Thunder go from futility to finals in 3 years


By Jeff Latzke ,AP

OKLAHOMA CITY — At the beginning of the video the Oklahoma City Thunder play before their starting lineups are announced, there’s a message on the scoreboard.

“RESILIENCY. IT DEFINES OUR TEAM.”

That was especially true during the Thunder’s comeback from an 18-point deficit Wednesday night to beat the San Antonio Spurs and clinch a spot in the NBA finals. But that’s only the final step in a remarkable turnaround.

It was only three seasons ago that Oklahoma City’s new team was 3-29 and just hoping to avoid the worst record in NBA history.

“You can look at it as a negative, but I think as a group and as an organization, we’ve seen some light, and we’ve seen that one day we’d be at this moment, and one day we’d have an opportunity to win a championship,” said Russell Westbrook, who may best personify the transformation by turning himself from a rookie struggling with turnovers into an All-Star.

Back when Scott Brooks was hired as coach around Thanksgiving 2008, his first task was trying to get the team to be competitive in the fourth quarter. Now, opponents can’t seem to put the Thunder away when it comes to crunch time.

“Even back then, we weren’t losing games. I was telling the guys we were learning how to win games, and there’s a big difference between that because we had guys that worked every day and it gave me hope that when we were down they were still practicing, still working hard,” Brooks said.

All that hard work paid off with the franchise’s first shot at the title since 1996 as the Seattle SuperSonics. The team’s only NBA title came in 1979 back in Seattle.

The Thunder will host Game 1 of the finals Tuesday night, against either Boston or Miami.

“I’m not as excited as I thought I’d be,” said Nick Collison, the only holdover who played in Seattle except for Kevin Durant.

“I think we all know we have more work to do. I don’t think any of us dreamt about making it to the finals. I think we all dreamt about winning it.”

Oklahoma City has gotten this far with a youthful core featuring homegrown first-round draft picks Durant, Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka that has blended with a trio of veterans who already have championship rings — Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed.