All the Oklahoma City Thunder can do now is cling to history.
Two more victories by the dominant San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals, and Kevin Durant and the Thunder will be just that.
The Thunder stagger home down 0-2 in the series, smarting from a 35-point beat-down in San Antonio in Game 2 on Wednesday night. It’s the same deficit the Thunder faced against the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference finals before they won four straight and advanced to the NBA Finals.
“We’ve been there before,” Durant said after managing just 15 points in the 112-77 defeat. “You know, we try not to just say since we were down 0-2 two years ago and we end up winning, we’ll do the same thing. We’ve really got to figure it out on how we need to get better, and we’ve always done that. We’ve got to just stick together and believe in each other that we can come out and try to get Game 3 on Sunday.”
The situations are similar only at first glance. Sure, the two-game deficit is the same, but the hole seems so much bigger.
Back in 2012, the Thunder dropped the first two games in San Antonio by a total of 12 points before using their superior athleticism, and a boost from a raucous crowd in Oklahoma City, to surge past the Spurs.
This time around, the Thunder have lost the first two games by 52 combined points and looked completely overwhelmed. Durant and Russell Westbrook are struggling to hit shots on offense and no combination that coach Scott Brooks scratches together on defense has been able to slow down the Spurs.
Back in 2012, the Thunder also had James Harden and Serge Ibaka, two stellar supporting players who could pick up the slack when OKC’s dynamic duo wasn’t clicking.
This time around, Harden is in Houston and Ibaka is on the bench with a calf injury. Oklahoma City’s remaining role players haven’t done a thing. Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison — the Thunder’s other three starters — have combined to score nine total points in the two games.
“As a group, we’ve got to play much better,” Brooks said. “It’s obviously nobody on our team feels good about what happened (Wednesday) night, and that’s what I love about our group. We take a lot of pride in what we do and how we do it and who we do it with, and Game 3 is going to be a great moment for us to bounce back and play much better.”
In a way, the 2012 series also plays against the Thunder.
As dominant as they have been in this series, the Spurs haven’t forgotten their stunning collapse two years ago. It’s in the forefront of their minds as they prepare for Game 3 in Oklahoma City, and they vow to be ready.
“Yeah, I remember the series very well,” said Spurs guard Danny Green, who hit 7 of 10 3-pointers in Game 2 to bury the Thunder. “It’s a series that I won’t forget.”
There is a lingering wariness among the Spurs at just how easy the first two victories have come. They know Durant can resume his MVP form in the blink of an eye. They know Westbrook can catch fire with the smallest of sparks. And they know the Thunder crowd will have their team amped from the opening tip.
“We were in that position in 2012. We were up 2-0, and so I know after the game, nobody is very happy in their locker room,” Spurs point guard Tony Parker said. “Everybody is very focused, and we respect that team. We know that they’re very capable of a comeback, and they did that against us in 2012. We’re just very focused, and nobody is satisfied.”
As great as the challenge was for the Thunder to overcome in 2012, it pales in comparison to the one they face right now.
“It’s easy for you to go hide and run and be negative and clash, but it’s hard for you to stay positive at a time like this when we lost by a lot two games in a row,” Durant said. “It’s hard for you to stay together, but we have a group full of guys that (are) not front-runners, and we’ll figure it out. That’s all we’ve got to do, come in and figure it out, stay together.”
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