Jun 7, 2012, 12:16 AM EST
Since the 1999 season, only three teams have represented the Western Conference in the NBA finals — the Dallas Mavericks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs.
In the first round of the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder crushed Dallas. In the second round they showed they were well ahead of the Lakers.
And on Wednesday night they proved they are ready to be champions. They showed they are the worthy continuation of that legacy.
The Thunder came back from 18 down, 15 at the half against a veteran and feisty Spurs team to win 107-99 and take the series 4-2. After the Spurs won 20 games in a row the Thunder picked up their play at both ends — their defense cut off dribble penetration and their offensive ball movement improved — and OKC swept the Spurs out of the playoffs in four straight. There was nothing Gregg Popovich or the Spurs could do about it — the Thunder were the better team.
The NBA finals will begin Tuesday in Oklahoma City (they had a better record than either team left in the Eastern Conference).
San Antonio did not go easily or quietly — they made adjustments to free up Tony Parker and get him penetrating again and the Spurs raced out to an early lead. Parker initiated his offense earlier and when he did wait for the high pick the player (Tim Duncan, usually) came from farther away off the baseline to make the Thunder bigs cover more ground. It worked. Parker had 17 points in the first quarter alone (he finished with 29) and the Spurs led by 18 at one point in the first quarter and 15 at the half.
We tend to think of these Spurs as young — Kevin Durant is just 23 and their core is all under 25 — but they have been through the playoff wars. And they used that youth and veteran skill to change the second half. Once again the long arms and fast legs of the Thunder seemed to be in the way of every Spurs player.
“We can’t have their legs, we can’t have their energy,” the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili said after the game in a televised press conference. “I can’t jump as high.”
The Thunder have grown up — they grew up in this series as their ball movement improved game to game. They withstood the Spurs storm in Game 5 and in this game you knew a second half run was coming.
Oklahoma City did it with defense — they are long and athletic and disrupt shots and passing lanes. They close out fast. They took away the Spurs easy looks. The Spurs shot 32 percent in the third and were outscored 14, they shot 33 percent in the third and were outscored by nine.
Durant led the charge with 14 of his 34 in the third quarter when the Spurs lead disappeared. But it was every Thunder player — Westbrook slashing through the lane, James Harden with a key wing three, Derek Fisher doing what he does in big games with a three from the corner. It was a team win.
Right now, the Thunder are playing better than either team out of the East. They have the athleticism to match the Heat, and Boston’s offense has not had to deal with this kind of length and athleticism. OKC has an amazing offense, a good defense, great young talent…
And they are not wide-eyed kids. They have paid their dues the past three years, learning how win, how to get here.
Right now the Thunder are poised to win the NBA title. It’s not that simple, but it’s theirs for the taking.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Dunk of the year by Johnson had Drummond throwing elbows.
Dec 20, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Rivers saw this coming just four games into the season.
Dec 20, 2014, 9:30 AM EST
Lin understands why Bryant always gets the ball in these situations, but admits he’d like to get some opportunities.
Dec 20, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
As the Thunder ended up winning by one, 104-103, this block ended up being very important.
Dec 20, 2014, 2:07 AM EST
Lillard needs to get mentioned with the game’s top point guards.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:49 AM EST
Young earned this one and will get to write a check to the league.
Dec 20, 2014, 12:02 AM EST
Former NBA player now trying to make his way as a fighter.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:50 PM EST
There are a whole host of reasons Rondo was traded; this is just the most convenient for Boston’s brass.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:40 PM EST
Nice gesture by the players.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:30 PM EST
…pretty smoothly somehow
Dec 19, 2014, 7:25 PM EST
Leonard was the Finals MVP for San Antonio last season.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:45 PM EST
Warriors coach has jokes
Dec 19, 2014, 6:35 PM EST
This is the smart move by the Thunder.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:59 PM EST
It’s kind of moot now, but it’s not a surprise.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:15 PM EST
Lakers star: ‘If the opportunity came up, then that’s the time to have that discussion’
Dec 19, 2014, 4:29 PM EST
Black-and-white version of Toronto’s new logo looks similar to Brooklyn’s
Dec 19, 2014, 3:44 PM EST
President wants to see more athletes take political stands
Dec 19, 2014, 2:56 PM EST
This gives the Rockets a little more depth on the wing with Harden and Ariza.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST
Thunder star sprained ankle against Warriors
Dec 19, 2014, 1:40 PM EST
Miller starting against Nets in first game back from concussion
- Clippers rip officials after being called for seven technical fouls in loss to Nuggets 5
- Jeremy Lin after Kobe misses at the buzzer: ‘I like game-winners too’ 17
- Damian Lillard drops career high 43, leads Blazers to 3OT win over Spurs (VIDEO) 6
- Kendrick Perkins: Rajon Rondo wanted out of Boston 7
- Report: Minnesota agrees to trade Corey Brewer to Houston 6
- Dallas moves into title contender status with addition of Rajon Rondo 42
- Kevin Durant turns ankle, leaves game not to return; X-rays negative. 4
- Report: Celtics ‘pretty pleased’ with return they got in trade for Rajon Rondo 31