We've reached the point in the NBA season in which four teams still have NBA Championship aspirations -- Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors. Three of of those teams, Toronto, Cleveland and Oklahoma City, are receiving contributions from former Texas Longhorns, in varying degrees.
Kevin Durant -- Oklahoma City Thunder
If you mention Texas basketball, the name Kevin Durant comes to mind, almost immediately. For the past half decade, Durant and the Thunder have been among the most legitimate title contenders, and this season isn't any different. After cruising past the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and knocking off the San Antonio Spurs and former Longhorn LaMarcus Aldridge 4-2 to reach the Western Conference Finals, Durant and OKC face their toughest test yet - Steph Curry and Golden State.
Oklahoma City shocked many by entering Oracle and escaping with a Game 1 victory over a Warriors team that lost only nine games in the regular season, despite Durant shooting 10-30 from the field with five turnovers. In Game 2, eight turnovers contributed largely to a 118-91 defeat to even the series.
Now Durant and Oklahoma City head home, and the key for success, at least from what Durant can control, is evident in the playoff numbers:
Kevin Durant in nine playoff wins:
- 29.3 points per game
- .448% shooting (.314% from 3)
- 3.6 turnovers per game
Kevin Durant in four playoff losses:
- 23.7 points per game
- .404% shooting (.227% from 3)
- 5.25 turnovers per game
If Durant, running mate Russell Westbrook, and Oklahoma City have any hopes of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy at seasons end, it will require three more wins over Golden State and four wins over what will likely be LeBron James' Cavaliers. Averaging 23.7 points and 5.25 turnovers on sub-par shooting won't get that done.
But again, this is Durant we're talking about, and he's liable to drop 40 points on any given night.
Tristan Thompson -- Cleveland Cavaliers
In a far reduced role as to what Durant is handling in OKC, Tristan Thompson is happily playing is part as a tenacious rebounder for a Cavs team that's cruising through the playoffs with a 10-0 record.
Offensively, Thompson's added only 55 total points, including a playoff-high nine points in Game 2 against the Raptors. But what more could one expect on a team consisting of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, among multiple capable scorers elsewhere. But through he's almost never hungry for points; Thompson's been eating glass, snagging 85 playoff boards with five double-digit rebounding efforts.
Outside of a miracle, Thompson will again be in the Finals, where he performed tremendously last season, averaging 10 points and 13 boards. Whether Cleveland meets the big men-laden Thunder or the up-tempo and versatile Warriors, a similar performance will be required from Thompson to help bring Cleveland its first ever NBA Championship.
Cory Joseph -- Toronto Raptors
In all likelihood, Cory Joseph's fifth NBA season will be coming to a close following the next two games. The Raptors fell down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals after losing their first two games by a combined 50 points -- a number convincing enough to suggest Toronto doesn't belong on the same court as this percolating Cavs team.
Even if he wanted to, there's not much Joseph could do to alter the outcomes, but he's still added 15 points, six assists and six boards. Joseph's time to shine during the playoffs came in the first round against the Indiana Pacers and former Longhorn Myles Turner, in which Joseph reached double figures on the scoring column four times, averaging 10.7 points.
Collectively, Joseph has had a decent showing off the bench throughout the playoffs, averaging 8.9 points and 2.6 assists in 23.8 minutes per game. He's coming off a career season after averaging 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds.
Regardless of the outcome in the East, a former Longhorn will be representing Texas in the NBA Finals, and should Durant lead OKC past Golden State, a former Longhorn would be crowned as NBA Champion, too.