The talent has been here for some time. Even last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder made it this far before collapsing against the Dallas Mavericks. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and others were nearly this talented last year. It’s just a matter of growing up, and that was the biggest question facing the trio of stars on the Thunder roster. When it would happen, the power structure would undoubtedly change.
It appears that it’s just now happening in the Western Conference Finals before our very eyes against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were the savvy veteran team ignited by a few new additions in Kawhi Leonard and company who were on a potentially historic role. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili make a nice trio of their own and they’d won 20 games in a row and were even threatening to steam roll their way through another round of the NBA Playoffs.
Then came game three and the trip back to Oklahoma City. The Thunder won both home games and then upset the Spurs on their home court last night in game five, holding the upper hand for the rest of the series. Nothing is finished yet, of course, so it’s too early to speak of any series victory. But the Thunder have undoubtedly displayed a toughness, focus and determination typically reserved for the most seasoned teams. Someone, in short, has grown up.
"We talk about effort with our guys all the time," Brooks said after the game. "There is physical effort and there is mental effort. We all have enough in our tanks to be physical for 48 minutes. That’s easy to do… Mental effort is what gets you to win games against this team because they keep coming at you."
Harden agreed that the team was mentally prepared coming in and never panicked in the game or the series.
"There were times in this game where we could have folded," Harden said. "We were up I think nine or so in the third quarter and they went on a run and took the lead. We could have folded, but we’re family so we stuck together, stuck with it and made our run and took the lead and went from there."
"Our team showed mental toughness," Westbrook added. "Everybody stayed together. We got stops and we finally made some shots. And I think that was the turning point for us to see how the game was going to turn out."
Durant was already talking everyone down from the rafters immediately following the game, realizing the work that was still ahead of them. After all, it was only three games ago that the Spurs were supposedly making quick work of OKC.
"We don’t want to get too high for this win," Durant said. "We know that we still have a tough road ahead. But we came here, we wanted to get a win on their home floor. That’s what it (will take) for us to advance or to get to where we want to get to. We knew this was an important game."
Now they head back to OKC to try to finish the Spurs on their home court. The Spurs will be ready for the challenge, but it appears any mental edge the veteran team had over the fresh young legs of the Thunder has now been matched.