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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End

The Western Conference Finals are set. They were set quickly, too. Both Western Conference semifinal rounds were decided in five games or less. The top seed in the conference, the San Antonio Spurs, swept the Los Angeles Clippers in five games. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the second seed in the West, eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers in five games.


Basketball fans have watched the Oklahoma City Thunder take baby steps over their four seasons in Oklahoma City as they have grown from a young, talented, but inexperienced team, to a legitimate championship contender. In 2009, the Thunder, in their first year in OKC (after relocating from Seattle, formerly as the SuperSonics), only won 23 games. Kevin Durant (28 PPG, 8 RPG) was in his second season and Russell Westbrook (24 PPG, 6 APG, 2 StlPG) was a rookie. Both would become perennial All-Stars.

In 2010, they took the top seeded, defending champion Lakers to seven games in the first round. Last year, they lost the Western Conference Finals to the eventual NBA Champion Mavericks in five games. Three of their four losses came with the Thunder trailing by six points or less at the end of the fourth quarter.

This year, OKC faces another Texas team in the conference finals. The Thunder at times had the best record in the NBA. They were passed by the San Antonio Spurs, coached by four-time NBA Champion and 2012 NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich. Now the Spurs are all that stand between Oklahoma City and the city’s first ever trip to the NBA Finals. The Thunder are approaching the end of their role as the NBA’s new kids on the block.

STOP! Poster time...! 2


Aside from the Lakers, no NBA franchise has enjoyed more success over the past 15 years than the Spurs. Future Hall of Fame forward Tim Duncan (15 PPG, 9 RPG) and Coach Popovich have won four NBA Championships together (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007). Guards Tony Parker (18 PPG, 8 APG) and Manu Ginobli (13 PPG, 4 APG) have been on board for the last three title runs. All three players are over 30. All three are playing at a high level. However, with the exception of Parker, the ability to continue to play at a high level over the next few years can be called into question due to age.

Regardless, the Spurs had the best record in the NBA in 2012. They have swept the Jazz and Clippers in the first and second rounds, respectively, of the NBA playoffs. The Spurs have not lost a game since April 11, having won 18 straight regular season and playoff games. They are executing at a nearly flawless level. The Thunder are the first opponent the Spurs have faced in the playoffs that appear to have the personnel capable of beating the Spurs.

The Spurs are fully capable of making a championship run. They are the favorites in this round and, should they advance, will have home court advantage in the Finals. Father Time is undefeated and untied in eventually bringing runs of athletic greatness to an end. Without a doubt, this current crop of Spurs has very few, if any, serious championship runs in them after 2012, especially considering the rapid ascension of the Thunder. Still, the future is not here yet and the present is here right now. The NBA could not have asked for a more poetic and fascinating matchup in the Western Conference Finals.

"T. Duncan: DND (did not dress) - OLD"; Very funny, but only a little funny because it's a little true. 1

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