Sunday, May 15, 2011

This Is Not an Illusion: Durant, Westbrook Can Win It for Thunder

The feeling, along with the fascinating and youngest core in the NBA, is that Kevin Durant and the burgeoning Oklahoma City Thunder can finally be recognized in the loudest building in the league, where the enthusiastic crowd screamed wildly thrilled to worship an NBA franchise in a town where an appreciated market is normally obsessed with college sports.

Best as it seems, here's a franchise that comprise of spectacular talent and has been noticed by all the dazzling achievements in the postseason in NBA history, highlighted by Durant and the phenomenal wingman Russell Westbrook. As it is, the Thunder are depicted as the deepest 1-2 threat in the league when Durant and his teammates have rendered that Oklahoma City is the hottest contenders on the rise. In the stands at the raucous Oklahoma City Arena, evidently the noisiest venue in the league, the zesty crowd cheered and witnessed the Thunder propel to a 105-90 win in a convincing rout over the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 7 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

The folks, lathered in blue attire in support of the Thunder, watched Durant and Westbrook perfectly scorch and improve in the biggest game of their lifetimes, sprouting into one of the most mesmerizing teams in pro basketball and could be the scariest contenders in our next generation. What's shocking and very hard to ponder, even though Oklahoma City is the most impressive team in such an erratic postseason with immeasurable size and even the deepest roster surrounded by weapons and a legion of youth and talent, is that nobody is giving the Thunder credit.

This has been a wondrous season for Oklahoma City, greater like never before by the emergence of the much-improved stars in the future, finally well-deserving of applause for reaching the highest climax as the stakes are immense. This is the era when Durant shines and establishes himself as one of the idolized, iconic figures in the league, fittingly climbing onto the highest level alongside Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. For now, however, we are overly fascinated by Durant, ultimately the face of the Thunder and the town's beloved ballplayer, if not globally.

It's most telling, when he is one of the youngest stars embracing the moment under the pressure amidst the national spotlight, that Durant has become the greatest curiosity in the NBA by alarming the basketball world in the arrival of his first signature moment of his breathtaking career. At a time when Durant seized the spotlight by wooing the spectators, considered the eventful superstar in the game today, his mother, Wanda Pratt was seen on camera. She noticed herself on the big screen, waving and pumping her fist, proud of her son's fruition of greatness in his premature career.

In an afternoon matinee, where Durant produced largely and guided the Thunder to new heights, his mom was the cheerleader and galvanized the crowd in the middle of a timeout during the second quarter by dancing happily. At a time when he scored a game-high 39 points, hitting 13 of 25 shots, when he inspired the population to believe heavily in the wave of emotions and aspiration, he excelled in the brightest game. In addition to his exulted talent, radical maturity and poise at the age 22 in his third NBA season, Durant's traits makes him a well-rounded star in the modern era of pro basketball.

The assumption that Durant is highly unstoppable and explosive with the capacity to heave jump shots from all angles on the floor and be named an All Star earlier than expected wouldn't be an understatement, but a valid explanation for why he is reasonably the best young megastar in basketball. In large part, considering that he is already a household name, not exactly a bust or travesty, he is more obsessed with earning a trip to the NBA Finals rather than claiming the limelight. To his credit, with Thunder's head coach Scott Brooks, who has molded Durant especially, he is typically an emerging ballplayer who has already been in the running for the Most Valuable Player award. As time dwindled, the crowd stood and erupted in Oklahoma City, chanting impetuously to reduce the tension and terror.

"We want Dallas! We want Dallas!"

Wishes came true.

After all, the Thunder absolutely are facing the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, ready to encounter a competitive bout in the next few weeks as Durant's popularity balloons with his accomplishments on the court when he evolved into the youngest player to ever lead the league in scoring when he averaged 30.1 points last season. When he entered the NBA in 2007, forgoing his sophomore season at the University of Texas, he was much too dignified because he was clearly a gifted player, standing at 6-foot-10, athletically balanced and equipped to make an immediate impact.

But the Thunder, with even the surest notion that this is the team to beat in the ever changeable West, convinces and sends a statement to all disbelievers. It was clear, then and there, that no one could crowd or slow down the streaky, hottest player on the floor in Durant, including the untouchable Westbrook. And in all, this was about Durant, earning his rightful nickname, which would be "Durantula," and revealing to the nation that he's an elite breed. What's impressive about Durant and Westbrook is how both can shimmer and win it all feasibly, as the vast majority ignores the Thunder's glorious pursuit.

"I was just trying to get my teammates as easy as shots as possible," Westbrook said. "I just always do my best to play my game. That's it. Kevin just told me not to pay attention to what any of you guys are saying."

As it happened, of course, the Thunder won the series in seven games in a usual fashion. In this game, Westbrook was an integral element and finished with a triple-double, Durant poured in 39 points and James Harden produced his exuberant work off the bench with 17 points. Surely, no one ever imagined Westbrook capping a triple-double, the first in a Game 7 since Scottie Pippen in 1992. It's acceptable to think that the Thunder can win the NBA championship, perfectly content with the lack of publicity and disrespect, not recognized whether because the team is too young or inexperience.

In all honesty, the Thunder had the proper ingredients in a stellar performance by shooting efficiently, gathering stops regularly and slowing down the Grizzlies. It comes as no surprise that Durant bounced back with the grandest performance, particularly when he was hard on himself for his lack of energy and assertiveness in Game 6, committing a pair of fouls early on with a horrible 3-for-14 shooting night. The night for Durant was spectacular in many ways, for which he hit four of his nine three-point tries and converted on all nine of his free throw attempts, all while collecting nine rebounds and blocking three shots with two assists.

"It's another good step for our organization," Brooks said. "Our goal was, just like all the other 29 teams, is to win a championship and we're no different. We know that the process is long and hard and you can't skip steps and you don't get there quickly. To get to the conference finals is a great opportunity for our group, but it is important that we keep playing. Dallas presents a lot of problems."

There's a sense of belief, after the Thunder sent a message. The Thunder aren't to be reckoned with.