The Oklahoma City Thunder stormed back from an 18 point first half deficit, 15 point halftime deficit, to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 107-99 to win the Western Conference Finals and advance to the NBA Finals. This is the first NBA Finals for the Thunder since relocating from Seattle in 2008. The last time the franchise was in the NBA Finals was in 1996.
In a big game, Kevin Durant was once again huge. He had 34 points on 9-17 shooting, 12-15 from the line, with 14 rebounds and 5 assists. Derek Fisher and James Harden hit big late threes to give the Thunder a 99-93 lead that they would never relinquish. Russell Westbrook had a good game as well with 25 points, 8 rebounds and five assists. Thabo Sefolosha’s defense on Tony Parker cannot be understated.
I’ve said Tony Parker was an MVP candidate this year and his play was indicative of the Spurs performance in this game. In the first half, Parker scored 21 pts on 8-14 shooting while adding 10 assists 2 steals. That performance, in part, had the Spurs up by 15 at the break. In the second half, Parker scored only 8 pts on 4-13 shooting while dishing out only 2 assists and recording 0 steals. The Thunder outscored the Spurs by 23 in the second half. You can’t blame Parker, alone, for the loss as this is a team game, but it is clear he was the Spurs best player and without him playing well, it was going to be extremely difficult for the Spurs to win and force a game seven, especially when Manu Ginobili no showed, scoring only 10 points on 4-12 shooting.
Lots of fun yet meaningless stats being thrown around about the Thunder’s path to the NBA Finals and potential championship win. To reach the finals, the Thunder went through three teams who represent the Western Conference Champions. In round one, the Thunder defeated the Dallas Mavericks who won two Western Conference titles in the last 13 years. In round two, the Thunder defeated the Los Angeles Lakers who have won seven Western Conference Championships in the past 13 years. Finally, the Thunder defeated the Spurs who have won four Western Conference crowns in the past 13 years. Sure, it sounds impressive and fun, but the player turnover on all three of those squads makes this stat a whole lot less impressive.
You can also do the same trick with NBA Champions. If the Thunder win the championship, they will have defeated eleven of the last thirteen NBA Champions on the way to this title. In that span, the Lakers have five championships, the Spurs have four, and the Mavericks have one. Both potential finals opponents for the Thunder, the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics, each have a title. Obviously, the Thunder cannot play both teams so that is where one title knocks off the list. The other title comes off the list since the Thunder will not go through the Detroit Pistons, the 2004 NBA Champions. Again, an absolutely meaningless stat, but it sounds fun and will be played up like crazy if the Thunder bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
During the Western Conference Finals trophy presentation, I could not help but get annoyed at seeing Thunder owner Clay Bennett. I still think the way he treated Seattle and the Supersonics fans was deplorable. I wish the good fans of Seattle could enjoy this moment as much as the fans in Oklahoma City, but I understand the wounds will never heal.
As the Thunder embarks on their trip to the NBA Finals, we are seeing the ushering in of a new best player in the NBA. I never felt the torch should have been passed from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James. It goes without saying that James is an amazing player, but his inability to close late and his lack of a clutch gene never allowed me to feel he was the best player in the league. He is a great frontrunner, but struggles under pressure. As Bryant has aged, though still playing at a remarkably high level considering the years and miles on his tires, it appears Durant is prepared to carry the torch into the future of the NBA. He is a great player and adds the clutch gene and late game heroics that James simply does not possess. James may develop these skills, but after so many years of failure, it is hard imagine he can ever fully erase the previous collapses and disappearing acts. The NBA now appears to belong to Kevin Durant. So far, Durant has been humble and does his talking on the court. He did not hold a decision conference, instead posting a tweet regarding his re-signing with the Thunder. He never guaranteed one championship, let alone seven, eight, or nine. The NBA can be proud of their new ambassador.