Remember last week when the 2011-12 Spurs were the best team of the Popovich-Duncan era? With 20 straight wins (most by double digits) and a 2-0 lead over the Thunder to boast, it seemed like the Spurs would run through the young guns from Oklahoma City straight to the NBA Finals. They were unchallenged, unflappable, and seemingly unbeatable.
SO WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?!?!?! The Spurs went from smooth to slow in a matter of days, and the results of last 3 games seemed like foregone conclusions no matter what the score was. Take tonight’s game for example. The Thunder were down by 15 in the first quarter and Tony Parker was doing whatever he wanted (17 points and 5 assists in the first 9 minutes..I wasn’t kidding, he was doing whatever he wanted). After the Thunder went into the half still down by 15, all I could think was “will it be 10 or 15 minutes before they take the lead back?” There was no doubt in my mind OKC would come back, and I’m sure everyone who watched this series felt the same way.
The quality of basketball played by the Thunder (and by the Spurs for that matter) is so far above that being played in the East it’s scary. The Heat are flashy, but they never show up in the 4th quarter. The Celtics show up in the 4th quarter, but they lack the dynamic aspect needed to beat a team as good as OKC. The physical war between those two in the Eastern Finals is not helping their cause either; their going to need all the energy and strength they can possibly muster to even stand a chance against OKC.
Here’s a list of traits I feel describes the Thunder squad: clutch, physical, dominant, athletic, gritty, dynamic, flashy. But most importantly, their a budding dynasty.
Question: What will it take to beat the Thunder?
Answer: After tonight, I don’t know if it’s possible. Playoff basketball is built in a way that rewards teams with youth, athleticism, and depth, and the Thunder have those traits to a far greater extent than any other team (one could argue the Spurs have better depth, but we won’t be seeing them any more now will we?). Miami has no depth and 3 great players, the Thunder have the 6th man of the year (James Harden), 2 bonafide superstars (Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant), the league’s best shot blocker (Serge “Iblocka” Ibaka), 2 defensive studs to round out the starting 5 (Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins), and Derek Fisher and Nick Collison off the bench to provide veteran leadership and clutch plays. Boston has the Big 3 + Rondo, but the Thunder have an equally as good (in my opinion) Big 3 + 1 in Westbrook, Harden, Durant, and Ibaka. Sure they’re not as experienced, and no they don’t have resumes that compare to those of the Celtics. But they are playing at a level few teams have reached, and their youth and athleticism are going to be tough for the veteran Big 3 of the Celtics to keep up with.
A lot of that was opinion, and I apologize for that, but I just can’t help it. I was so entertained during that series, and I found myself forgetting that the 4 best members of the Thunder are under 24 years old. Think about that for a minute. LeBron is 27, Wade is 30, the Spurs, Lakers, and Celtics are ancient, and the Mavericks are so ancient they may as well be fossilized.
Who’s left to challenge the Thunder in the coming years? Maybe Miami has the stars to do it, but they’ve shown an inability to beat teams that can’t even scrape OKC’s ceiling. Did you see the way they just dealt with the Spurs, the NBA’s savviest and most well-run team? If the Spurs can’t do better than that, no one can. And if Durant and Co. are doing this at this young of an age, what’s going to happen in 3 years when he and his teammates enter their primes?
Get ready everybody, and hope that Boston or Miami can pull out a Finals win. Because 2012 is the last year that the other 29 NBA teams have a chance to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.