Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 5/4/12
DALLAS Dirk Nowitzki talked after Game 2 about how the Dallas Mavericks were not going to just give a hard-earned championship away. He challenged Oklahoma City to take it. Kevin Durant took him at his word. Thursday this exceptionally young Thunder superstar came out and grabbed Game 3 and this first-round series by the lower guts. He dominated in a 95-79 victory, setting Oklahoma City up for a sweep on Saturday by the sheer force of his will. Now the question is: What is KD going to do with it? Having taken it from Dirk, is he ready to take it from Kobe, from Duncan, from LeBron and D-Wade, from the previously coronated and what were thought in NBA circles to be the rightful successors? How do we know an athlete is ready anyway? By age? And is anybody ever really ready? "That is an interesting question," Thunder guard Derek Fisher said when I asked that very question. "We'll find out. There is a transition happening in all sports where age is not a precursor to success. "In our game, guys feel like they don't necessarily have to wait their turn." Ready used to be mostly a numerical equation in sports. A certain number of years in the league a certain amount of talent = a championship. There are exceptions to this, of course. Magic Johnson was the Finals MVP as a 20-year-old rookie in 1980, then again two years later. He's also Magic. And he had this guy named Kareem by his side. Tim Duncan was Finals MVP in 1999 at the age of 23. David Robinson was his sidekick. They're the only two Finals MVPs as young as Durant is now. And while KD was the youngest scoring champ in NBA history, Oklahoma City is a different animal. The Thunder do not simply have a young superstar in KD. They practically qualify as an after-school program. Durant and Russell Westbrook are 23. Serge Ibaka and James Harden are 22. This is their nucleus. The only players bringing up the average age are Kendrick Perkins (27) and Fisher, who is approximately 457 years old. What is crazy is they do not play young. "When I first started coaching them four years ago, Kevin was 19. Russell was 19. They all seemed to be 19-20 years old," Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. "We never talked about being young because, if we used that young card, they were going to be young next year and next year and two, three, four years from now." So do they ever act young? "They do act their age," Brooks said with a huge grin. "Trust me. I act calm and cool but they drive me crazy at times." Fisher refused to bite on this crazy-driving idea, yet he and Perkins had been kind of chuckling listening to Westbrook and Durant banter back and forth. What you have to understand is they are both exceptionally slow dressers with Westbrook being slightly faster than Durant. Also they do their press conferences together now. Wherever you stood in the Thunder locker room Thursday, you could hear them. Westbrook was busting KD's you know whats about how damn slow he was. "C'mon," Westbrook said. This is a camaraderie that cannot be faked. It is also different than a year ago. When the Mavs clinched the West finals by beating Oklahoma City, it was with Westbrook on the bench. The Thunder were viewed as too young, too immature, too fractured to be ready. Against Dallas this time, they looked too fast, too young, too cohesive not to win. This is maybe the thing that Durant does not get enough credit for, how he has been a key to Westbrook's success. Durant had 21 in the first half. He finished with 31, mostly because he did not get as many shots. Name another superstar willing to do this. And this is why it works with Westbrook in OKC. "I think Westbrook has been the key," Nowitzki said when asked what is different about the Thunder this year. "Sometimes last year, he'd get rattled and turn the ball over or something like that. He's been stellar." They are better than they were a year ago smarter, more capable of finishing quarters and games, more ready. "They took a step forward as a team and we took a step back," Nowitzki said, accurately summarizing the situation afterward. They took it from the Mavs. The question is now: What they are going to do with it? Are they ready to take it from the Lakers and Spurs and probably Heat? It is an interesting question. And Fisher is right when he says we are about to find out. The answer probably lies with Durant, young even by NBA standards and yet showing signs of being ready. And if he is, the Thunder will be. They are melded in his image young and not necessarily willing to wait his turn. And this is why he has a chance of taking it from Kobe, Duncan and LeBron-Wade just like he did from Dirk.
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