In recent years, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been a close-but-no-cigar kind of team – a team with championship aspirations that always fell short, usually do to a key postseason injury.
This year, however, seems different.
True, the Thunder still need to get by Golden State in the Western Conference Finals – which will be no easy task – but they proved their mettle against San Antonio, winning four of the final five games of the series after dropping Game 1 by 32 points.
Does Billy Donovan deserve a little credit for that? You betcha.
“He has increased the ball movement in Oklahoma City,” Yahoo! Sports and The Vertical NBA senior writer Chris Mannix said on CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones. “That was paramount to Sam Presti and the front office when they were looking at an alternative to Scott Brooks. You go back to last year, that team ranked, I think, 23rd in the NBA in assists. This year they were right around the top 10 in assists. That’s certainly a metric they love to use to indicate an increase in ball movement. At end of games, it certainly still looks like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are trying to take over, but for the first three-and-a-half quarters or so, you are seeing, I think, a more pass-happy kind of Oklahoma City offense – and that’s been important.
“At the same time,” Mannix continued, “they have not been the same defensive team that they were last year and years prior under Scott Brooks. So there has been a bit of a trade-off there, but obviously the tradeoff has been successful because they were able to win last night.”
Indeed, the Thunder throttled the Spurs, 113-99, in Game 6 on Thursday. Oklahoma City led by 24 at halftime and took it from there, with Durant and Westbrook combined for 65 points, 12 rebounds and 14 assists.
We’ll see what happens against Golden State, but it will be interesting to see if this series win over San Antonio convinces Durant to remain in Oklahoma City.
“I think it’s certainly influential because it does show him that the Thunder, right now, with him, are better than a 67-win San Antonio team,” Mannix said. “But at the same time, I’ve always believed that Durant wanted his LeBron James summer. From everything I’ve been told, he wants to be courted. He wants to go through the process (starting) July 1 where teams come to visit him, they give him the full sales pitch and he gets to take his time and decide on what he wants to do. One thing that Durant has never had is he’s never really had a clear window into how other teams do business. He’s known for seven or eight years now exactly how Oklahoma City does business, but I think he wants to see how teams like Golden State, San Antonio, Boston (and) maybe even the Clippers (are run). He can decide after that that yeah, Oklahoma City is run better than them, but he wants to see how these franchises are run before he makes any kind of decision. So (beating San Antonio) certainly is a positive in Oklahoma City, but I don’t think it guarantees or ensures anything.”