The argument about who has been the Thunder's most valuable player in this postseason boils down to three of the boys in blue.
These guys are completely different players with different skill sets, different body types and different imprints on the game. But they have one very important thing in common.
Durant, Westbrook and Collison were the only players on the current roster who were here two seasons ago when the Thunder started its inaugural season with that dreadful record. It led to P.J. Carlesimo being fired. It led to Scott Brooks earning the interim coach tag. It led to Oklahoma City wondering just what kind of NBA mess it had gotten itself into.
As the Thunder prepares to open the Western Conference Finals against the Mavericks, those days seem long ago and far away.
Still, they are forever part of the 3-29 Three.
“It was tough,” Durant said. “It was tough.”
His eyes glazed a bit as he thought back.
“I had been through it the season before,” Durant said referring to an equally brutal season during his rookie year in Seattle, “and to do it back-to-back years, it was tough on us.”
Westbrook said: “For me, it was surprising. I was coming from college where we didn't lose that many games in a long time.”
In two seasons at UCLA, Westbrook and his Bruins teammates lost 10 games.
The Thunder lost that many games in the first three weeks of the 2008-09 season.
By the time the team hit rock bottom — it fell to 3-29 with a 110-102 home loss against Phoenix on Dec. 29, 2008 — talk had turned to how low the Thunder could go. The Philadelphia 76ers had won an all-time worst nine games in 1972-73, and with the pace that the Thunder was on, it was going to fall well short of that nine-win plateau.
“People were saying we were going to be the worst team ever,” Durant said Sunday after the Thunder's dramatic Game 7 victory against the Grizzlies.
He glanced around the interview room, eyebrow raised.
“Especially some of you guys in this room right now.”
Guilty as charged.
But the truth is, now two seasons removed, we can see that rocky start became the cornerstone for the Thunder's success.
It wasn't rock bottom. It was bedrock.
“The thing that happened when you go through seasons like that, maybe you don't have that fear of failure as much anymore,” Collison said. “You've been embarrassed — and it's very embarrassing to be 3-29, be the worst team in the league — but once you go through that, maybe you don't have that fear.
“I think it maybe gives us that ability to just go play and see what happens.”
Durant, Westbrook and Collison have thrown caution to the wind during these playoffs.
Collison is playing with defensive abandon. What he did in the conference semifinals against the Grizzlies was akin to stopping a freight train. He turned Zach Randolph from the best power forward in the game to just another guy. He kept a hand on him at all times. He forced him to take tough shots every time.
The goateed guy from Iowa will be the face that haunts Randolph's offseason dreams.
Westbrook is playing as well as any point guard in these playoffs who is not named Derrick Rose. Save the NBA MVP, Westbrook has been as good as they come.
A triple-double in a Game 7?
Are you kidding me?
For as well as Westbrook has played at the ripe old age of 22, he's still the most analyzed and scrutinized player in the league.
And Durant has been downright masterful. In the Thunder's two series-clinching games, he averaged 40.0 points and shot 69.2 percent during the fourth quarter. When the pressure has been at its highest, Durant has been at his best.
That he was Sunday afternoon after a dreadful performance on Friday night is even more remarkable.
“He came back with a purpose on offense to really set his man up and come off screens better,” Brooks said. “He was in attack mode. He wasn't going to play ... hoping that he played better. He knew he was going to come out and give himself a chance to play better.
“Kevin learned from (Game 6).”
Just like he and Westbrook and Collison learned from that woeful start three years ago. They recognized that they were the leaders of this team. They knew that they had to keep working if they expected everyone else to follow suit.
“3-29 was tough to swallow at times,” Brooks said, “but what really gave me hope and gave our team hope is that every day we came into practice and worked.”
The Thunder coach called it “29-3 effort.”
Durant, Westbrook and Collison gave it then.
The Thunder is reaping the rewards now.