Less than 3 1/2 minutes into the Thunder's first playoff game ever, 7-footer Pau Gasol threw a pass at the basket, and 7-footer Andrew Bynum skied to easily dunk the ball.
Uh-oh, thought everyone in Thunder blue. Just exactly how is the Thunder supposed to stop that?
Seemed like a quick series was inevitable, and though the Thunder hung tough in April 2010, taking the series to six games, no ever thought the Lakers were vulnerable.
That has changed. The Thunder team that awaits the Lakers in a Western Conference semifinal series that begins Monday night is different from those Baby Boomers of two years ago.
This Thunder team is not an upstart. Not seeking an upset. This Thunder team has legit championship aspirations. And this Thunder team was built to beat LA.
That Thunder team started Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green opposite Bynum and Gasol. This Thunder team starts Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
Big difference. Big, big difference. Krstic was an adequate offensive center but defensively deficient. Green could score but was outmanned trying to stop big or skilled power forwards, and Gasol is both big and skilled.
Thunder mastermind Sam Presti knew that the road to NBA titles has been going through Los Angeles for 40 years. He knew Bynum or Gasol or both would be Lakers for years to come.
So Presti shipped Green to Boston for Perkins, the NBA's best post defender, and signed him to a four-year contract extension.
That trade has paid off handsomely over the last 15 months. But at no time is it more valuable than now, with another Thunder-Laker series on the starting line.
With Ibaka having grown up from a 20-year-old rookie in that first Laker series to now the league's best shot blocker, the Thunder goes into this series more able than any other NBA squad to match up with the Laker stars.
Now as then, the Thunder has Thabo Sefolosha, who can't stop Kobe Bryant but dogs the Laker legend well. But that beefed up interior defense has elevated the Thunder to championship contender.
Perk's value does not show against every opponent. He would have been only marginally helpful against the Denver jackrabbits. There were times when he wasn't needed against Dallas.
But when you need post defense, you really need it, else victory is not possible. If teams can score easily in the paint, the game is over – check out the Lakers' Game 7 win over Denver on Saturday night, when Bynum and Gasol combined for 39 points and 20 offensive rebounds.
“Their presence makes us different than everybody else,” said Laker coach Mike Brown.
In that six-game series two years ago, Gasol and Bynum combined to shoot 55 percent from the field and average 30 points and 21.2 rebounds a game.
But such percentages won't come so easy this time around. Perkins pushes Bynum away from the basket. Against Perk, Bynum's dunks become hooks and his 5-footers become 8-footers.
Perk's Celtics beat the Kobe/Gasol/Bynum Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals and like to think they would have beaten them again in the 2010 championship series, had Perkins not suffered a knee injury that kept him out of Game 7.
“Perk is an unbelievable post defender, rebounder for us,” said Kevin Durant. “A force in the paint. We're going to need him.”
Perkins suffered a strained hip on May 5, when the Thunder closed out its series conquest of Dallas, and his status for the second round has been cloudy. But indications are Perkins will be ready for Game 1 against the Lakers.
“It's very important,” said the Thunder's Daequan Cook. “Perk carries a big load for us.”
No team in the NBA has two interior players the likes of Gasol and Bynum. But no team in the NBA has interior defense the likes of Perkins and Ibaka. Which is why Presti's building plan pays off and the Thunder wins this series in five games.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.