Last night, the most athletic team in the NBA and my preseason pick to win the NBA finals knocked off the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, winning their fourth straight game to finish out the series 4-2 while storming back from an 18 point deficit. The Oklahoma City Thunder combine a distinctive mix of incredible athleticism and basketball talent, led by superstar Kevin Durant, along with great coaching and sound strategy provided by coach Scott Brooks. The Thunder look essentially unstoppable right now, and are poised to win their first championship since moving from Seattle. While one can argue that they look very similar to the Miami Heat on paper, the Thunder are much more well-rounded, and I do not think that they can be stopped.
Durant has won three consecutive scoring titles, thus proving that he is in fact the best scorer in the NBA… however he is not the only reason that the Thunder are so dominant. While they were largely dismissed because of their youth and inexperience, they have shown great maturity and growth while rapidly developing into a star-studded team with composure and maturity under Brooks. While Durant’s scoring is off the charts (just under 28 PPG in the playoffs), OKC’s mentality focuses on team play and winning, and their chemistry is far better than that of Miami, who consistently show an inability to close out their close games and a lack of trust in their head coach.
Furthermore, OKC’s point guard tandem of Russell Westbrook, a young and explosive slashing scorer, and Derek Fisher, a veteran facilitator who knows just what it takes to win big games while essentially only scoring in dagger situations, takes much of the pressure off Durant. Simultaneously, these other weapons enable Durant to frequently take over certain stretches of the game, since he is not the only guy who can put up points that opponents must worry about. Lately, these stretches have been coming in the fourth quarter, and at age 23, Durant is showing that he has the ability to be one of the most clutch big time scorers that the NBA has seen. You also cannot forget about James Harden, another big time scorer and the third member of their big three along with Durant and Westbrook, who took home the coveted Sixth Man of the year award, and has been chipping in over 17 points per game in the postseason coming off the bench.
Lastly, OKC has a pair of monsters in the paint in Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, arguably the best defensive front court which features an on-ball defender in Perkins who can body up with the best centers in the league, and an incredible help defender in Ibaka who led the league in blocks both in the regular season and in the playoffs. They are not struggling to have a defensive paint presence, as opposed to Miami who has none at all. Bad news for OKC’s opponents: Ibaka’s offense has been coming around as well, and as the Spurs found out in Game 4, he too has become a legitimate scoring threat.
The Thunder were largely overlooked going into the conference finals, and after ending the Spurs’ 20 game winning streak and winning four straight to finish out the series, they will enter the NBA Finals hungry for a championship. They combine incredible athletic ability both in the paint and on the perimeter with great coaching under former and likely future coach of the year in Scott Brooks, and if the Celtics can close out their series against Miami, their own storied Big Three era will be in serious danger of falling one series short of their second championship.