The Oklahoma City Thunder won the Western Conference Championship, and in doing so have put together one of the most historic title runs in NBA history.
This wasn't just a passing of the torch or a changing of the guard moment. In eliminating the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs, The Thunder effectively ended an era of excellence in the Western Conference. Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan have been the best players in the West for the last 10 to 12 years. In one playoffs, Kevin Durant passed all of them to take his place as the best player in the Western Conference.
In the first round, The Thunder got a chance to exact revenge on the team that ended their season last year: the Dallas Mavericks.
Dallas narrowly slipped by Oklahoma City in last year's Western Conference finals. Everyone knew that Oklahoma City would be back, as early as the next season. Oklahoma City thoroughly dominated the Mavericks in round one, sweeping them. Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were simply unguardable for the depleted Mavericks squad.
The humiliation of a sweep in the first round after winning it all last year has left Mark Cuban desperate to surround Dirk with pieces, so he can make one last run. Beating Dallas was a huge confidence booster for the Thunder. They could finally erase the sting of last year's loss.
They followed that up by beating the NBA's most glamorous team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and denying Kobe Bryant his chance at a sixth ring. If you recall, the Thunder gave the Lakers all they could handle in the first round of the playoffs a couple of years ago, when many people already believed that Durant was better than Bryant.
Durant's ice in his veins three-pointer to win Game 5 was symbolic. Durant has proven himself to be a worthy successor to Kobe. The Oklahoma City Thunder, not even a decade old, have become better than the Los Angeles Lakers. Now Kobe has to think about how he will get that sixth ring with the Thunder ready to reign for the next few years.
When Michael Jordan and the Bulls were winning championships, there were young lions, but there was none who stood directly in Jordan's path like Durant is standing in Kobe's.
If that wasn't enough, the Thunder had to defeat the San Antonio Spurs, who symbolize excellence like no other team in the league. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan were seeking their fifth ring, but their time has passed.
Duncan may have played his last game, and while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili remain two of the league's best guards, this defeat will take time to recover from. The Thunder have left three of the NBA's most iconic franchises searching for answers, and Durant has left three of the best players of all time thinking of ways to keep up with him and Russell Westbrook. Durant, at 23 years old, is already one of the best scorers of all time.
Oklahoma City has one more mountain to climb and another chance to make history. The Thunder could defeat the Boston Celtics, and end the run of the Big Three, possibly sending Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen into retirement. Or they could defeat the Miami Heat, and cause the Heat to make a trade that would rock the NBA to it's core, possibly putting Dwayne Wade or LeBron James available for a trade.
Regardless of who they play, if the Thunder win the championship, they would have completed one of the five best title runs in NBA history.
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