The Thunder returned from San Antonio a week ago licking its wounds and being told its ascension would have to wait.
The Thunder returned from San Antonio on Tuesday flexing its muscles and being told to watch out for waving palm branches.
Reactionary or revolutionary? Depends on the Western Conference Finals' Game 6 Wednesday night, when the Thunder can eliminate the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
Beat the Spurs to win the West, and the Thunder will have short-circuited protocol. Paid its dues quickly, a homeowner paying extra principal on its mortgage.
A team with stars aged 23 (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and 22 (James Harden, Serge Ibaka) isn't supposed to reach the Finals, much less win it. A team this young is supposed to wait its turn.
“Well, we never just thought that we were supposed to wait our turn,” Durant said. “We always wanted to go and take everything.”
That's how the Thunder played in Game 5 Monday night. Despite a horrific start, despite the best shots from old pros Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, despite a fourth-quarter cold spell that made the final minute hairy, the baby Boomers stood tall.
“We've never looked at our age,” said Scotty Brooks. “I don't give them an excuse and say, ‘Oh, it's OK. You're only 20. It's OK, three years from now you'll only be 23.' We don't do that.”
But truth is this was not set up to be the Thunder's year. The Spurs passed OKC for the No. 1 seed in the West, then played for two months like they were an epic team.
But the Thunder's two home victories last week restored the competitiveness of the series, then the Thunder's 108-103 Game 5 victory announced a changing of the guard in the NBA. Provided the Thunder holds serve at home.
“We don't want to get too high for this win,” Durant said in San Antonio. “We know that we still have a tough road ahead. But we came here, we wanted to get a win on their home floor. That's what it took for us to advance or to get to where we wanted to get to.”
Game 5 was an ascension game. Winning on the road in a 2-2 conference finals is not the stuff of lightweights. It's a sign of accelerated maturity. A sign that the Thunder, who after Game 2 looked like it needed at least another year to grow up, perhaps did so in a week.
“Coach always emphasizes that every opportunity we step out on that floor is a great opportunity to get better and grow and fight towards our dreams, and we all knew that,” Durant said.
“We've been together for so long, and we just had to keep pressing.”
Interesting. This team of 22- and 23-year-olds touting its length of service. Seems funny in a series that includes the Spurs, who down the stretch of games use Tony Parker, Ginobili, Duncan and Stephen Jackson, who all played on the Spurs' 2003 NBA title team.
But this is the seventh playoff series with Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka and Nick Collison playing together.
Chris Paul has been in the league seven years and has played in just six playoff series, regardless of teammates.
“I like what we've done,” Brooks said. “Being down 2-0, we knew that we had to play much better. Adjustments needed to be made, but the biggest adjustment that needed to be made was we need to play better.”
The Thunder has done that. And now it's on the threshold of arriving as a champion before its time.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.