published Monday, June 11th, 2012

Mark Wiedmer: Thunder's time has come as NBA finals begin

Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant holds the western conference trophy after Game 6 in the NBA basketball Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, June 6, 2012, in Oklahoma City. The Thunder won 107-99 and move on to the NBA Finals.
Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant holds the western conference trophy after Game 6 in the NBA basketball Western Conference finals against the San Antonio Spurs, Wednesday, June 6, 2012, in Oklahoma City. The Thunder won 107-99 and move on to the NBA Finals.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

My family and I spent much of the past week in Disney World, mostly because my mother-in-law bankrolled the majority of our vacation.

Actually, a vacation is how my 7- and 5-year-old daughters viewed it. Having just turned 55, I approached it as a sort of middle-aged masochist camp, right down to the Primeval Whirl at Animal Kingdom -- one of those rising, diving, whipping, dipping, spinning rollercoaster-esque contraptions that NASA probably borrows from time to time to boot equilibrium-challenged astronaut candidates from its space program.

I won't go into all the gory details about my lone trip on the Whirl, other than to say I didn't know my stomach could retain portions of so many past meals until they revisited my throat about two spins into the ride.

Ah, the things you do for love. Especially when your wife is smart enough to say, "Honey, why don't you take this one?"

But that's not why I'm reflecting on my five days in Mouse Town as I come to grips with why the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics will be joining me on the sofas of their choosing to watch the NBA Finals.

Yes, LeBron James deserves any accolades tossed his way today for pretty much single-handedly willing the Miami Heat over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

And Oklahoma City's future is so bright that the Young Guns, oops Thunder, ought to stroll out for Tuesday night's opening tip wearing shades.

But I would argue that my right leg is the biggest reason the Heat and Thunder are alive and the Celtics and Spurs aren't.

Bear with me on this. A couple of weeks ago I thought I'd mildly injured my right leg playing tennis. No swelling. No unbearable pain. Just semi-constant discomfort.

Then I drug it around Disney World for five days and nights, the pain increasing by the minute, oddly peaking each time my daughters insisted on another pass through "It's A Small World" and its really small, small passenger boats.

OK, so it's not actually my sore right leg that doomed Boston and San Antonio. It's Celtic Paul Pierce's sprained knee, the one that basically left the 34-year-old him attempting to guard the best player on the planet, James, on one leg.

It's fellow Celtic Ray Allen almost certainly needing surgery on his 36-year-old ankle to clean out the bone spurs that hobbled him for so much of the season.

It's also 36-year-old Spurs post player Tim Duncan -- once the most unappreciated player on the planet -- looking old and tired against the Kiddie Thunder, none of OKC's three best players more than 23 years old.

Point is, much like me, the Spurs and Celtics have grown old, particularly their best players. And as each of their series progressed in the conference finals, that age began to get the best of them. Especially the Celtics once the Heat welcomed back injured forward Chris Bosh, who did so much to slow down the marvelous series the ageless warrior Kevin Garnett was constructing for the Big Green.

It happens to all of us, of course. Time stops for no one. It doesn't mean the Celts and Spurs still aren't capable of grand performances. As the Toby Keith song proclaims: "I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was."

So Garnett can still deliver a 26-point, 11-rebound night as he did in Boston's Game 5 road win. Or San Antonio's Manu Ginobili can score 34 in a rare starting performance, as he did in the Spurs' Game 5 loss.

But putting such performances together four times in seven games is more difficult, if not impossible. It's why tennis player Roger Federer -- nearly 31 -- is unlikely to win another major. It's why Chipper Jones seems almost likely to be on the disabled list as third base these days.

It's also why the obscene youth of the Thunder and relative youth of Miami -- James is 27 -- are marching on to what should be a marvelous final while the creaking Celtics and Spurs begin their summer vacations.

Heck, if Kentucky can win an NCAA title starting three freshmen, there's no reason the Thunder can't win an NBA title with three 23-year-olds who worked out at UK during the NBA strike.

And the individual brilliance of James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade aside, that's what should happen in the Finals, where the Thunder's Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are Boston's Big Three, only 10 years younger.

Where the Celtics wilted, OKC won't. Plus, the Thunder will have the home court, and it's arguably the best home court in the NBA.

So make it Oklahoma City in six. Unless the Heat can find a way to force Durant and Co. to take a spin on the Primeval Whirl before then.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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