OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant hugged his mom in celebration and the game wasn’t even over yet. The once-mighty San Antonio Spurs had 14.6 seconds left to play, but Durant knew the situation.
The rest of us did, too. It was over.
The Oklahoma City Thunder took down San Antonio on Wednesday night, culminating a four-game win streak to win the Western Conference Finals in six games with a 107-99 comeback victory inside an even-louder-than-you-can-imagine Chesapeake Energy Arena.
But it’s not really over. Not even close.
First up, the Thunder will play in the NBA Finals. After that? Bet on more of the same, because this team isn’t going anywhere, except maybe to sign a long-term deal with the top of the Western Conference standings. The Thunder sure seem to have some stickability, and about the only people who can’t see that are the folks in Seattle who took to Twitter on Wednesday night saddened by the success in Oklahoma City.
Game 6 was the perfect example, and the nation saw it. Branded “talented, but young,” the Thunder had every opportunity to take the night off and play it forward, think ahead to Game 7 and try to figure out a way to win on the road.
Instead, they rallied from a dreadful first half and stunned the Spurs. But that’s really not anything new for this team.
It wasn’t long ago — 2008-09 — that the Thunder started 3-29 on the way to a 23-win season. Now, built from and by the draft and complemented by Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder are still young. The thing is, they are the champs of the West and it’s hard to think that won’t be the case for a good spell.
“Their best players are 22 and 23 and it’s hard not to be optimistic about the franchise,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “There’s so much talent and they are so athletic. They have a really bright future.”
The Thunder became the first team other than the Mavs, Lakers and Spurs to make the NBA Finals from the Western Conference in 14 years. The trio had created a dynasty at the top of the league.
No kidding, the Thunder beat ’em all in these playoffs.
And that future?
The Thunder’s best players are their youngest players. Russell Westbrook, Durant, shot-blocker Serge Ibaka and James Harden have no more than four years’ experience in the league. All are in their early 20s. Not just a nucleus, they’re among the top players in the league.
Durant is a three-time scoring champ. Ibaka led the league in blocked shots. Harden was the best sixth man in the league. And all Westbrook did was score 25 points, pull down eight rebound and dish five assists Wednesday. He’s averaged 21.5 points per game this postseason after averaging 23.6 in the regular season.
“I don’t tell them; I coach them,” coach Scott Brooks said. “It’s always a partnership. I lead them and they do a good job of allowing that. I don’t give them the benefit of the doubt because they are young.”
And that future?
Those same, young leaders aren’t going anywhere. Durant is signed through 2015-16. Westbrook just re-signed. Harden is signed for the next two seasons, as is Ibaka.
Shine the light on the Thunder and everyone else seems a bit dimmer, especially when the black light reveals the flaws of the three teams the Thunder beat in the Western playoffs.
The Spurs: Another year older, another year further removed from their last title in 2007. Wednesday, they went more than six minutes in the fourth quarter without a field goal, turning it over four times, three of those on offensive fouls. That’s the kind of performance that a young team shows up with, or an old team that just may not have it any more. The Spurs have looked old against the Thunder, and they looked old against Memphis a season ago.
The Mavericks: The team that won it all a season ago couldn’t get a single playoff win over the Thunder. Gone is their game-changing center. They have an aging backcourt and no real scoring options outside of Dirk Nowitzki.
The Lakers: Yeah, them. Choose your own reason why. There’s plenty to pick from.
Anyone else up-and-coming? Anyone else have a player-of-a-generation like Durant has become?
As the clock finally ran down and Durant made his way through the crowd on the court, he found the Spurs’ Tim Duncan and got an embrace from him, too.
No torch-passing. That’s cliché. Just a talk, though.
“He told me congrats and good luck,” Durant said of their brief conversation. “It felt good for somebody of that stature and with that many championship rings to recognize us that way. It also felt good to come out here and get a win against them.”
Get used to it. Doesn’t look like it will change any time soon.