Thursday Bolts – 6.7.12

J.A. Adande of ESPN.com: “This was the series when the Thunder stopped acquiring merely knowledge and began applying it with striking results. They accelerated the learning curve, while simultaneously slamming the brakes on the San Antonio Spurs. Not only did they halt the Spurs’ 20-game winning streak, the Thunder sent them spinning in reverse and out of the playoffs with four consecutive losses. The Spurs lost as many times in seven days as they had in the previous 12 weeks.”

Chris Mannix of SI.com: “Champions are forged in the fires of failures, hardened by defeats, educated by its conquerors. They have traveled the rockiest of roads, Oklahoma City: One last, lackluster season in Seattle, a disastrous 3-29 start in a new home a year later, a first-round loss to the Lakers in 2010 and a five-game beating by the Mavericks last season. They battled and they lost; but they learned and got better. The Thunder are not a finished product, not with a team full of NBA toddlers that seems to be developing in real time. But after Wednesday night’s 107-99 series-clinching win over San Antonio they are officially the best in the West, and in a couple of weeks they could prove that they are already better than everyone else.”

Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com: “Harden’s 3-ball a moment later was another product of savvy, veteran-style offense. Again the Thunder were looking for Durant on that wide weakside pin-down. And again the Spurs defended Durant well, as Durant had to retreat above the arc to receive the pass. But here again, Durant’s capacity to pressure the defense with a dribble-drive yielded a clean look. Once Durant revved up for his dribble-drive, Leonard cheated off Harden. When Durant kicked the ball out to Harden, Perkins was there to screen Leonard from closing. Bingo — Thunder by six with just over three minutes remaining in a close-out game.”

My column for CBSSports.com on the West’s changing of the guard.

Matt Moore for PBT: “It was always going to be like this. Build your skillset in the comfort of a rebuilding team with low expectations. Take the next step as an exciting bad team in a new environment with a surprisingly rabid crowd. Make the jump to the playoffs and put a shock in the champs, showing that you’re coming. Learn what disappointment is in a Conference Finals loss to a stellar team that would win the Finals. Come back stronger. Smarter. Better. Win your division. Beat the team who beat you last year. Beat the team who beat you the year before. Beat the standard bearer in the West. Advance to the Finals. Take your place. This is Kevin Durant, and he was always destined for this.”

Western Conference champs — BIG.

Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com: “The Oklahoma City Thunder are ready to win an NBA title. That’s not a guarantee or a prediction or anything silly like, but it is a fact. The Thunder are ready. They’re in the NBA Finals because they’ve done two of the hardest things in this sport, and they’ve done them in back-to-back games in the most strenuous of circumstances. First, Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, when they went into San Antonio and beat a championship team on its home court.”

Darnell Mayberry: “The Thunder didn’t go overboard in celebrating this win. That’s to be expected with an organization that has been total class from the start. Not only that, but this is an organization that expects to be here. The Thunder had its sights set on this day even during that 23-win nightmare. Instead of over-the-top- celebration, there was a general feeling that this was only a matter of time and, more importantly, just another step in the right direction.”

Berry Tramel: “What was supposed to be a magic night was going all horror show. The youthful Thunder was showing its age. And then the youthful Thunder showed its age. Strong legs and an unfettered spirit. A belief in a coach and a system and an organization.”

Via Marc Stein of ESPN.com: “It sucks,” Jackson said after the media crowd around him dispersed, not quite believing that his near-perfect evening didn’t do more to stop the young-no-more Thunder from closing out the Western Conference finals. “But those mother——s,” Jackson quickly conceded, “were just better than us.”

Kelly Dwyer of BDL on KD’s hug: “Had the Spurs pulled off a miraculous comeback, the Durant family hug would’ve looked downright foolish. As a contrast, just imagine how much criticism LeBron James might receive for doing the same with time left on the clock in a series-clinching game. As a wise man once said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. The Thunder didn’t lose, of course, and Durant’s actions just make him seem like more of a good guy than he already did. We should celebrate what he’s accomplished and the debt that he owes his family for their support. But it’s important to remember that, if the game had ended differently, Durant might have ended up looking just as arrogant as players some claim are destroying the NBA.”

It got a little dusty for Coach Scotty.

Johhny Ludden of Yahoo! Sports: “Asked afterward what sustained the Thunder, Westbrook chose a single word: “Togetherness.” For all the “band-of-brothers” drivel Erik Spoelstra likes to recite from Pat Riley’s self-help books, the Miami Heat will never have a bond as thick as these Thunder. They can’t. The Heat were brought together by the flourish of a pen stroke, a creation of free agency. The Thunder have grown together, and they’ve been hardened by those lost seasons, by the experience of failure. They’ve been protected by the embrace of a community that believes they can do no wrong.”

Spurs fans, not thrilled with the officiating.

Not thrilled at all.

Chris Broussard of ESPN.com: “But the Thunder seem to be headed in the direction of a title, and how fitting that this group had to go through the Spurs to get there. For Oklahoma City is, in many ways, the reincarnation of the Spurs. The Thunder’s chairman, Clay Bennett, was once a member of the Spurs’ board of directors. Their general manager, Sam Presti, once worked in the Spurs’ front office.”

From Elias: “The Thunder overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to defeat the Spurs and close out the Western Conference finals series on Wednesday night. Oklahoma City is the fourth team in NBA history to come back from a halftime deficit of at least 15 points in a playoff series-clinching win. The other teams to do that were Milwaukee against New Jersey in the first round in 1986 (trailed by 18 at the half), Phoenix vs. Denver in the first round in 1989 (trailed by 18) and Dallas vs. Utah in the first round in 2001 (trailed by 15).”

Sekou Smith of NBA.com: “We’ve struggled for years to find the right comparison for Durant, a humble and almost reluctant 23-year-old superstar whose connection to the franchise and comfort in the “small-market” city that claims him seems somewhat, in hindsight at least, predestined. We finally found that comparison Wednesday. In 1999, a humble, 23-year-old Tim Duncan helped guide the Spurs to a championship in a lockout-shortened season, the first of the future Hall of Famer’s four titles with small-market San Antonio. Through the celebratory haze and the confetti falling on the court Wednesday night in Oklahoma City, through the hugs and handshakes between the Thunder and Spurs, the torch officially was passed. For Durant, it’s only the beginning.”

Ethan Sherwood Strauss of HoopSpeak: “Success is the ecstasy that haunts Oklahoma City. Victories validate the Thunder U project while threatening its sustainability. Every game that James Harden helps them win is a loud reminder that someone else will offer him enough money to diamond emboss that beard. Every jet-stream-altering Serge Ibaka block is a reminder that only one power forward can do this while also reliably hitting an 18 footer. Can they pay both? Are we witnessing an incredible team that will become better, but simply cannot be? The actors themselves are probably taking it one game at a time, as the cliche goes. I’m certainly not compartmentalizing like that when I watch. Because, it so often feels like one game threatens past and future plans all at once.”

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