Our NBA Tuesday miniseries now travels northwest to Oklahoma City, home of the Thunder. From 1967 to 2008, though, this franchise was known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Fifteen years later, it’s still hard to realize the team moved. Overall, combined, the SuperSonics and the Thunder have 33 postseason appearances in 56 seasons, with one NBA championship (1979) mixed in for good measure. The organization also has three additions Finals appearances (1978, 1996, 2012). Enjoy!
No. 5: 2015-16 Oklahoma City Thunder
With a 55-27 record, the Thunder won the Northwest Division while finishing No. 2 on offense and No. 15 on defense—amounting to the No. 3 SRS rating overall. OKC opened the playoffs with a 5-game series victory over the Dallas Mavericks, and then the Thunder proceeded to take out the San Antonio Spurs in a 6-game series. In the Western Conference Finals against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, though, OKC went down in 7 rough games.
This roster was topped with talent still playing today: small forward Kevin Durant (14.5 Win Shares) and point guard Russell Westbrook (14.0) led the way. Center Enes Kanter (8.1) also played a big role in this team’s success. OKC actually outscored the Warriors by 1.0 ppg in the WCF matchup, and the Thunder stole Game 1 on the road to build a 3-1 series lead against 73-win Golden State. But the Warriors came back to win three straight—and the series—in crushing fashion.
No. 4: 1995-96 Seattle SuperSonics
This Seattle team posted a franchise-record 64 wins to finish first in the Pacific Division. The Sonics were No. 2 on offense, No. 8 on defense, and second overall in the SRS rankings. They lost just one game in the first two playoff rounds combined, against the Sacramento Kings and the two-time defending champion Houston Rockets (in a sweep). After a tough 7-game series win against the Utah Jazz, though, Seattle lost to the Chicago Bulls in a six-game NBA Finals clash.
Four stars led the way on this squad: PG Gary Payton (11.5 WS), power forward Shawn Kemp (11.2), shooting guard Hersey Hawkins (9.5), and SF Detlef Schrempf (8.2). Overall, eight different players topped 3.7 WS for this team. Seattle won Game 7 against Utah on its home floor by 4 points, but facing the 72-win Bulls in the Finals proved to be too much for the SuperSonics. They fell behind 3-0 quickly, losing by an average of 14.3 ppg. There was no recovery from that.
No. 3: 1994-95 Seattle SuperSonics
With a 57-25 record, the Sonics placed second in the Pacific Division. But they were No. 1 in the SRS rankings, strangely, with the No. 3 offense and the No. 15 defense. However, it was a short postseason run that was quite a disappointment to the Seattle organization (again). In the best-of-five first round, the Los Angeles Lakers needed just 4 games to dispatch the SuperSonics. Seattle actually won the first game by 25 points, but it was all Lakers from that point on. Incredible!
Another deep roster was led by Schrempf (12.9 WS), Payton (11.7), Kemp (10.6), and C Sam Perkins (8.5). But the team lost three straight close games to the Lakers in the playoff series. In Game 2, Los Angeles won on the road by 2 points to seize control of home-court advantage. In Game 3, despite Kemp’s 30 points and 11 rebounds, the Lakers won at home by 4 points. In Game 4, Kemp grabbed 18 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as the SuperSonics lost by 4 points again.
No. 2: 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics
A 63-19 record gave Seattle another Pacific Division crown, and they finished first in the SRS ratings with the No. 5 offense and the No. 6 defense—which is why this team is ranked higher than the prior two squads above, despite the reverse order of “success” … so to speak. However, the Sonics were again eliminated in the opening road of the postseason, this time in 5 games against the Denver Nuggets—the first time a No. 8 seed ever beat a No. 1 seed in the NBA.
The cast of stars here is familiar by now: Kemp (11.7 WS), Payton (9.3), Schrempf (8.4), and Perkins (7.0). Overall, nine players on the team notched at least 4.0 WS, so the depth was tremendous. Against the Nuggets, though, the Sonics just lost control of the narrative after winning the first two games easily by 17 ppg. Denver won Game 4 at home by 9 points to force the fifth game back in Seattle, and the SuperSonics couldn’t respond, losing by 4 points at home to earn infamy.
No. 1: 2012-13 Oklahoma City Thunder
This team holds the record for wins by a Thunder team, with a 60-22 record that helped the team earn first place in the Northwest Division. Coming off a Finals appearance in 2012, expectations were high: This team responded with a No. 1 SRS ranking, based on the No. 3 offense and the No. 10 defense. After eliminating the Rockets in six games to open the postseason, though, the Thunder lost in five games to another upstart team like themselves: the Memphis Grizzlies.
This team was led by our pick for MVP: Durant (18.9 WS). He was ably backed by Westbrook (11.6) and PF Serge Ibaka (9.4). The roster was not deep, though, going only six-deep, in truth. That hurt the Thunder in the playoffs when Westbrook was lost during the Houston series to a knee injury. Against the Grizz, it was clear Durant could not do it all by himself. OKC won the first game by 2 points, and then the Thunder lost four straight by a combined 22 points. Brutal.