Youth In Revolt: Bobcats and Thunder Topple Western Powers
But tonight was kind of different. As Robin Williams once said (yeah, I'm quoting Robin Williams, you got a problem with that?), "It's not the end of civilization, but you can see it from there."
The Charlotte Bobcats defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 94-84.
Less than an hour later, the Oklahoma Thunder defeated the San Antonio Spurs 96-95.
Okay, two lottery (most likely) teams beat two perennial contenders. Your average bizarro night. But there were things in these wins that forecast the future.For the Bobcats, this game was yet another in their continuing pattern of spitting in Ziller's eye progressing as a franchise to legitimacy. The Bobcats swept the Lakers this season. Let's run that by you one more time. The Charlotte Bobcats swept the Los Angeles Lakers this season. In doing so tonight they forced Kobe Bryant into "only" 25 points, but also made him take 28 shots to get there. Meanwhile, the rest of the Lakers floundered against the Bobcats who traditionally have been hapless, but since Larry Brown showed up, have started doing something funny. Stopping people.
It's not unreasonable to suggest Larry Brown for Coach of the Year. It's absurd to say he should win it, but not to be in the discussion. Outside of the marginal number of wins the Bobcats will improve by and the outside shot at the playoffs they still hold (though that "outside" term is shrinking thanks to the Bulls' inability to put anyone away), the biggest change in this Bobcats team has been their development as being fundamentally sound. Tonight instead of allowing easy outlet passes and open shots, they rotated, constantly. They challenged shots at the rim, particularly Emeka Okafor and Gerald Wallace (8 combined blocks). They hit their free throws (77%). And while the Lakers watched errant passes sail out of bounds and desperation shots clang, the Bobcats communicated. Constantly.
This doesn't change all that much. The Lakers are still arguably the best team in the league. The Bobcats are still probably not going to the playoffs. Again. And certainly the argument could be made that their salary situation is not configured for what is traditionally considered a rebuilding effort. But with Larry Brown at the helm, do you want young kids for him to berate and be constantly frustrated with? He's got DJ Augustin and he's actually done a pretty good job with him. Let's not push our luck. This team at least now has a foundation of players that know how to win in place. They have functional chemistry. And it's possible that if Brown can build on this, this could be a sign of a future where the Bobcats are a team you don't want to tangle with.
For the Thunder, this was their first win in San Antonio in almost five years. They have given the Spurs fits before, even winning back at the home stable earlier in the month. But this time there was a definite feeling that this was a glimpse of the future. It hasn't arrived yet, but there's a vision. The Spurs, struggling with Michael Finley at 7,000 years old and Kurt Thomas trying to get up and down in transition. And the Thunder, flawed, young, jittery and at times, absolutely explosive. Kevin Durant leads the way with 31. Russell Westbrook has more assists than Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Roger Mason combined. And Michael Finley bricks the game winner to let the Thunder escape after blowing a double digit lead.
The Spurs are partly playing possum. We see this every year. They seem to struggle the weeks right before the playoffs, only to come out in the first round and execute their opponent like fodder. But there are cracks in the foundation. Age, frustration, injury, all of them have combined to make San Antonio an unlikely candidate for a Finals appearance, even though they are a favorite to reach the Western Conference Finals. And for the Thunder, this is simply a taste, a brief glimpse at the future so bright, they have to wear shades. Or whatever you do to block the sun in Oklahoma.