DALLAS — When the dressing room door slammed shut, drowning out the ruckus of the courtside celebration that signaled the end of the Oklahoma City Thunder's season, Scott Brooks stepped into the middle of the most somber locker room he's seen all season.
As he delivered his final postgame speech of the 2010-11 season, the coach tried to stare each of his players squarely in the eye. He had no luck. Heads were covered by towels and faces were buried in laps.
“This is part of it,” Brooks told his troop.
The progression of a championship contender sometimes carries this type of pain.
The Thunder fell 100-96 to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night, ending a near storybook season that came three wins shy of landing Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals in only its third year of existence.
For the third straight game, Dallas illustrated just how much experience dictates the conclusion of playoff contests. Dallas closed out Oklahoma City with a 17-6 run, continuing a trend that had carried the more veteran-laden Mavericks throughout the series and secured their second trip to the Finals in six seasons.
The loss was the Thunder's third straight, only its second three-game skid this season.
But while the bad ending stung, there is solace in what should be a bright future.
“Coming into next year, we'll feel great about what we got going,” said Nick Collison. “I think now we're competing for something different. We're trying to get a championship. There's going to be a handful of teams in that conversation, but I think it's going to be a different feel coming into next year on what we're trying to accomplish.”
The average age of the Thunder's starting lineup is just 23.6 years. If James Harden, who was stellar in Game 5, supplants Thabo Sefolosha as the starting shooting guard next season, the average age today dips to 22.
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