Last night after the Dallas Mavericks came back in miraculous fashion versus my beleaguered Oklahoma City Thunder in game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, I changed the channel with the hopes of escaping the reality that I witnessed just minutes ago. HBO boxing was on, and the replay of the WBO light heavyweight championship between Bernard Hopkins vs. Jean Pascal came on the set. Being a boxing connoisseur and having no desire to sleep, I watched the entire fight in what would be a microcosm of what I just witnessed earlier that evening.
Bernard Hopkins, at age 46, became the oldest sports champion of our generation by putting the beats to the younger, stronger, faster, Jean Pascal in a way only an old man could. He used every ounce of his skill, he was as crafty in the ring as an old player talking to a woman, and he cheated like his life depended on it. Thumbed him in the eye, elbowed him in the mouth, did push-ups in front of him between rounds, holding behind the refs back, everything he could to get an edge over a fighter 18 years his junior. Jean Pascal never had a chance.
In reality, the Oklahoma City Thunder never had a chance either.
For the last six months or so I've watched this Thunder team mature and blossom that its almost been unnerving. They're THAT good. When the 2011 playoffs were upon us, the Thunder were the "sexy pick" due to their improvement versus last season and the war that was waged against the 2010 world champion Los Angeles Lakers. They're ready this year, folks thought, and even I had those dreams for my hometown team.
As the Thunder dispatched of the Nuggets and the Grizzlies, when watching them it seems that their ridiculous talent would help them overcome their ineptitude that they'd show us at times. Durant would show us a reluctance to get the ball. Westbrook would show us a resistance to passing the ball. Brooks would show us an inability to influence his players to execute. However, the Thunder were winning. Winning cures all ills. Or so it seems.
For the past 3-4 weeks I've told Ken that I think the Thunder are too young. Everyone loves the fact that Durant and Westbrook are 22 years old. Serge Ibaka and James Harden are 21. The majority of OKC's other role players are no older than 26. The veteran bigs of Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed provide a calm steady at times, but when your key playmakers are that young then really you're dealing with young men who still don't really know how to talk to women yet. In short, the Thunder lacked the one thing you really can't buy...some seasoning.
The Dallas Mavericks have six guys in their rotation who are over the age of 30. The OKC Thunder have six guys in their rotation who are 23 and under. Its all about reps. The Mavericks have them, and the Thunder don't.
When OKC was up 10 with about two minutes remaining, even I thought the game was over. Hell, Dirk missed a free throw. I figured that was the sign that things were done for Big D in game 4. Instead, what we witnessed was Dallas turn into Bernard Hopkins and pull every trick out the bag. Thumbed OKC in the eye, hit below the belt, held behind the refs back, and anything else the Mavericks knew they could get away with.
All of a sudden, Durant was catching the ball 30 feet away (versus first half where he caught it 10 feet away) from the rim again. All of a sudden, Westbrook began trying to play hero ball (which Dallas allowed by design) again. It seemed like the only "old man" that could help them was the one who fouled out minutes before in James Harden. The bearded one might be the only one Brooks has to keep his composure with the ball in crunch-time, and he couldn't go to him when he needed him most.
Dallas held OKC to 4 points in the last 7-plus minutes of the game including overtime, with Ibaka and Sefolosha scoring the only points. All hail Coach Rick Carlisle, who'd been in the wars as a player for the 80's Celtics, who coached the Pacers and Pistons to playoff glory in years past. All hail Kidd, Chandler, Marion, JET, Predrag, Boricua Iverson, Brenda, and $5 DeShawn. The old men Mavericks looked like the Team Uncle all-stars playing against the young bucks, the young bucks never really stood a chance. It just took game 4 for all of us to see it.
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