Thursday, June 7, 2012

Oklahoma City Thunder: Western Conference Champions


"Bad has arrived and it's here to stay."

This phrase could be read on thousands of backs at every World Championship Wrestling event during the emergence of the nWo Wolfpac. It was on the back of every Wolfpac shirt WCW sold and the Oklahoma City Thunder should consider sticking it on the backs of the tees they leave on the seats before every home game. With the franchise's first NBA Finals berth under the Thunder name with a nucleus of ultra-talented toddlers, this wolfpack of big, bad, young sons of guns playing in Oklahoma City have officially arrived and we can expect to be hearing from them around this time of year for several seasons to come.

After losing the first two games of the Western Conference Finals in San Antonio, OKC won the next four, the culmination being their 107-99 Game 6 comeback victory over the Spurs last night. Before dropping those four consecutive games that clinched the series for the Thunder, San Antonio had won 20 straight games including the final ten regular season games. Dare we say that Tim Duncan and his clockwork Spurs were streaky?

A one word description that would fit the Thunder last night? Hungry. For a young team who should have multiple title shots in their future, OKC puts out an impressive display of "wanting it" every game, last night especially. We know the players wanted it because they overcame a dazzling opening by the Spurs and an 18-point deficit. We can tell that Thunder head coach Scott Brooks wanted it by one stat alone: Kevin Durant played all 48 minutes.

Usually the young superstar will get four-five minutes rest or more, all of which he doesn't want, to at least give Durant a breather and prevent running him into the ground. It was clearly of the utmost importance to the Thunder and their coach that they won that game and avoided flying back to San Antonio for Game 7, considering Durant hadn't gone the whole way yet in these playoffs before last night.

Durant had a dominant game scoring 34 points, snagging 14 rebounds and dropping five dimes. He has, in many minds, supplanted himself as the best offensive player in the world (three straight scoring titles), and maybe even the best overall. He is rapidly becoming a main face, if not the face of the league in the process. It will be very interesting to see how Kevin Durant carries all of that weight on to the biggest stage in basketball.

I think it's safe to finally say that Skip Bayless was just dead wrong about Durant not being able to co-exist with Russell Westbrook. So much has been made about the two and who takes more shots in each game. Well last night Durant was 9-for-17 from the field. Westbrook was... 9-for-17 from the field. Kev n' Russ have been a fantastic duo that the media tends get on a little too hard following losses, but that will most likely start to subside now that they have reached the pinnacle of competition. Westbrook had 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists of his own last night, playing a perfect second fiddle. But to win an NBA championship, some nights Russ will have to be lead guitar on a night Durant doesn't have it.

And when both guys are struggling the best bench player in the world (sorry, Manu), James Harden has his teammates' backs. Harden poured in 16 last night as usual. And also as usual he hit big shots and big times, three of them being from down town. The beard is certainly feared when it protrudes from Harden's chin as he rips off the warm-ups. Opponents know a certified killer is coming in to drop daggers.

In other role-player news, Kendrick Perkins will be headed to his third NBA Finals as a starting center and Derek Fisher will be seeking his sixth NBA championship after riding on Kobe Bryant's back to five rings with the Los Angeles Lakers. D-Fish had a big nine points off the bench last night and was on the floor in the final minutes helping the Thunder wrap up the huge victory.

For the Spurs, this may be the end of the line for this group, but it also may not. Tim Duncan is 36-years-old. He's not dead. Manu Ginobili is still effective, Tony Parker is still in his prime and they have surrounded themselves with some talented young guys like Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. They also re-acquired Stephen Jackson who will only obey Duncan and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich for some reason. Jackson made his first six three pointers last night and had 23 bench points for San Antonio.

Speaking of Gregg Popovich, he put OKC's accomplishments in the best words possible in his post-game press conference last night. "It's almost like a Hollywood script for OKC," Popovich said. "They went through Dallas, last year's NBA champion. Then they went though the Lakers then they went through us. Those three teams represent 10 of the last 13 championships. And now they're going to go to the Finals and play either Boston or Miami, and that'll be 11 of the last 13 championships. It's just incredible and it's pretty cool for them."

It certainly is. Cool. Loud. Exciting. Energetic. Impressive. Tough. Cold-blooded. Young. Scary.

Bad has arrived folks, and it's here to stay.

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