This time, the standing ovation that followed the final buzzer was a different kind of spectacular. This time, the sea of navy blue shirts and white pom-poms that lingered for five good minutes and cheered and cheered was about appreciation for a different kind of success.
This time, the Oklahoma City Thunder is moving on to the second round. With a 100-97 series-clinching victory in Game 5 over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, the Thunder is advancing to the Western Conference semifinals for the very first time. Oklahoma City will now meet the winner between San Antonio and Memphis. The Grizzlies lead the Spurs 3-2 in that series, and whichever team emerges must deal with a growing giant in the Thunder. “I think right now they're playing as good as anybody in the Western Conference,” a sullen Denver coach George Karl conceded just before heading home for summer vacation. Kicking off the celebration inside Oklahoma City Arena was Kevin Durant, the man who gave the home fans a reason to cheer. When Arron Afflalo's last-second, desperation 3-point heave fell harmlessly to the floor, Durant turned to the crowd behind the basket closest to his team's bench, put both hands on his jersey and lifted the home white to enlarge the team name that is emblazoned across the chest. In the five minutes prior, Durant had just strung together what will go down as his finest playoff performance yet. Durant scored 16 of his game-high 41 points in the final period, breaking the Nuggets' back with a series of pull-up and step-back jumpers. He turned a nine-point deficit with 3 1/2 minutes to play into an historic three-point win. “A great player got hot,” Karl said. The turning point came when Durant stepped into a pull-up 3-pointer. It splashed straight through the net. It lifted the Thunder within 91-85 and pumped life into a crowd and team that were both growing listless. “I was off balance and it went it,” Durant said. “That kind of pushed me over the top.” The final three minutes was the sort of stuff that legends are made of. After Russell Westbrook split a pair of free throws, Durant drilled another pull-up jumper that cut Denver's lead to three. Then Durant took advantage of a Nuggets double team and found James Harden all alone in the left corner for a 3-pointer that tied it at 91-all. Bit by bit, Durant began picking apart Denver. “When Harden made that three to tie it, it took away our confidence from doubling,” Karl later admitted. Kenyon Martin put the Nuggets back ahead by two on a circus tip-in with 1:31 left to play. Then Durant did what only great players do. He put his team on his back and carried it to its biggest win. “All Nate Robinson and Royal Ivey were saying was, ‘Go take the game over. Game 5 Photo Gallery Postgame Thoughts: What did you think? Box Score: Thunder advances to second round of playoffs
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