OKLAHOMA CITY Playing the Los Angeles Lakers has a special feeling.
More than just games, there seems to be drama on every possession. Even their press conferences drip with emotion and adventure the stuff of made-for-TV movies.
There's Kobe and Gasol. There's Andrew Bynum and the debate over what's going on his head. And of course, there's Metta World Peace's elbow and attitude.
It takes something unique to beat the intrigue of the Los Angeles Lakers.
But here we are. Monday night's madness officially ended the sideshow. The Lakers are going home and it looks like the Thunder are going to have to go back to just playing basketball again.
The circus has up and left town after Oklahoma City eliminated the Lakers 106-90 in front of 18,203 inside Chespeake Energy Arena and an estimated 10,000 more outside, caught up in a team that is just a series win from playing in the NBA Finals. That's got to top anything the Lakers bring.
Next up: The Spurs, who carry with them none of the drama and all of the excitement of a tax seminar. Definitely a different flavor.
Gone are are the Lakers, a team not nearly as talented as the Thunder. In their place is a San Antonio team that has won 18 in a row dating back to the regular season, in what will be a massive matchup between a pair of teams who are 16-1 so far in the playoffs.
Game 1 will be Sunday in San Antonio.
No more World Peace. Instead, the only storyline left is Old vs. Young.
Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili and playoff experience. A team that passed the Thunder for the best record in the Western Conference by playing the best basketball in the league for the past three months.
The Spurs are 2-1 against the Thunder this season, but consider the young Thunder are playing pretty well, too, improving off of last season's No. 4 seed into this season's best team for most of the first half of the year. And even better this season in the playoffs, too.
Dallas, Los Angeles and San Antonio have represented the Western Conference in 10 of the past 13 NBA Finals, winning 10, and now the Thunder have eliminated two of those teams, sweeping the defending champ Mavericks before doing away with the Lakers.
"The experience we had last year helped," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of his team's loss to Dallas last year. "We still have to make shots. San Antonio is playing the best basketball in the league the last three months of the season. They have won about every game."
Yes, Oklahoma City struggled down the stretch, going just 8-7 in April, but they have steadied themselves straight in the playoffs. Yet, most of the talk has centered around the Spurs and their two playoff sweeps, despite the fact they have come against Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, neither one of which has a duo like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who combined for 53 points and just three turnovers Monday night against the Lakers.
The Thunder have gone from the worst team in the NBA, averaging 16 turnovers per game, to much more secure. They have gone from an offensive powerhouse to a team that can match its firepower with some defense, too.
"Don't jinx us," Durant said. "I think we have had a conscious effort of making the right play. We're going to make mistakes."
It just seems like they haven't yet.
Westbrook has a total of four turnovers in his last six games. He dominated the Lakers in Game 4, going for 37 points as the Thunder rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. He followed that with 28 Monday night with only one turnover.
Durant has three game-winning shots in the two series, including two against the Lakers. He he scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds Monday.
That's drama, even the Lakers can't match.
Against the Lakers, Oklahoma City showed itself as more than just an offensive team, holding the bigger, taller and longer Lakers to just two offensive rebounds Monday and outrebounding Los Angeles by 16. The Lakers shot 45 percent on Monday, the only game in the nine playoff games that any team was better than 43 percent.
It's bench and side pieces have been productive, too. Monday, forward Nick Collison had six points, six rebounds, and that was overshadowed by center Kendrick Perkins, who had 11 rebounds with his six points. Serge Ibaka had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks, and of course, James Harden pitched in with 17 points and eight rebounds.
"The Lakers bigs are as good as any in basketball," Brooks said. "The way Perk (Perkins) battled, I'm proud of him. Nick and Serge did a good job. They have been our unsung heroes."
All of that together, and suddenly beating the Spurs seems doable.
"You have to have good talent, have to have good players," Brooks said. "You have to have a team that competes and that are self-motivated. We have a group of guys that do that every single day. The experiences we had last year can help, but we still have to go out and execute the game plan and make shots."
"We've been so many different situations," Westbrook said, "so many different times. I think it's helped us."
Now, we get to see a main course that features basketball, not a Broadway drama.