Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett used the same expletive the last time their teams faced the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The two stars used the crass cuss word not maliciously but in the way of marveling at the up-and-coming Thunder.
Garnett's infamous, "I thought we were playing Michael (expletive) Jordan” line came in reference to Kevin Durant following the Thunder's 109-104 road win in March. And Bryant, following his team's 95-94 Game 6 escape, assured to Durant and Russell Westbrook, "Ya'll some bad (expletive). I'm glad we're done with you.”
As the NBA Finals kick off tonight between Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers and Garnett's Boston Celtics, the references serve as a reminder at just how much the Thunder has the league's attention. The question is whether Oklahoma City is ready to compete with the likes of the Lakers and Celtics.
If you rewind to March 31, when the Thunder outlasted the Celtics in a game that featured 12 ties and 25 lead changes, the answer is yes. Fast forward to the events of April 30, when the Lakers needed a missed box out and a chance put-back by Pau Gasol to avoid Game 7 against the eighth-seeded Thunder, and the answer transforms into a resounding yes.
Then again, one quick perusal of the Finals rosters demonstrate just how far off the Thunder might still be.
Garnett and fellow Celtics Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace and Rajon Rondo have combined for 35All-Star Games. Bryant and fellow Lakers Pau Gasol and Ron Artest have combined for 16 All-Star appearances. In Oklahoma City, Durant completes the Thunder's tally at one.
On the Thunder, there are no seasoned veteran contributors outside of wily bruiser Nick Collison. And, last time we checked, there certainly isn't a stable of future Hall of Famers.
But despite what seems to be a widespread belief around town that OKC isn't championship caliber as currently constructed, the Thunder appears to be on the right track and the right train.
"You just have to give the GM (Sam Presti) and (coach) Scott Brooks great credit,” said Chris Webber on Tuesday during an NBA TV national conference call with reporters to discuss the Finals.