It didn't come easy. But in a week, the how will have become a distant memory.
All that matters is the Thunder did what it had to do, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers, 112-108, on Wednesday night to secure at least the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings.
The victory clinched the Northwest Division title, ensuring the Thunder will have home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The likely opponent will be the currently fifth-placed Denver Nuggets. But with four games left, the Thunder trails Dallas by just one game for third place, which would mean a matchup with New Orleans, Portland or Memphis. The Hornets currently are in the sixth spot, but they have an identical 45-33 record as the Blazers, and both New Orleans and Portland lead the Grizzlies by just one game.
But while the standings continue to crystallize in the final week of the regular season, the Thunder slaughtered all suspense over whether it would secure home-court advantage or slide to a lower seed. Last year's bunch dropped four of its final six games to fall to eighth and set up a first-round bout with the L.A. Lakers.
“It's great for our fans,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It's great for our city to be division champs. It is definitely a step in our process we started four years ago. We want to get to a championship level like all the other teams in this league. But it is a great step for our franchise.”
Just two seasons ago, the Thunder won only 23 games. Last season, the Thunder went 50-32. Now, the Thunder has taken another monumental march, improving its record by at least two games and its seeding by at least four spots.
“A lot of people are overlooking that,” said Kevin Durant. “They don't know that last year we were the eighth seed. And the year before that, we weren't even thinking about the playoffs. I think every year we've gotten better…We just got to keep pressing. This is just one stop in the road for us in trying to get to the goal that we want to reach.”
That's why Brooks barely mentioned the accomplishment in the locker room after the game.
Wednesday's box score
Darnell Mayberry's blog