When the San Antonio Spurs returned to vintage form in the first half of Game 6 on Wednesday night, it seemed very likely the Western Conference Finals would return to their Texas home.
Suddenly, almost magically, the Thunder's defense also returned, and the conference championship trophy wasn't going anywhere but OKC.
The second-seeded Thunder won the Western Conference title with a 107-99 victory over the top-seeded Spurs before a lunatic sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
OKC now faces the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. The Celtics lead that series 3-2 with Game 6 in Boston on Thursday night.
Since Thunder coach Scott Brooks inherited a 1-12 team early in the Thunder's first season (2008-09), he has preached the importance of defense.
Brooks repeatedly told a young troop with oodles of talent on offense that it actually was defense that would take them to a championship season, whenever that day would come.
This year's quest remains alive precisely for that reason.
In the first half, San Antonio dominated by doing what it did well all season long. The Spurs shot the lights out from all distances, shared the ball and made very few mistakes.
It showed in their first-half stat line they shot 54.5 percent from the field, 60.0 percent from 3-point range, had 15 assists and three measly turnovers to take a commanding 63-48 lead at intermission.
"In the first half, we let the pressure get to us a little bit," Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said, referring to the pressure of closing out the series and not San Antonio's defensive pressure.
"Everybody was just doing their own thing defensively, but in that second half, we got back to doing what we do, and that was the key."
In the second half, with the Thunder's defense storming down upon them, the Spurs shot just 32.5 percent from the field, 18.2 percent from 3-point range, had five assists and nine turnovers while being outscored 59-36.
Rather than preaching again about defense at halftime, Brooks said something more important was discussed.
"We talked about a few things that were very important," Brooks said, "and it had nothing to do with the stats, had nothing to do with the fact we gave up nine 3s, had nothing to do that we (had) a lot of turnovers, had nothing to do with passing the ball.
"It had everything to do with who were are as men."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich viewed the third quarter from another direction.
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