When the NBA Finals begin on June 12, it’ll be the first time since 1998 that a team not called the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers or San Antonio Spurs will represent the Western Conference. The Oklahoma City Thunder, it seems, are planning on more than one trip in the foreseeable future.
The statistic that said 93% of the teams that go down 0-2 in a playoff series lose didn’t apply to the Thunder. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden didn’t play ‘beautiful’ basketball like the San Antonio Spurs. They just played great individual basketball, with Westbrook actually surprising many with the way he rebounded defensively after a tough first two games.
In Game 6, he brought everything together, scoring 25 points while shooting 9-17 from the field and actually making good decision offensively. He averaged 18.2 points and 7.3 assists in the series vs the Spurs, shooting a terrible 37.8% from the field, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story – of how he guarded Tony Parker and his crucial role in the team’s transition and fast break offense in Game 3-6.
The Spurs? They wasted their firepower and ammunition in the first two home games. From the moment they got blown out in Game 3, 102-82, it felt like they were behind and chasing the entire series. The Thunder were simply one step ahead of them all the time. Even when the Spurs built an 18 point lead in Game 6, it wasn’t enough. They couldn’t stop Kevin Durant, finishing with 34 points.
The best player in the postseason so far averaged 29.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 53.2% from the field. Those are the all-around kind of numbers people want to see from him. At this pace, the Finals’ MVP are as good as his, no matter who comes from the East. I’ll tell you a little secret? Being a Finals’ MVP probably means more in the long run. It means you won a title, and were great when it was really important. Off to you, LeBron James.
The scary thing about the Thunder, besides being uncontrollable in the long run due to the ability of Harden, Westbrook and Durant to create shots and points for themselves, without anything that has to do with team basketball, is their age. First, don’t get me wrong – The Thunder do play as a team, especially on defense. But offensively, it’s usually a screen and a pull up jumper. It’s just so hard to cover three guys who can go off for 30 each night. It always leaves someone open.
So lets look at the ages of their top 5 players. Kevin Durant, a three time NBA scoring champion, in his fifth NBA season, will be 24 After the NBA finals. Serge Ibaka, the second youngest player on the team, will be 23 in September. James Harden, in his third NBA season, like Ibaka, will also turn 23, in August. Russell Westbrook will turn 24 in November. Perkins is the oldest of the key bunch, will turn 28 in November. That’s scary. For the West, for the NBA.
Keeping this kind of group together seems impossible, financially, in the long run. Big men who can score and defend get paid. Durant and Westbrook are already tied up in long contracts, so they have their best two players locked down. Keeping the other three? Might be possible, but it’ll probably involve going over the luxury tax, before we even talk about role players – Nick Collison, Tabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher and anyone else who joins the fray.
But for now, after seeing them break down the Spurs in four games, simply out-shooting and outrunning the deepest team in the NBA, it’s about enjoying it and making the most of it while it lasts. This crew has ‘championshipS’ written all over their foreheads, and there’s a perfectly good chance we’ll see them with multiple rings on their fingers in a few years. They’re that young, that good, right here, right now.