Is There Any Hope Left for the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 22, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) during the first half of Game 2 of a Western Conference finals NBA basketball playoff series against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, May 21, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Now might not be the best time to try to put a positive spin on whatever it is that's happening to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The sting of that 35-point thumping in Game 2 is still pretty fresh, and that 0-2 hole the Thunder are facing against the San Antonio Spurs looks like a chasm far too wide to be traversed.

But let's all take a deep breath and remember something important: The Thunder have faced odds just as long as these before.

And they overcame them.

In the 2011-12 Western Conference Finals, OKC dropped the first two games against the Spurs and roared back to take four straight. Summoning some stunning resolve, the Thunder crushed San Antonio in Game 3 and erased a massive 18-point deficit two games later to close out the series in Game 6.

It was a remarkable turnaround, the kind you'd never expect from a young team—least of all against a seasoned juggernaut like the Spurs. Somehow, the Thunder took San Antonio out of its game.

And they did it on their own terms, per Matt Moore of CBS Sports:

They didn't do it the Spurs way, with smart cuts and fundamental basketball. They did it the NBA way, with speed, athleticism, and length. The shooters were constantly bothered by OKC running them off the three-point line. The Thunder ran the ball down their throat and the Spurs lacked the players to respond. It was pretty devastating and there was a fear that this was it for them.

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It's not really surprising that OKC overcame the Spurs on the strength of unparalleled physical prowess. The Thunder were (and still are) faster, more explosive and more aggressive than just about any foe they encounter.

Maybe it just took them a couple of games to remember that in 2012.

If only because OKC has survived an 0-2 hole before, we know there's some hope in 2014. Things look bleak, to be sure. But most of that ridiculous athleticism remains intact, and Kevin Durant is now an officially decorated MVP.

That can't hurt, can it?

A couple of additional tweaks could provide hope for a repeat of the 2012 turnabout as well.

For starters, Nick Collison and Steven Adams can still have a major impact on this series—if they could ever get on the court together.

That tweet came after Game 1, and the playing time for OKC's intriguing frontcourt combo didn't exactly spike in Game 2. In fact, Collison and Adams played just a single minute together, per NBA.com, as the Thunder took their lumps on Wednesday.

So let's all congratulate Scott Brooks for making the lineup adjustment everyone wanted to see. But it might be nice to get those two out there for more than a minute in Game 3. Baby steps, I guess.

It'd also potentially help if Reggie Jackson could crack the starting lineup for OKC. He's scored 21 points in the series on 10-of-18 shooting, which is solid on its own. But when compared to Thabo Sefolosha's two-game total of precisely zero points on 0-of-9 shooting, Jackson's numbers look terrific.

If Brooks insists on starting Kendrick Perkins—which he does—he simply can't saddle the starting lineup with another punchless player. Sefolosha has value as a defender, but OKC is begging to get blown out early because it just can't score with the Spurs.

And if the Thunder want to change their fortunes in Game 3, they could do worse than starting a lineup that has a little offensive pep.

Finally, the Thunder have to do something (anything!) to get Durant and Westbrook a few easy looks. Maybe that means picking up the pace in hopes of creating transition opportunities, or maybe it will require a heavy dose of OKC's often successful 1-3 pick-and-roll.

May 3, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) slaps hands with  forward Kevin Durant (35) after a play in action against the Memphis Grizzlies in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake

Nothing comes easily against San Antonio, and there's no guarantee any of this stuff—the Collison-Adams duo, Jackson starting Game 3 or the offensive tweaks to free up KD and Russ—will work.

But OKC has to try something.

It's nice to look on the bright side, isn't it? It feels good to put a positive spin on the Thunder's chances, especially because nobody should want a short series (Spurs fans excluded) with so little basketball left in the 2013-14 postseason.

Ultimately, though, we all need to take a quick reality check here. Specifically, we must face the fact that this 0-2 deficit isn't really the same as the last one the Thunder faced, and overcame, against the Spurs.

Oklahoma City has been down two games before, but it hasn't been absolutely smashed twice in a row like this. In this series, the Thunder dropped Game 1 by 17 points. The margin in Game 2 more than doubled to 35 points.

At this pace, they're going to lose by 70 in Game 3. OK, maybe we're not in for more exponential growth, but you get the idea.

In 2012, OKC lost a close one in Game 1, then fell by a nine-point margin in Game 2. The deficit, technically, was the same. Two losses are two losses, no matter how many points of separation there are.

But the Thunder's two defeats in this series have been particularly dispiriting.

Something seemed to dawn on Oklahoma City early in Game 2, and its commitment disappeared rather quickly when it realized it was up against a ridiculously efficient, ruthless foe. You could see it happening—the collective loss of will.

So could Boris Diaw.

We have to consider the increasingly real possibility that this version of the Spurs is markedly better than the one OKC came back to beat in 2012. More than that, it's possible this is the best San Antonio team ever. And that's really saying something when you're talking about the historically dominant Spurs.

At the same time, it's fair to ask whether this Thunder team is worse than the one we saw in 2012. That certainly seems to be the case so far, and the outlook doesn't figure to improve.

Remember, OKC knows it won't go into battle with all its weapons for the rest of the series. Serge Ibaka isn't walking through that proverbial door, and last time these teams did battle in a playoff series, some dude named James Harden was also on Oklahoma City's roster.

It's nice to harbor hope, and a few adjustments might give the Thunder a fighting chance. For whatever it's worth, OKC gets to go home for Game 3. That can only help.

But as amazing as the Thunder's recovery from that 0-2 hole in 2012 was, it'll be twice as impressive if they climb out of this one. We're talking miracle-level stuff.

We probably shouldn't rule out a transcendent Thunder performance entirely, but the past feels too distant, too remote to be prologue in this case.

In other words, the Thunder dug a deeper hole this time around, and it looks an awful lot like a grave from here. Instead of springing to life, it seems most likely OKC will be resting in peace pretty soon.


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