Two years ago it was Kobe Bryant who silenced the Chesapeake Arena. One year ago it was Dirk Nowitzki who silenced them. This year Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant returned both the favours in style silencing the Staples Center and the American Airlines Arena and knocking off both the past champions on their road to the Western Conference finals for the second year running. Two years ago, the Lakers humbled the Thunder. In spite of them stretching the Lakers to six games, the veteran poise of Kobe Bryant and company was too much for the Thunder to handle. Dirk Nowitzki dismantled the young and raw Thunder last year en route to his first Championship.
The Thunder wanted none of that this year as they swept the Mavericks 4-0 in the first round and beat the Lakers 4-1 in the second round after coming from behind in games 2 and 4. They now await a match-up against San Antonio Spurs, the top seed in the West and the only team other than Lakers and the Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years and currently riding an 18 game winning streak.
Thunder have come of age in this year’s play-offs and season completely taking apart both the Lakers and the Mavericks and showing late game poise which they lacked a few years back. The current performance of the Thunder has stirred talks about them being the next dynasty of the NBA. It’s a fair statement to make as the core of the Oklahoma team i.e. Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Serge Ibaka are all under 25 years of age, giving them plenty of years to develop. Durant has transformed into a team player rather than the scoring machine he was a few years back improving his rebounding and defense and he has also shown he has the X-factor, winning the game at the buzzer against Mavericks in the regular season and winning it again against the Lakers in the playoffs.
Since relocating to Oklahoma, the team formerly known as Seattle Supersonics selected Kevin Durant as a second draft pick in 2007, Westbrook as fourth overall pick in 2008, Harden as third overall in 2009 and Ibaka in 2008. All of them have come into their own with Durant and Westbrook nearly unstoppable, Harden displaying amazing Basketball IQ and Ibaka turning into a shot blocking defensive monster. With such talent on the roster, it’s easy to say that the Thunder are the team to beat right now and it’s going to be the case for years to come.
It has been evident since many years that the West has always been a tougher conference than its Eastern counterpart, but with the Mavericks out of contention, Clippers with a lot of thinking to do and the Lakers aging to a point where they can’t match with the pace of the Thunder, the path of the Thunder has never been more clear. The only team standing in their way right now are the Spurs,another veteran team. But the Thunder have shown that they can deal with veterans and whether or not they perform at the same level against the Spurs, we will find out no sooner than Sunday. If the Thunder win the series against the Spurs they will stamp their authority in the Western Conference. There will come a time when the Lakers and Kobe Bryant take a last stand like the Mavs a year earlier. They might even go on and win another championship but till that happens, the Western Conference is Oklahoma City Thunder‘s for the taking.