The baton has now been formally passed in the Association’s Western Conference, as the Oklahoma City Thunder came of age on Wednesday night after passing a huge task. The Thunder had wrested home-court advantage from the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night after beating them 108-106 at the AT&T Center. It was the third straight win for Oklahoma City, however it was their first victory on the floor of their opponent, a task that would have been very tough for the team to repeat. Holding the upper hand in the match-up for the first time, the club desperately wanted to finish the series at Chesapeake Energy Arena Wednesday night.
The Spurs however had other intentions, as they were none too enamored with seeing their season come to an end and they came out of the chute on fire; holding a double-digit advantage at the end of the opening period, then going on top 63-48 as the contest reached the half. It seemed as if the Thunder’s fans worst fears were coming true; their young talented team was buckling under the pressure and the series would return to San Antonio on Friday night, almost guaranteeing that the Spurs would be representing the Conference in the upcoming NBA Finals.
We may never know exactly what inspired the home team while they were back in their locker room during the break at the half; whether their bench boss Scott Brooks imparted some words of wisdom; or if one of the players brought them together with a rally cry. There was no doubt however, that a different squad emerged from that locker room than the one that entered it moments before. The confidence that was lacking in the team in the first 24 minutes of action was back, the tentative play they displayed in the first two quarters was now a thing of the past.
Suddenly, that 15 point deficit did not seem to be that big at all and soon it would disappear. Kevin Durant buried a 25 foot trey with 1:39 left in the third and Oklahoma City was back on top 79-77 and even though the home team would trail 81-80 at the end of the quarter; one could sense they were going to end this game on top. James Harden drove the lane putting the ball through the hoop with 9:32 to play putting the Thunder ahead with the score 85-84 and they would keep the lead for the rest of the game winning the contest 107-99 and the Western Conference Finals in six games.
The Thunder had slayed the dragon they needed to defeat and they matured before the viewers eyes in the process on Wednesday night. They emerged from this series hardened like tempered steel and they are now ready to win this season’s NBA Title. Barring a season ending injury to Durant, Russell Westbrook or James Harden they now have to be looked at as the favorites to defeat either the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat.
The accelerated growth-spurt they have gone through since settling in Oklahoma City, is a testament to General Manager Sam Presti, Brooks and a roster of players that was put together the right way; with three stars leading a talented cast of supporting players. Even though Oklahoma City is one of the smallest markets in the Association, something tells me that ABC is not going to have to worry about the ratings for this year’s big dance.