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.
"We just haven't been able to sustain our offense for four quarters, and for us to beat those guys, we needed to score," Popovich said. "And the third quarter, it was like playing in mud. So that was our downfall as much as anything ... The lack of offense in the third quarter was tough."
Veteran power forward Tim Duncan finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds and also viewed the game-changing third quarter from a similar perspective.
"They made shots and we did not," Duncan said. "I thought our effort and execution was there, they just made shots through a stretch there and got back into it. Then down the stretch it seemed like they got every whistle possible and that really changed the tide. We were playing tough defense and trying to get stops, but the whistle kept blowing and they went to the line."
The Spurs dominated early, returning to the spectacular execution that made them the team to beat entering this year's playoffs.
With The Peake perhaps amped more than it's ever been, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker quickly hushed the crowd by erupting for 17 points in the first 8:39 of the contest, shooting 7 for 9 from the field and also handing out five assists.
The Thunder had no answer for Parker, not individually or as a team and the Spurs took command because of him.
When Parker sat for the first time, 43.6 seconds remained in the first quarter and the Spurs led by 17 – the exact number of points he scored.
San Antonio led by as many as 18 in the first half.
Reserve forward Stephen Jackson, who shot 30.6 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, drained his first six shots of the game – every one of them a 3-pointer.
After burying his fourth trey to give the Spurs a 56-40 lead with 3:32 left before halftime, Jackson was laughing and smiling as he trotted back down court.
As he made his way over to defend Kevin Durant, a giddy Jackson glanced at the Thunder bench and screamed, "I'm having fun. I'm having fun (gosh) dammit."
When Jackson made it 5 for 5, he was slapped with a technical for taunting the OKC bench.
Jackson tried nothing but 3-pointers all night long, finishing 6 for 7 beyond the arc. He also was fouled twice while attempting 3-pointers.
His lone miss came with 43.9 seconds left and the Spurs trailing 103-99.
Parker shot 8 of 14 in the first half, but was 4 for 13 in the second half and finished with 29 points and 12 assists.
Guard Manu Ginobili converted just 4 of 12 from the field.