Did Durant celebrate too soon?
With OKC leading the San Antonio Spurs 105-99 in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night, Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant went over to the courtside seat of his mother, Wanda Pratt, for a family hug as Chesapeake Energy Arena erupted in celebration.
Trouble was, there were still 14.6 seconds left on the clock.
Teammate James Harden sank two free throws to make it 107-99, which wound up being the final score as the Thunder clinched the series to advance to NBA Finals.
Some national media criticized Durant for celebrating too soon. Pratt herself wondered if they had celebrated too soon.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who himself was trying to remain composed at that moment, said he did not notice the Durant celebration.
Asked if Durant had rejoiced too soon, Brooks smiled and said: “He might have waited one more possession. I think that as a coach. But as a player, it doesn't work that way.”
Located roughly 20 feet away from the Durant family hug was TNT analyst Reggie Miller, who scored eight points in 8.9 seconds in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals in a shocking comeback victory over the New York Knicks.
“Well, if you look at it that way …” Brooks said, his voice tailing off.
Brooks was a member of the 1994 Houston Rockets world championship team.
What is more rewarding, being on a team in the NBA Finals, or being in charge of a team in the NBA Finals?
“It's always better to play. It's always better,” Brooks said. “You play 48 minutes, you lose, you blame it on the coach. You win, you get all the credit.
“As a player, there's nothing like it. Coaching, you take it with you. You have to let it (a loss) go and move on to the next game. They pile up and you always refer back to that … But the players, they forget about it until they go to the next game. They remember they had a good game, but they don't remember they had a bad game, which is always good.
“They both are rewarding.”
A GIANT LEAP
The Thunder finished 23-59 in its first season of existence and three years later has advanced to the NBA Finals.
The last two teams to win 25 games or less and advance to the NBA Finals in three years or less? One of them will be OKC's next opponent.
The 2006-07 Boston Celtics finished 24-58 and the following season set an NBA record for a one-year turnaround by finishing 66-16 and capped by winning the 2008 NBA championship with Kendrick Perkins as their 23-year-old center.
Two years later, the Celtics went 50-32 and advanced to the Finals, where they lost 4-3 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 2007-08, the Miami Heat finished 15-67 and three years later advanced to the 2011 Finals, where it lost 4-2 to the Dallas Mavericks.
Before Game 6, Brooks was asked if he thought Chesapeake Energy Arena could possibly be any louder with his team about to play for a spot in the NBA Finals.
“I didn't think it could, but it did,” Brooks said. “When Perk got the dunk (with 24.3 seconds left), that place, I've never been in a building that was louder. You could just tell there was so much excitement because they knew we were going to the NBA Finals.
“They (fans) deserve a lot of credit. They stuck with us and cheered us on. It wasn't always good basketball. Even this year we had some times it wasn't always good basketball, but they've always cheered us on, always stuck by our side. Our players love it. Our players appreciate what they do. They know that it's a combination of everybody that going to put the time in to experience this.
“(The slogan) ‘Team-is-one' is so important, we don't just throw that out there.”
Brooks then shared a formula that included the arena's capacity (18,203) and the number of players on the roster (15).
“18,203 plus 15 is one,” Brooks said.
Another round in the playoffs brings another round of pressure to those who advance, and the NBA Finals is pro basketball's biggest stage.
“You have to go through it,” Brooks said. “No question, it's another level of intensity. Both teams are going to find it extremely hard to get the championship. If it is a problem, it's a great problem to have. I don't see it as a problem. Our guys, they've grown up with type of excitement around the game.”