Explosive Thunder rolling on to NBA Finals
The noise reverberated throughout Oklahoma City on a Kendrick Perkins thunderous dunk that put the Thunder up by six with 24.3 seconds remaining. It put the exclamation point on a roaring turnaround by the team from OKC. It put 18,203 fans in a deafening Chesapeake Energy Arena on their feet. And it put the Thunder in the NBA Finals.
They had been down 0-2 against a steamrolling San Antonio Spurs team and the stories were already being written that their time hadn’t arrived yet. That thought could not be any more wrong. Their time has arrived. They have stormed back and they sealed the deal Wednesday with a 107-99 series-clinching victory over the Spurs to send them to the biggest stage the NBA has to offer.
This series had been marked by runs and spurts by both teams. Game 6 would prove to be no different as the Spurs came out firing and looking like the Spurs in the first two games. Tony Parker raced to 17 first quarter points and would finish with 21 points and 10 assists at the half to become the first player since 2001 to record a 20-10 performance in the first half of a playoff game.
The entire Spurs team looked flawless as well in the first half as they penetrated and attacked the rim with ease and knocked down almost everything from three-point territory. It all of a sudden starting shaping up into the experienced Spurs team blistering a Thunder team in its first close-out conference finals game as San Antonio hung up 63 points before the intermission to open up an 18 point lead.
But then came Kevin Durant, knocking down an incredible three in the waning seconds of the first half to cut the deficit to 15. The second half featured more Durant as the young superstar looked like a veteran, putting up 34 points and 14 rebounds to wrestle the lead back.
“I told the coaches that I could go all night, I could go 48, and I didn’t think they would let me do it,” Durant said. “But they kept me in and I just tried to give my team a spark.”
Durant gave his team more than just a spark as the Spurs were unable to weather the Thunder storm that came right at them in the second half. The team once considered by far the deepest in the league was held to a seven-man rotation. Tim Duncan produced another gem, going for 25 points and 14 boards, and the Spurs got a valuable contribution from Stephen Jackson, who hit five of his six threes to finish with 23 points for the game. It just wasn’t enough against a Thunder team that believes and knows their time has come.
“There’s not much to complain about,” Manu Ginóbili said. “We had a great run. We just couldn’t beat these guys.”
There is no questioning the Thunder’s ability to perform under pressure. Derek Fisher hit a big-time three with 4:35 to go put the Thunder up by five. James Harden followed suit and knocked down another three a minute later to give the Thunder a six point cushion. And there was no bigger basket than Durant’s perfect pass to Perkins for the dunk in the final minute to effectively close the game and the series.
“It just had everything to do with who we are as men, who we are as a team, the type of spirit that we want to show every time down the court,” OKC head coach Brooks said.
This wasn’t about the Spurs blowing their biggest playoff halftime lead in franchise history. This was about the Thunder taking it right from them, holding Parker to just eight second half points and the Spurs collectively to just 36. After the Spurs went 9-15 from beyond the arc in the first half, they converted just two of their 11 in the second half.
This wasn’t just remarkable that the Thunder became the first team other than the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs to represent the West in the Finals since 1998. This was remarkable that the Thunder beat all three of those teams to make it to the championship series.
This wasn’t just historic that the Thunder became the fourth team in conference finals history to come back from an 0-2 series deficit. This was historic that the Thunder could hang up four consecutive wins against a team that had looked unbeatable for much of the season and the playoffs.
This isn’t just about the noise and energy that resonated throughout Oklahoma City Wednesday night. This is about the noise the Thunder will make now that they are just four wins away from an NBA championship.