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Fran Blinebury

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Arms akimbo, Kevin Durant (left) and Kendrick Perkins (right) know this series is far from over.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

Just like that, the Spurs don't look invincible


Posted Jun 1 2012 6:28PM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- So it turns out that nasty also comes in a nice shade of Thunder blue.

There was Kendrick Perkins down in a snarling defensive crouch, waving for Manu Ginobili to bring it on and snatching the ball away when he tried.

On another possession, Perkins leaped out front to block a 3-point shot by Ginobili and then ran past the TNT broadcast crew shouting: "Talk about that!"

James Harden stared at Tiago Splitter. The Spurs blinked.

Now, according to the spasmodic twitches in the Age of Twitter, we have a series. It's funny how games and perceptions can change in 140 characters or less.

About three hours before tip-off on Thursday night, I was standing in an elevator with a couple of friendly game attendants at Chesapeake Energy Arena when one of them said: "It's really been a great season, but I guess it's over."

Then stuff named Thabo and Kendrick and Harden happened and an Oklahoma City landscape that is flatter than a frying pan was suddenly dotted with skyscrapers full of potential.

But how much really changed with a single 102-82 win by the Thunder?

Fact is, if they don't follow it up with another victory in Game 4, a 3-1 hole heading back to San Antonio will be just a smidgen less daunting than 3-0.

"That one is over with," Perkins said. "You can say guys was pretty locked in right after the win. Nothing being said; no high-fiving, because we still got a long way to go. It's still rough. We got a lot of work to do."

That was the game that you win on the emotion and energy of being back inside the noisy Thunderdome embrace of your skull-splitting home-court advantage, not to mention the personal and professional pride of a team that had won 47 regular season games and remains unbeaten (6-0) at home in the playoffs.

Mo Mentum is just another guy who lives down the block from Moe's Deli and has no real bearing on a playoff series from one game to the next. The fact that San Antonio had won 20 in a row entering Game 3 meant nothing when the Thunder played defense harder and played smarter on offense. If any playoff series this spring had seven games written on its forehead, this was it.

"What you have to understand is that we never looked at it like we had a 20-game winning streak," said Spurs center Boris Diaw. "To us, it was 20 one-game winning streaks. Now they have won one, that's all."

That is the challenge facing the Thunder, to summon up the same drive and fire to confront a Spurs team that will likely have an answer for Game 3.

Did anyone seriously believe that the Spurs' winning streak would go on forever or at least until a 40-something Tim Duncan hobbled off into the sunset somewhere around 2017? The old coaching philosophy is that if you're going to get beat, it might as well be a thorough flogging to provide a teachable moment and a stamp on the burned psyche.

Getting embarrassed can be a good thing and today the Spurs are not fundamentally different -- with 31 wins in their last 34 games -- than they were before Thursday night.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks still labels them the best team in basketball and the truth is the gap that separates the Spurs from his own team was never wider than a pane of glass.

Despite falling into the 0-2 deficit, the Thunder had a nine-point lead after three quarters of the series opener and even pushed back to make things close after San Antonio went up by 22 in Game 2. Three games in and the Thunder are everything that was expected -- long, athletic, fierce, scary and quite good.

"We never thought these guys had an advantage over us," said Kevin Durant.

It was the historically long streak and the fact that the Spurs hadn't lose a game in more than a month-and-a-half that warped everyone's view.

If the Thunder needed a history lesson, it could have been provided by veteran guard Derek Fisher, who fell behind the Spurs 0-2 in the 2004 playoffs, then made his famous heave with 0.4 seconds left in Game 3 as his Lakers turned it around and won four straight to win the series.

"The things that I share with these guys, it comes from my experiences and what I've been through," Fisher said. "But at the same time, this locker room is filled with guys that, though they're really young, they want to be successful really bad and they're open minded and willing to do whatever it takes."

In other words, they're quite good too and they know it.

There's an ancient NBA axiom that says the playoff series doesn't start until the home team loses or it's Game 7.

So we might not be halfway there yet.

"I wouldn't say we were desperate (in Game 3)," Durant said. "There was a sense of urgency. We made our statement.

"But I was over with it once the buzzer went (off). We know they'll be much tougher, more physical. They'll play smart, hard and we'll see what happens."

In a lot of ways, it's just begun.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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