Before being called the Oklahoma City Thunder, the franchise was situated in Seattle where they were called the SuperSonics. In both cities, the organization has managed to arrange great teams that went toe-to-toe with the best squads in the league. While the franchise has only one title to show for, they have nonetheless bred the best players in history and entertained millions of basketball diehards. Let’s take a look at the five greatest Oklahoma City Thunder teams.
5.) 2015-16 Thunder (Lost Conference Finals to Golden State Warriors Warriors, 4-3)
The 2015-16 Thunder chalked up a 55-27 record in the regular season for third in the competitive West. Both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were at the peak of their careers. Durant snagged his first Most Valuable Player trophy two years earlier while Westbrook had won two consecutive All-Star game MVPs.
Come the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder’s talents were tested against the Golden State Warriors who were not just the defending champions, but had an NBA record 73-wins in the regular season. To everyone’s surprise, the Thunder had early control of the series up as they were up 3-1. But as expected, the Warriors weren’t going to be booted out that easily. They stormed to win three straight games, breaking the hearts of Thunder fans.
4.) 2011-12 Thunder (Lost NBA Finals to Miami Heat, 4-1)
The 2011-12 Thunder was an up and coming team then. Led by the trio of Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden (who was crowned Sixth Man of the Year), the team mounted a stellar 47-19 record for second in the West. In the playoffs, they dueled against perennial playoff contenders. In the first round, they swept the defending champions Dallas Mavericks. In the second round, they upset the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakers in five games. And in the conference finals, they dominated the San Antonio Spurs, winning the series 4-2.
They had all the momentum heading into the NBA Finals. But their youth — which seemed to be an asset in the previous rounds— became a liability against a powerhouse Miami Heat squad.
3.) 1977-78 Sonics (Lost NBA Finals to Washington Bullets, 4-3)
The 1977-78 season did not start well for the Sonics. They had a 5-17 start despite having a solid crop of players led by guard Dennis Johnson, sharpshooter Fred Brown, Marvin Webster, Gus Williams, and rookie stalwart Jack Sikma. Determined to turn things around, the front office fired Bob Hopkins and replayed him with Lenny Wilkens. Back then, it was a risk since Wilkens had not guided a team to the playoffs in his first five seasons as a coach.
But lo and behold, Wilkens figured something out and led Sonics to a 47-35 finish plus the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets. Against Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and Bob Dandridge, the Sonics stretched the series to seven games — a notable achievement in itself. Unfortunately for the Sonics, the game — which was decided in the last few seconds — belonged to the Bullets.
2.) 1995-96 Sonics (Lost NBA Finals to Chicago Bulls, 4-2)
In the 1995-96 season, the Sonics were the best team in the West with a 64-18 record in the regular season. Gary Payton was crowned Best Defensive Player of the Year and was selected into the All-Star game along with power forward Shawn Kemp. They breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs, easily booting out the Sacramento Kings and the Houston Rockets. Come the Western Conference Finals, their mettle was tested against the Utah Jazz led by Karl Malone and John Stockton. Fortunately, they came out alive and won the series 4-3.
But in the NBA Finals, they were matched up against the 72-10 Chicago Bulls. As fans already know, the Bulls won the series 4-2. But what’s interesting about it is that Payton guarded Jordan in the last three games of the series. The Glove was able to contain Jordan to 23-, 26-, and 22-point scoring totals in these last three games. Now, some are wondering what would’ve happened if Sonic coach George Karl told Payton to guard Jordan at the very beginning.
1.) 1978-79 Sonics (Won NBA Finals against Washington Bullets, 4-1)
Following their defeat the season prior, the 1978-79 Sonics came out stronger and chalked up a 52-30 regular season for first in the West. It marked Wilkens’ first full year as Sonics’ coach which allowed him to create and operate his own system. In the playoffs, the Sonics had the first-round bye and so they matched up with the Jerry West-coached Los Angeles Lakers squad in the conference semis. The Sonics took care of them in five games, followed by the Phoenix Suns which they outlasted in seven.
This paved the way for an NBA Finals rematch with the Bullets. This time around, the Sonics were able to avenge last season’s loss quickly and dominantly. They booted out the Bullets in five games. Dennis Johnson claimed the Finals MVP. Gus Williams’ scoring, too, was critical as he led the league in postseason scoring with 28.6 points per game. The 1979 title is the first and so far the only title of the franchise.