NBA: How Oklahoma Proved Critics Wrong
Los Angeles. Criticized by pundits as too young, too inexperienced, not ready and not tested, the Oklahoma City Thunder proved them wrong as they came of age. ‘
Kevin Durant had 34 points with 14 rebounds, Russell Westbrook scored 25 and the Thunder stormed from 18 down to close out the visiting San Antonio Spurs 107-99 on Wednesday night to win the Western Conference finals 4-2.
“Youth is something that wills us,” said Westbrook. “A lot of people around the league say we’re too young, not able to make the clutch shots and it wills us. A lot of guys have great hearts and it showed tonight.”
The Thunder advanced to the NBA Finals and will host game one on Tuesday night against the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat.
The Celtics lead the match–up 3–2, with potential close out game six in Boston set for Thursday night.
“One step closer to our dreams,” said Durant, referring to the Larry O’Brien championship trophy. “It’s a great feeling now but we have to see who we play. Whoever we play, it’s going to be a tough road for us.”
James Harden added 16 points as the second-seeded Thunder outscored the Spurs 59–36 in the second half to become the 15th team in NBA history to win a playoff series from 2–0 down.
“We were just worried about winning one game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “It was about who we are as men. Who we are as a team and they just kept fighting back.”
Frenchman Tony Parker led the top-seeded Spurs with 29 points and 12 assists. Tim Duncan contributed 25 points with 14 rebounds while Stephen Jackson hit six threes en route to 23 points.
Afterward, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich congratulated the winners.
“This has kinda been like a Hollywood script for OKC,” he said.
“First they played Dallas and then the (LA) Lakers and now us. That’s 10 of the last 13 championships, I don’t know if anyone has ever done something like that before and that’s incredible and I think it’s pretty cool for them.”
Determined to bring the series back to San Antonio for a deciding game seven, the four-time NBA Champion Spurs raced to an 18-point lead en route to a 63-48 halftime cushion behind 21 points and 10 assists by Parker.
But the fleet-footed Thunder got back on track and changed the game in the final 24 minutes.
“They were more energetic and they played better defence in the second half,” said Spurs Manu Ginobili, who finished with just 10 points. “We just couldn’t find anything. We’re never gonna have their energy, we’re never gonna run as fast or jump as high.”
Fueled by Durant’s 14 points, the Thunder outscored the Spurs 32-18 in the third period and pulled to within 81-80.
“We we didn’t want to go back to San Antonio for game seven,” Westbrook said. “We wanted to leave everything on the floor.”
A layup by Harden early in the fourth quarter gave the Thunder tzhe first lead at 85–84 and they would stay in front the rest of the way.
The Spurs drew to within 93-91, but 37-year-old Derek Fisher and Harden hit three-pointers around a basket by Parker at the other end, making it 99-93 with three minutes 13 seconds left.
With the Thunder holding a 103-99 edge, Jackson, who had drained all six of his three-pointers, and Parker both missed from behind the arc in the final minute.
Durant then spotted Kendrick Perkins underneath for a wide-open dunk. Harden followed with two free throws to seal the win, as the more than 18,000 wildly-cheering fans at sold out Chesapeake Energy Arena celebrated the Thunder’s first NBA Finals appearance since the 1995-96 season when the franchise was still in Seattle.
“This is an incredible group of young men that has unified this city and this state as never before,” said Thunder chairman Clay Bennett during the conference title trophy presentation.