|The Thunder aren't thinking about their age. (Getty Images|
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It's definitely nothing new.
The Thunder have been young and inexperienced the last four seasons. Despite playoff successes, failures, ups, downs and a whole lot of in between, they continually have to answer the same questions.
Are you too young to win a title? Does experience matter?
Here's a funny thing about the Thunder: In three years, they're still going to be young and "inexperienced." In three years, instead of being 23 and 24 years old, they'll be 26 and 27 years old. Not exactly savvy old veterans.
The Thunder don't care about that stuff. Yeah, they're one of the youngest teams ever to advance to the NBA Finals, but age is just a number to them.
"It really doesn't matter," said Russell Westbrook. "I think the youth thing is kind of out of the window for us. I think we've got enough experience in the playoff atmosphere and playoff games to be able to have an opportunity to win games. We're going to come out like any other team and play our game."
Said Kevin Durant: "We've played a lot of big games. Of course, everybody is going to say it's not our time, we're too young, it's going to happen eventually, but that's not the approach we ever want to take with anything. I learned that when I was a kid.
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"My mom always told me when I was going against older guys don't let your age be the reason why you don't succeed," he continued. "I just want to, you know, like I said, take advantage of it. And we've played in a lot of games. We were too young to beat the Spurs, a great team, and we came out and accomplished that. We were too young to beat the Lakers, and we accomplished that, as well. We just want to keep thinking that we can do it and also knowing that it's going to be a tough road, and we've got to be focused."
You can't hide age and the Thunder are certainly a bunch of kids, at least in terms of traditional NBA powerhouse teams. But they don't act their age, either on the court or off. For example, the focus centering around this series is hovering over LeBron James and Durant, a star matchup fans and media are drooling over.
But as Durant was drilled with questions about LeBron, what he thinks about playing him, the size of the matchup or even past one-on-one Finals matchups he remembers, he woudn't bite. He stuck to form, played it cool and never stepped out of character.
"First, all I think about is the Thunder versus the Heat, that's all," he said. "I know everybody in here is worried about the one-on-one match-up, but I can't really control that. All I can control is how hard I play and how we play as a team."
"I mean, that's a sexier match-up, I guess," Durant continued. "But I don't read newspapers, I don't get on Twitter anymore, I just focus on what I need to do and what we need to do as a team. To be honest, really, outside of me knowing what you guys are thinking, that's all I've heard about the match-up is from you guys."
Durant's answer on what Finals matchup he remembers most?
"I remember a team against a team," he said.
It has to be tempting for Durant to get wrapped into the hot storyline. Not only is he chasing an NBA title, but he could pay back the player who has taken two MVP awards from him as well as the title of undisputed best player in the world. Durant could prove something in this series. He could prove that maybe the NBA's individual crown should rest on his head.
But he's smart enough to stay away from it all. As is Westbrook, his coach and all his teammates. They weren't taking any bait. They have a message they preach and believe, and there won't be any deviating from it. Especially not now.
This is the maiden voyage to the NBA Finals, and while it's a different animal than anything else they've ever faced, in the end, it's just basketball. And the Thunder have proven throughout this postseason that they've grown and matured from the team that was eliminated by Dallas last season. They're tough, they finish games, they stick together and they're as resilient as any team in the game.
Here's the thing: If the Thunder fall to the Heat, most will chalk it up to a learning experience, growing pains and inexperience. Instead of either celebrating the fact that maybe the Heat were better or that the Thunder just didn't perform, the crutch of youth and experience will be what everyone leans on for an explanation. It used to fit. But this Thunder team has proven time and again that it has what it takes. They have the mental toughness, have been through a number of situations, and, most important, they are extremely good.
Dwyane Wade put it simply: "Both teams have experienced basketball players. So I think it might be a little overrated."
The moment is big, the spotlight blinding. It's the NBA Finals and a first trip ever for the Thunder. This is the place they've been building toward, and they took a giant step in beating the Spurs. When they take the floor in Game 1, there will be butterflies, a few seconds of taking it all in.
But don't tell the Thunder they're inexperienced. They're definitely young, but they've been through quite a bit in their short time. Durant said a couple of weeks ago that he never thought the Thunder had to wait their turn or pay their dues. They intend to take what they want, no matter how old they are.