And so here we are, right where most of us thought we’d be right about now, getting ready to watch a showdown series for the Western Conference Championship between the two most dominant teams in the West for most of the season.
The Spurs started slower than the Thunder but finished stronger than any other team in the league. Between the playoffs and the regular season San Antonio has won 18 games in a row and a ridiculous 32 of the last 35.
The Thunder sputtered down the stretch going just 8-7 in April to finish out the regular season but the Thunder have regained the swagger in the Playoffs with a sterling 8-1 record, second only to the Spurs 8-0.
Being back in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season should help the Thunder with any jitters. They opened last season’s conference finals on the road also, in Dallas, and so that experience should give this team something to draw from. At least that’s what Thunder Sixth Man James Harden thinks, “Yeah definitely. Being there last year that’s gives us a little more confidence, a little more experience being in this situation, you know, big time games. Every possession, every game counts.”
Even the experience of losing in last year’s conference finals is something Harden thinks can work in his team’s favor.
“It gave us a little motivation, I think, from Dallas to the Lakers and now here. I think we have one thing on our minds and one goal and that’s to get to The Finals and win a championship.”
Harden and everyone else in the organization knows it won’t be easy. The Spurs took two of the three games the teams played during the regular season and San Antonio Sixth man Manu Ginobili didn’t play in any of them.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks thinks winning an NBA Championship may very well be harder than winning a title in any other sport.
“It is, it’s the hardest thing to do. You have to go through four rounds of very tough physical, mental basketball in order to win a championship and nobody gives it to you. You’re not gonna have four rounds of easy play.”
So far the Spurs haven’t been challenged much in their first two series, winning most of their games by double-digits in sweeping through the Jazz and Clippers. The Thunder lost just one game but faced stiffer opposition, especially from the Lakers in getting their wins, so OKC has faced some adversity in the playoffs while San Antonio has not.
Both teams will be well rested coming into this series having had almost a week off between the start of the conference finals and their last games.
“We’ve had some time off but you can’t just waste it by getting rest. You have to keep working and stay sharp, you have to stay mentally into it and I think our guys have done a great job over the last month during the playoffs of doing that.”
Oklahoma City has also shown an ability to win games in different ways so far in the playoffs. They’ve run away from teams and blown them out. They’ve started fast, struggled then won at the end. They started slowly, struggled for most of the game then found a way to win at the end. They’ve won by scoring 119 points (against the Lakers on May 14th) and they’ve won by scoring just 77 points (against the Lakers on May 16th). So this team can adapt and it will likely have to against during the series with the Spurs, a team that can also score a lot of points or play things close to the vest.
No one knows that better than Scotty Brooks, “We have the biggest test now,” he said a couple of days ago at practice, “and it’s the Spurs. We have to lock in and everyone has to be committed to stopping them.”
It should be fun to watch.