Thunder take down mighty Spurs, but are looking for more

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It didn't take Kevin Durant long to summarize his feelings in beating the San Antonio Spurs in six games to move on to the Western Conference finals.

"This wasn't our championship," he said.

In some ways, with the Oklahoma City Thunder's emphatic 113-99 Game 6 win, it felt like an achievement, the slaying of the mighty 67-win Spurs. Three straight wins, each one more impressive than the last, two wins in a building where the Spurs had lost only once all season. The Thunder exorcised crunch-time demons and flashed a defensive intensity missing for most of the season, reducing the Spurs to a one-trick isolation team.

The Thunder were younger, faster, bouncier and plainly put, better.

"We met a better team," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

The way the series turned on its head after the Spurs' 32-point melting of the Thunder was, well, let's just say unexpected. After that first quarter of Game 1, it looked as if the Spurs were in another class, a team validating the superiority over the talented but apparently rudderless Thunder. That changed in the opening four minutes of Game 2, with the Thunder changing their disposition and resolving to be better.

"We had that game and left it behind us," Russell Westbrook said. "We came out after that and had a different mindset. We knew what we had to do to beat this team."

The message from the organization all season long in coach Billy Donovan's first year has been patience. Work through the rough edges and believe there would be a payoff in the end. The Thunder weren't in the same class as the Spurs throughout the regular season. They were woefully inconsistent defensively. Their fourth-quarter problems were two-sided, with turnovers and defense stealing games from them. They looked brilliant one night; they looked aimless the next.

But there was always an internal belief, something sold by general manager Sam Presti when he hired Donovan, and something infused in the roster by the first-year head coach in training camp, that they would be better for it. When the Thunder slipped and sputtered following the All-Star break, stumbling to a 4-6 record punctuated by ugly blown games against the Warriors and Clippers, Donovan was almost giddy at it. Not the losing, of course, but the fact he finally was going to have his team's attention. Losing bears listening, and in the end, it paid off for the Thunder.

"The one thing that's happened for our team, which has been good, is Dallas and San Antonio," Donovan said. "These games helped us get better. We have improved and gotten better. I think there's an opportunity to continue to grow for our team. Going through those first few games, losing that first game the way we did, I give our guys a lot of credit because they paid attention and locked in and tried to continually improve game to game."

As the series wore on, it became obvious the advantages the Thunder had. They frustrated the Spurs, taking away first, second and third options. Each San Antonio possession Thursday was a grind deep into the shot clock as the Thunder zoomed around like condors with their wings spread. Andre Roberson was at the heart of it, guarding Kawhi Leonard and adding an unexpected 14 points. Steven Adams -- who battled through a migraine headache pregame that caused him to vomit -- continued his stellar play. Serge Ibaka limited LaMarcus Aldridge and came up with a block on Tim Duncan late that Durant called "like a clutch basket." The Thunder flipped the script on the Spurs, showcasing a ferocious defense, excellent late-game execution and well-rounded depth.

But ultimately it was the sheer force and power of Westbrook and Durant that carried them home. Durant had 37 points; Westbrook 28 points and 12 assists. Those that dared suggest the Thunder had a chance in this series relied on two things for their reasoning: No. 35 and No. 0. And it's why the Thunder remain a threat to keep going.

"We wasn't in this position for nothing," Durant said. "Throughout the season we were still learning who we were as a team. We were mixing different lineups, so that helped us out. Guys got experience throughout the regular season, and in the first series a lot of guys stepped up. We play hard every minute and we just try to stick to that and follow the game plan and live with the results."

The Thunder have battled outside noise for much of the second half the season, with it crescendoing like a tornado siren circling back in your direction. What does this series mean for Durant's future? What does this game mean? What does this quarter mean? In the middle of all that, there's a fantastically run organization trying to win it all. The Thunder haven't buried their heads in the sand, but they also haven't been consumed by it. They know what's ahead. But they also know what's next.

It's onto the next challenge. Congratulations, you beat the 67-win Spurs. Now you get to play the greatest team of all time, the Golden State Warriors. The Thunder aren't flinching.

"We're not going to be cocky or anything or try to come out too much," Adams said. "We know it's going to be one hell of a battle. We just have to show up and make sure we don't take anything for granted and stick to what we do."

This is the fourth Western Conference finals trip for the Thunder in the last six years, the two seasons they missed being derailed by Westbrook's knee injury in 2013 and Durant's foot injury in 2015. Everyone knows what they're missing. Beating the Spurs wasn't it. Like Durant said, they want more.