Thunder proving they're no longer young

Thunder proving they're no longer young

Published Jun. 13, 2012 12:39 a.m. ET

some point this team may disappoint. Fail to live up to expectations.
Use the wrong fork during the salad course and burp during dessert. Then
everyone will say, "Oh, kids these days."

But not today.

It's time to stop thinking these guys are too young and it's time to embrace how truly different they are.

Game 1 of the Finals on Tuesday night, when the Thunder overwhelmed the
more-experienced and Finals-savvy Heat in a 105-94 win. On the big
stage it was the Heat who went to bed early and the Thunder who were
mature beyond their years, and it was hard to tell which team had been
here and done that.


Kevin Durant, a three-time scoring champ but a
Finals newbie, was calm and relaxed as OKC rallied from a 13-point,
first-half deficit. It took the Thunder two games to solve the San
Antonio Spurs. It took about two quarters to figure out Miami.

took us a couple of minutes to get the nervousness out of us and the
jitters out," said Durant, who had a game-high 36 points and combined
with Russell Westbrook to outscore the Heat 41-40 in the second half.

quick adjustments for the new guys. More telling: Oklahoma City had 56
points in the paint, a pretty good sign that the Thunder weren't too
scared of the Heat or the big stage.

"Knowing our guys, I didn't
see that they were nervous because we were playing in the NBA Finals to
the point it would affect their game," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks
said. "Everybody's nervous."

Maybe so, but not everybody showed
it. When the game reached a rapid boil, Durant marinated in it. He went 6
for 10 in the fourth quarter and scored 17 points. James went 2 for 6,
shying away from any shot that wasn't a layup.

Throw out that
first season when the Thunder barely had unpacked their bags from
Seattle and got out to a 3-29 start. Since then they have exceeded
almost everything that anyone expected, improved each season and done it
all with a gradual ascension from playoffs to playoff contender to the
short-odds favorite to win it all.

"These guys are fearless," said
veteran guard Derek Fisher, who holds a fistful of rings from his days
as a Laker. "Tonight they showed that we're capable of playing through
any set of circumstances and figuring out a way to win."

still, they keep improving. This year's Western Conference playoff run
came against another Big Three: the Mavs, Lakers and Spurs. Now they’re
handling the beast of the East.

"No stage is too big for these
guys and it's not about being too young," said Thunder reserve center
Nazr Mohammed, who was sporting a nice motivational tool: a Spurs
championship ring that was slightly smaller than a hubcap. "Yeah, sure,
these guys are young, but it's their approach that makes them

Westbrook says the approach is about defense — not
exactly the kind of thing young, brash scorers usually like to talk
about. Brooks mentioned the defense in the second half. Even Miami's
Dwyane Wade agreed.

"They did a great job of turning up the
defensive pressure to get right back in it," said Wade, who was 7 of 19
for 19 points. “You know, they just made more plays than us."

that's just it, really. By this time, shouldn't it be the Heat, not the
new guys, making the plays? Shouldn't Wade be able to come up with
something deeper than saying Oklahoma just made more plays?

Thunder are approaching a championship. And who knows, it may not come
until next year or even sometime after that. They may yet prove too
young and inexperienced.

But today they look ready.