Thunder Disappointed, But Pleased With Improvement

For the first time since October, the Thunder woke up Thursday morning and there was no game to prepare for in its immediate future.

After 99 games -- 82 in the regular-season, 17 in the post-season -- the 2010-11 Thunder season is officially over. It ended Wednesday night in Dallas, with a 100-96 defeat to the Mavericks in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

"It's still shocking to me that the season is over," Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. "We had such a good run. It was a fun year, some ups and downs, but that's what every team goes through.

"I know it sounds a little crazy, but I'm ready to get back to work for next year."

Added guard Russell Westbrook: "I definitely want to still be playing. I've got some time, but I don't know what to do with it right now."

Durant, like Westbrook, said he had no idea what he was going to do with his days off. He had planned on playing playoff games through mid-June, so this free time comes as a surprise. "I'm sure I'll be here tomorrow to play around," he said, referring to the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Training Facility.

The 2011 NBA Playoffs underscored the Thunder's rapid development from a team that started the 2008-09 season 3-29 to a team that, just two seasons later, won its division and advanced to the Western Conference Finals.

“I’ve had about 10 hours to reflect on the season we just had. A lot of great things that took place," Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said. "I thought our season was very successful. We’re no different than the other 29 teams. We want to win a championship. I think we’ve done a good job of taking the steps to become a champion. The success that we had this season -- 55 wins, winning our first division, winning a couple of playoff series -- is a success in our eyes.

"Our players really improved throughout the season. I thought they did a good job from Day 1 in Training Camp of focusing in on the small things it would take to become a better team. They deserve a lot of credit. They gave us work every day. They focused on team, team achievements and the success that we had is a direct result from the work they put in throughout the year."

Each player who met with the media on Thursday talked about how the Thunder has the pieces in place to get to its ultimate destination. They talked about the steps they have taken to get to where they currently are and the work that needs to be done, both individually and collectively, to reach their goal.

"It's been really fun to be part of this turnaround. This was another step this year," forward Nick Collison said. "From now on, we know we have the ability. ... Going forward, we're at a point where we really have to focus on our level of play.

"Hopefully we'll always remember the feeling of playing in these playoff series and how special that is."

Added guard Thabo Sefolosha: "I think we worked hard for it. We have to always remember that nothing was given to us. That will be important next year. Nobody will give us anything."

While the sting of being eliminated from the playoffs still hurts, Brooks and his players were pleased with the 48-minute effort they displayed in Game 5 -- a game, by the way, nobody expected them to win.

"The effort was outstanding, the teamwork was outstanding. We just didn’t close the game," Brooks said. "They did a great job, Dallas. We’ve got to give Dallas credit. ... The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, but the success we had this year is definitely something I’m proud of and something we can have a foundation and knowing that, if we continue to work and pay attention to the details, we should always become a better team."

As the team plane landed in Oklahoma City just before 1 a.m. Thursday, a large group of fans had gathered outside the fence to welcome home the Thunder. As the door to the plane opened, players said they could hear the chants of "Let's Go Thunder!" and loud screams. It wasn't until they hit the steps that they could see the army of fans.

"Our fans are the best," Brooks said. "Last night, that was overwhelming, landing at the airport after midnight and I don't know how many people, maybe 1,000, 2,000, that's not common. We have a great situation here. The players love it. There's definitely a connection on and off the court with our fans."

Added Westbrook: "It just goes to show how great this city is regardless as to what's going on on the floor. They're always there to lift you up. They definitely showed that last night. That really picked us up."

"That's what makes Oklahoma City so special," Sefolosha said. "It was unbelievable. I want to say thanks to the fans. It was great."