The Oklahoma City Thunder shook up the NBA landscape by eliminating the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals on Thursday night. Heading into the series, the Thunder were considered huge underdogs and not many observers gave them a shot at pulling off the upset.
However, at the end of the day, the NBA remains a stars league and stars typically shine brightest on the biggest of stages. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had a terrific series against the Spurs and now Oklahoma City must focus their efforts on taking out a Golden State Warriors team that made regular season history rollicking their way to 73 victories. After advancing to the Western Conference Finals, Durant made it clear that the Thunder aren’t satisfied with just getting this far.
“This series wasn’t our championship,” Durant told reporters. “We were confident coming in here. We’re just happy that we’re moving forward and have an opportunity to play again, and we’re excited about it.”
How tough will it beat for the Thunder to pull off a second upset over the star-studded Warriors?
To put things in the proper perspective, the Warriors lost only nine games over a six-month span during the regular season. The Thunder will be tasked with beating the Warriors four times in under two weeks in order to advance to the NBA Finals.
“We are playing two teams that have played at a historically high level,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan told reporters. “I know at the end of the regular season, if you look at the Spurs and Golden State, both of them, what they have done in terms of numbers has been incredible. Golden State is a great team. It will be a great challenge.”
On the surface, it appears to be a task the Thunder will most likely fall short of; however, if the Spurs series taught us anything, it’s that the games must still be played regardless of widespread beliefs and early predictions. The games must still be played on the floor. The Thunder aren’t completely upside down in their upcoming scrap versus Golden State, but the Warriors deflated Oklahoma City’s hopes all throughout this past year by sweeping the season series.
The Warriors have defeated the Thunder almost all possible ways. From uncontested routs to a come-from-behind overtime thriller, Golden State has been able to match any type of barrage Oklahoma City has brought to the table this season.
But the playoffs are a different monster entirely and Oklahoma City has two of the top 10 players in the game today in Durant and Westbrook. The superstar duo is riding high from a confidence standpoint, while role players such as Steven Adams and Enes Kanter have continued to raise their game and are maturing before our eyes. Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated also pointed out that the numbers suggest that OKC is one of the toughest teams the Warriors have faced in the last two seasons.
Thunder have best point differential & offensive rating of any Warriors playoff opponent during Steve Kerr era pic.twitter.com/uoS1YzHwhu
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 13, 2016
But the NBA is littered with a plethora of teams that have had to pay their dues before getting tog the next level. The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons spent years during the 1980s trying and failing to overcome the Boston Celtics. Those same 1980s Pistons spent years deflecting and holding off the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls from ascending to greatness. The relationships and the histories of patterns like this go on and on.
So the question is can Oklahoma City get over this hump now or will they have to reload and regroup for future scraps with the Warriors? Yes, the Thunder have already been to one NBA Finals – a loss against the Miami HEAT – which they learned from.
But could this be the first of several Warriors-Thunder postseason match-ups (assuming Durant re-signs with the Thunder this summer)? It’s possible.
Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals between the Warriors and Thunder tips off on Monday at 9 p.m. ET.
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