In the last two springs, the Thunder has played four playoff series. And won two.
That's more playoff experience than Portland's had since 2003 (three series). That's as many playoff successes as George Karl's had in his six years in Denver. More than the Hornets have had since moving to New Orleans (nine years ago). More than the always-scrappy Rockets have had since 1997.
Losing to the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals was a bummer for the Thunder, especially considering the blown leads late in the final two games this week.
But what a valuable ride for the Thunder.
“We hadn't been through many experiences in the playoffs,” James Harden said. “Now that we've been through some tribulations, we have some things we can bounce back on.”
No kidding. The Laker glamour show from a year ago. Now the gauntlet of Denver, Memphis and Dallas.
The Nuggets offered a frenetic pace and random offense. The Grizzlies staged a bloodbath. The Mavs offered technical expertise of a salty coach in Rick Carlisle, a wise quarterback in Jason Kidd and a player for the ages in Dirk Nowitzki.
Such a road will make the Thunder better. Such a road will make the Thunder much better.
“The experiences we had were invaluable for us,” general manager Sam Presti said.
The Thunder is billed as baby Boomers who will naturally improve. A bunch of 21- and 22-year-olds whose progression is automatic.
But Presti points out that “our improvement is not a matter of time. It's experiences over time.
“It hasn't come from flipping days off the calendar. Each series we played was a chance to learn and apply and prepare and compete.”
Check out what the Thunder experienced just this post-season.
A Game 7 (Memphis). Winning a series with an amazing comeback, coming back from nine points down with 31/2 minutes left in Nuggets Game 5.
Playing a must-win game after the historic collapse (losing Game 4 to Dallas despite a 15-point lead with five minutes left). A three-overtime victory in a game that could have put OKC in a 3-1 series hole.
Kevin Durant getting bullied by ruffians from Memphis and Dallas. Russell Westbrook enduring coast-to-coast criticism and a fourth-quarter benching.
Dirk playing the game of his life (48 points) and Durant playing the worst game of his life (Memphis Game 6).
“We've been through a lot,” Durant said. “Playing a seven-game series, being down 3-1, laying it all on the line, being up 3-1. It was a great experience.”
What did Durant learn? “Know every possession, every point, every rebound, is important,” he said. “I learned a lot. Russell learned a lot. James learned a lot.”
Barring LeBron James collusion or natural order of Laker and Celtic selection, this is the way you win in the NBA. Paying dues.
Taking playoff lumps, surviving some, others not, collecting dirt under fingernails and calluses on hands.
Michael Jordan made the playoffs his first six years in the league and had one series victory. Isiah Thomas won one playoff series his first four years in the NBA, then reached the East finals in Year 5, the NBA Finals in Year 6 and the throne in Year 7. David Robinson won two playoff series his first five years and finally won the NBA title in his 10th season.
The Thunder progress is in overdrive. The Thunder is paying on the principle. These playoffs will pay off in Oklahoma City for years to come.
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 AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.