
At 5:27 left in the third, the Lakers had a four-point lead. From there the Thunder outscored the Lakers 40-20. Russell Westbrook, the maligned co-star who often took heat for shooting too much and taking shots away from Kevin Durant? He scored 18 in that stretch. Westbrook did it all. Steals for breakaways. Pull-up jumpers in the key, driving attacks at the rim. Relentless, smooth, a cold blooded killer. You might even say Kobe-like. Durant chipped in 9 points, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison both had two offensive rebounds, and the Thunder put the Lakers on lockdown. It was over. No comebacks, no collapses. Just the better team being the better team, and cruising to a victory in front of that raucous crowd.
The Lakers turn to an uncertain futuRE> The Thunder turn to the Spurs. Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were the iconic team of NBA destiny, always one step ahead in terms of talent and execution. Now they’re just another team left in the rubble by the Oklahoma City Thunder. No more growing pains. No more maturation. No more kid games. This is business.
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