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Thunder eliminates Spurs, advances to NBA Finals

By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times –

OKLAHOMA CITY — They came ready to roar, to conduct an ear-splitting warmup for their first foray into the NBA Finals.

The noise came eventually, after 24 forgettable minutes, Oklahoma City Thunder fans raising the volume decibel by decibel until Chesapeake Energy Arena shook as if its rafters might cave in.

The Thunder gave its fans reason for the deafening soundtrack with a most improbable 107-99 comeback victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals on Wednesday night.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook drove the story line as usual, Durant scoring 34 points on nine-for-17 shooting and Westbrook adding 25 points as Oklahoma City erased an 18-point deficit to win the closeout game and the series, four games to two.

“These are the craziest dudes that I’ve been around in my life,” Thunder guard James Harden said amid a quiet postgame locker room that seemed like any other except for the NBA Finals hats and T-shirts being distributed. “I’m just proud of the resilience these guys have of sticking with it.”

And so the NBA Finals will start here after all on Tuesday against either the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat.

The celebration began in earnest after Harden grabbed a rebound with 38 seconds left and Durant eventually made a bounce pass to Kendrick Perkins for a ferocious dunk that gave Oklahoma City an insurmountable 105-99 lead. Blue and orange streamers descended from the rafters after Durant dribbled out the last few seconds.

Durant wrapped his arms around his mother, seated courtside, in a heartwarming embrace.

“We didn’t want to go back to San Antonio,” Durant said during an on-court interview that was briefly interrupted by chants of “M-V-P!”

The Spurs closed the season with four consecutive losses, practically inconceivable for a team that had won its previous 20 games.

San Antonio guard Tony Parker had 29 points and 12 assists but couldn’t sustain his earlier brilliance, scoring eight points after a first half in which he logged a double-double.

“They were more energetic, they played better defense, they were more aggressive and we were not as sharp, as lucid to find the open teammate,” said Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, who had 10 points but made only four of 12 shots in his second consecutive start.

The comeback started with a point-four fling that may have seemed inconsequential at the time but proved to be important, Durant’s three-pointer with four-tenths of a second left before halftime that pulled the Thunder within 15 points.

Oklahoma City then made its move in earnest in the third quarter. Westbrook made a couple of mid-range jumpers, Serge Ibaka went in for a dunk and Durant was unstoppable with 14 points, a better than a point-a-minute pace.

His second three-pointer of the quarter gave the Thunder a 79-77 lead, its first advantage since it led early in the first quarter.

The Spurs briefly reclaimed the lead before Oklahoma City went back ahead, 85-84, on Harden’s driving layup early in the fourth quarter. The Thunder never trailed again.

The wild momentum swings were emblematic of a series in which if you didn’t like the way things were going, all you had to do was wait a few minutes.

“I’m not sure what it was,” Westbrook said of the comeback. “I just thought it was togetherness.”

Parker had a career first quarter for the Spurs, scoring 17 points on seven-for-10 shooting to go with five assists. There was a point with less than three minutes to go when he had factored in all of the Spurs’ 28 points by either making a shot or feeding the scorer with an assist.

Tim Duncan added 25 points and 14 rebounds in what probably won’t be his last game in a San Antonio uniform. Though his contract ends this summer, the veteran center said earlier in the series that he was “a Spur for life.”

He just won’t be a Spur in the NBA Finals.

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