The Oklahoma City Thunder have been getting better every year. They’ve been doing so at an alarming rate, always seeming to take the next step sooner than one would expect.
The Thunder have lost to the eventual NBA champion in the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, most recently in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat.
The Thunder represent potential and the future look of a dynasty more than any team in the league including the Heat.
How should we look at this season though? Was it a success? Or did the Thunder fail by not winning in the Finals?
It’s harder than you think to really say what this season was. People have been picking the Thunder to make it to the Finals ever since last season. Despite being so young they have adequate talent to compete for a championship.
You could even argue that the Thunder were the more talented team than Miami this year and especially in the playoffs. How can that not be considered a failure then to lose in the Finals to a team you have more talent than?
The key is to look at how they lost. The Thunder did look great in the first three rounds of the playoffs and did look better than Miami heading into the Finals but things change in the Finals. They certainly changed for the Heat who got Chris Bosh back and made all the right moves to beat the Thunder.
The Thunder finally looked young again against the Heat. They won Game 1 but they were affected by the big stage some.
James Harden was a no-show in the series after being, at times, the best player on the floor for the Thunder during their playoff run.
That’s the kind of thing that can happen in the Finals, the kind of thing that stops happening once you’ve been in the league a little longer and accumulated enough experience.
The Thunder started playing worse in the Finals and when it was time for them to adjust and shake things up more than ever, Scott Brooks chose not to. Brooks stuck with what got the Thunder there all year long which may be a good message in the long run despite being the wrong decision in the series.
The knock on the Thunder in the past was always that it might not work well enough, the dynamic between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. A point guard shouldn’t score that much and Durant needed more touches.
Durant and Westbrook proved this season that they are capable of winning a championship together and that it’s just a matter of time until they do so. The dynamic works and when it is, they are impossible to stop.
Durant had the toughest possible task in these Finals: matching up with LeBron James. He stood toe-to-toe with the MVP of the league and one of the greats of all-time who is right smack in the middle of his prime right now.
LeBron was playing at an all-time level in the playoffs putting up stupid numbers. He and Durant were considered the two best players in the league as the series started. People who know hoops know LeBron is clearly better all-around but that it doesn’t always matter. Some thought Durant had a chance to change the conversation and prove he was top dog.
As it played out, LeBron showed why he is the better player right now. But the important thing to note is that when these two play each other, LeBron isn’t always the best player every night. In Game 1, Durant was a better player than LeBron. It’s been awhile since we’ve been able to say that about someone.
In Game 4, when Westbrook scored 43 points and the Thunder still lost, he was the best player on the floor. LeBron may have played the perfect game at that time to counter Westbrook’s prowess but it was again, another example of the Thunder giving us a glimpse into the future with their potential.
History will say that the Heat beat the Thunder in five games and beat them four straight times. That’s true but it wasn’t your average 5-game series. The Thunder had an extremely good chance to win each of the first four and simply weren’t as fortunate as they needed to be, and could have been.
That’s why this season is a success for OKC. They took the next step even if it was losing in the NBA Finals and hurt so bad. We all know they will be back and they will be better for it.
A title this year would have been nice but this wasn’t a great OKC team yet. It was a very good one but they haven’t hit that championship level yet we’re waiting on.
Next year might be that year for the Thunder. Back to the regular 82-game schedule expect the Thunder to tear through the regular season with a hunger we haven’t seen in this league in a long time.
Dynasties always begin with a huge regular season and dominance in the playoffs. If the Thunder win 65 games next year, we’ll know what’s coming in the playoffs.