NBA Finals: How the Thunder rose from the dredges of 3-29 to the NBA Finals
COMMENTARY — The Oklahoma City Thunder worked its way back from the edge of a historic level of losing to the heights not even the sappiest soul could imagine.
The defeats kept mounting. A 14-game losing streak. An eight-game losing streak. A five-game losing streak. The Thunder was 3-29 and headed for the wrong kind of history.
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And Scotty Brooks, handed the reins of that woebegotten team in November 2008, kept his chin up. Stayed positive. Stayed upbeat.
Even had a standard message for his browbeaten players.
“We weren't losing games,” Brooks would tell that team of Damien Wilkins and Johan Petro. “I was telling the guys we were learning how to win games, and there's a big difference.”
Good line. If only it were true. The Thunder most certainly was losing games, and its fledgling coach took the defeats hard.
“I put on a pretty good face,” Brooks said of going 2-17 in his first 19 games as an NBA head coach. “There's no question it hurt. Every day you go to work you want to have success.”
If not for the glimmer of hope he saw in how hard Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook worked, Brooks doesn't know what would have become of his chance to run an NBA team.
“That's what kept me going at that time,” Brooks said. “Because if it wasn't for that, I would have been looking at our record and going, ‘Oh, there (goes) my chance. I'm done. I'm moving on.' But those guys really kept me going.”
They keep Brooks going still. From the dredges of 3-29, the Thunder approaches the summit. The NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, starting Tuesday night in OKC. In only 3 1/2 years, the Thunder has gone from talk of worst team in league history to Finals favorite.
It happened so fast. Such acceleration. The Thunder became competitive by that first season's end. Then won 50 games in 2009-10. Made the 2011 Western Conference Finals. Now owns home-court advantage in the Finals.
“You can look at it as a negative,” Westbrook said of that 3-29 start, “but I think as a group and as an organization, we've seen some light, and we've seen that one day we'd be at this moment, and one day we'd have an opportunity to win a championship.”
Hard to believe that anyone saw it at 3-29. Durant was superstar special, and Westbrook was promising, but that first Thunder team was otherwise a mismash of mediocre talent. Nick Collison is the only Boomer remaining from that roster.