Thunder look like championship material

BY foxsports • April 20, 2011

Got the feeling that something special happened Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

You did, too. Admit it.

Yeah, the Thunder won again, but this one was different. This one was more significant — not a let's-go-ahead-and-map-the-parade-route-through-downtown-OKC, but something akin to it, like the distant relative you don't actually mind showing up for Christmas dinner.

This was the kind of game that makes you think the Thunder could do something crazy like win an NBA championship.

That's right. I said it, and why not?

The Thunder went up 2-0, grew up and beat down Denver all in one game. The result was a 106-89 victory, and somewhere beyond the MVP chants directed at Kevin Durant and the frat party disguised as a sellout crowd inside the Oklahoma City Arena, the rest of the TV-watching country got to see why these guys could pull it off.

In one game, Oklahoma City went from a No. 4 seed to legit. Argue if you want, but you saw Durant and guard Russell Westbrook show they can have a so-so shooting game (14 of 33 for a combined 44 points) and still be as dynamic as any duo in the league.

You saw sixth man James Harden — and his beard (think San Francisco's Brian Wilson, but with about two hours' more grooming on a daily basis) — reverse his game, going for 14 first-half points, a game after sleepwalking through a 1-for-5 debacle.

You appreciated the more energetic Thunder with more spring than a seersucker suit. You saw Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins' dominance on the boards (combining for 23 rebounds) and a spirited effort from Nick Collison (10 points, 8 rebounds). Overall the Thunder outhustled the Nuggets, winning the rebound game 54-31 and the assist game 19-12.

Wanna know what you really saw? Well, in all of the above, which pieced together as a 48-minute undoing of Denver, you saw a contender.

Listen. No one is confusing the Thunder with Nirvana. They didn't change the game as we know it. But then again, they aren't going to have to move grandma's Buick so they can jam in the garage, either. A Game 1 win gave the Thunder the lead in the series.

Wednesday's Game 2 win gave the Thunder fangs and established OKC as a you-gotta-see-this-act kind of team.

That's what happens when you lead by 19 in the first quarter, by 29 at the half, and dismiss Denver easily.

"We did what you have to do in the playoffs," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "The start was as good as we can play on both ends of the court." And the start was more than enough.

Denver got as close as 10 points in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder immediately went on a 9-2 run and Denver went dormant the next three minutes. But honestly, there was little doubt.

You saw that, too. A game never in doubt in the NBA? Hard to say most of the time, but true on Wednesday.

The Thunder shot 45 percent in the first half and limited what Denver does best: score inside. The Thunder outscored Denver 30-28 in the paint. Meanwhile, Al Harrington and Raymond Felton combined for 31 points for the Nuggets, which is admirable, but an overabundance of that duo is like letting Charlie Sheen babysit. You just really can't count on things working out very well in the end.

"They played harder," Harrington said. "They executed everything. Want to know what it was? Basically, they had it going."

Denver might win one or even two games, but with guard Aaron Afflalo still out, Wilson Chandler contributing a 0-for-6 effort from the field and Danilo Gallinari running wild trying to keep up with Durant on defense, manifesting itself in a 3-of-8 showing on offense in 37 minutes, it's difficult to imagine any scenario of Denver winning in Oklahoma City.

"They were totally in control," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "They were energized. They were more physical, they were quicker and probably smarter."

And now they're contenders. You saw it.

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