Updated: Jun 7, 2012, 6:28 PM
five games -- with a host of fourth-quarter heroics in both series -- they took on the Spurs' juggernaut.

"This was a series of, 'Were we going to play smart enough to beat them?'" Mohammed said. "We knew we had the talent to beat them, but they play so well."

Stunningly, the Thunder won the mental game, from Scott Brooks getting better strategic results than Gregg Popovich, to Russell Westbrook replicating a true point guard better than Tony Parker (Westbrook had 44 assists in the series to Parker's 38). The Thunder made a higher percentage of shots than the Spurs, the league's best shooting team. And the Thunder, who turned the ball over more than any team in the league during the regular season, showed a greater appreciation for the value of possessions in playoff games than the Spurs, who coughed it up a whopping 95 times in the six games.

The Spurs looked like championship material again in the first half of Game 6 as Parker, the fall guy for three subpar games, put together a monster first half of 21 points and 10 assists. But a Durant 3-pointer that dropped in with 0.4 seconds left in the first half -- there's that cursed number for the Spurs again -- started the Thunder's climb back into the game.

Five fourth-quarter Spurs turnovers helped the Thunder complete their comeback in Game 6. Three of them came on offensive foul calls, during a stretch when every time the whistle blew it seemed to go against the Spurs. When Popovich wasn't registering complaints to the nearest official he turned to an assistant to say, incredulously, "You've got to be kidding me."

Yes, the Thunder got some favorable calls on their way to the NBA Finals. That shouldn't detract from their effort, including Durant drawing what everyone agreed was his first charge of the season.

It's not the box score numbers -- such as Durant's 34 points or Westbrook's 25 or Harden's 16 -- that should strike fear in the rest of the league. It's their ages: Durant and Westbrook are 23 and Harden is 22. And now they're about to play in the first NBA Finals and eighth playoff series, an astonishing number for such a youthful group.

That it's all come together is a testament to the vision of general manager Sam Presti, who always thinks of the long-term, even when there are immediate needs screaming to be addressed. The irony is that his patient process has paid off with a trip to the Finals so quickly.

"We've never lived by a stopwatch or a calendar," Presti said. "We've just tried to continually invest in the process of continuous improvement and let the results settle where they may by the quality of the work. There's really no finish line in terms of trying to continue to improve. It's a credit to our players and our coaches to embrace that."

He was standing in a hallway, seemingly the one quiet place in the cauldron of noise that was Chesapeake Energy Arena. There was perspiration on his forehead and a bead of sweat running down his right cheek, the products of a jubilant Thunder locker room that had been crowded with front office members savoring the moment with the players. Later, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin would stop by, showing the significance of this moment to the entire state.

"A lot of people packed in a small place," was Presti's description of the locker room. "There's going to be some serious dry-cleaning going on."

The cleaning bills are a side effect of success, the latest thing the Thunder franchise has learned on this remarkable journey.


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