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Five keys for Oklahoma City to become NBA champions

Jun 11, 2012, 8:45 AM EST

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Six Getty Images

It’s been building to this for years now — from way back when Kevin Durant was drafted (back in Seattle), followed by Russell Westbrook the next year and James Harden the year after that. Thunder GM Sam Presti was building something.

Now the Oklahoma City Thunder are on the doorstep of the teams’ first championship in its new city. What is it going to take to walk through that door?

Here are five keys for the Thunder.

1) Don’t be overwhelmed by the moment. Teams often have to learn how to deal with the next level of winning in the NBA — Michael Jordan and the Bulls lost three consecutive years to the Pistons in the playoffs before they had learned their lessons, improved enough and broke through to become legends. Oklahoma City has earned its way to this point, but the pressure and scope of the finals is different. And the Heat have been there, both as a team and multiple times as individuals. If the Thunder play up to their potential they can be NBA champions, but they can’t become overwhelmed.

2) Move the ball. Miami’s defense, with its active hands and long arms clogging passing lanes, can push teams into playing isolation basketball. Which is a habit the Thunder can happily fall into because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can be devastating isolation players. But in March meeting between these teams when Oklahoma City won handily they moved the ball and the result was Serge Ibaka with 19 points and Kendrick Perkins with 16. Move the ball like they did against the Spurs in their four wins, get open looks because of it and the Thunder will win this series.

3) James Harden has to have a monster series. James Harden is key for the Thunder in this series. Sure, Kevin Durant will score the most points because, well, he’s Kevin Durant. That’s what he does. And Russell Westbrook will put up numbers and make some athletic plays. But Harden is the X factor. First off, he is the guy who helps the Thunder live up to number two on this list — he is the playmaker who gets the ball movement the Thunder need. Go to Durant and Westbrook late in the game and it’s an isolation, go to Harden and you get a play. The other key is that the Heat are going to get next to nothing from their bench, but Harden comes off the bench and is a game changer for the Thunder. He can be in this series.

4) Defense. Oklahoma City was a pretty good defensive team this season (10th in the NBA in points allowed per possession), which is good enough when you have an explosive offense. But in this series they are going to have to step up their team defense. That starts with Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, who the Thunder will throw at Dwyane Wade and LeBron James for stretches. But it’s more than that, it’s the length and athleticism of the Thunder disrupting the passing lanes, their long arms contesting every jumper. They need to play their best defense of the season to get the Larry O’Brien trophy in their hands.

5) Kevin Durant has to be the finals MVP. There are people trying some revisionist history, suggesting Durant should have been the regular season MVP. No. LeBron was more efficient on offense and had far more defensive responsibilities than Durant. The right guy won.

But both of them would trade a regular season MVP for a finals MVP. Without blinking. Durant needs to be that here — he needs to score, do it efficiently and do it when his team needs it during games. He needs to make some defensive plays. He has been this team’s MVP for years and now he needs to be that on the biggest stage in basketball. If he wants to take the next step, this is it.

  1. lucidsportsfan - Jun 11, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    A year ago Lebron James had maybe the worst Finals performance by any star player ever. Seriously, check out these stats: http://www.lucidsportsfan.com/2011_06_12_archive.html#2049941527228952857 If he does anything close to that again, OKC can coast to the title.

  2. abchome - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:01 AM

    Only one key – just play like the way they have been playing in this post season.

  3. canehouse - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    We don’t stand a chance against the thunder… The thunder in 4.

    • southbeachtalent - Jun 11, 2012 at 10:26 AM

      reverse jinx?

  4. truthhurtstoo - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    The beard is going down… Too young and star struck…. HEAT in 6

    • connectionsnlp - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:52 AM

      desusionhurtsworse

      You might want to “rethink” that…

  5. mungman69 - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    A great series. Get your popcorn AND beer and watch a playoff for the ages. AND Heat and Thunder fans: show the world that all the crybabies’ teams are sitting home.

  6. cosanostra71 - Jun 11, 2012 at 9:48 AM

    “It’s been building to this for years now — from way back when Kevin Durant was drafted (back in Seattle), followed by Russell Westbrook the next year”

    Westbrook was drafted by the Sonics too. As much as I like Durant and Westbrook, it just feels wrong that Clay Bennett has a chance to be rewarded for what he did…

  7. shockexchange - Jun 11, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Is Kevin Durant “G” enough to lead OKC to an NBA title? http://clicky.me/793y

  8. aboogy123456 - Jun 11, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    Thunder will win this series because they match up so well defensively against the heat.

    Sefolosha will be too much for wade, I don’t see wade shooting above 50 percent and having the great games they need out of him.

    With all his length and quick feet, durant is actually the ideal defender to guard lebron. He can guard him close and then get help from serge ibaka who can focus on being a help defender, which is his strength.

    Westbrook can shut out chalmers. He’s not the best defender but when he guards average point guards he is able to shut them out and put a lot of pressure on them. I don’t see chalmers getting to the hoop very often.

    Bosh is a good shooter but if they can glue perkins to him who has good length, then it will free up ibaka to help on lebron.

    The thunder can single guard everybody and help on lebron and be successful. On the other side of the ball, Lebron can only take one person out of the game and miami will have to pick their poison.

    • noreberg - Jun 11, 2012 at 1:03 PM

      not sure why you’re getting downvotes. yours is the only intelligent, well thought out argument on this page.

      The only way that the Heat will win this series is if they get consistent production from their role players. I don’t see them doing that for 7 games.

  9. spavs412 - Jun 11, 2012 at 11:46 AM

    Great match happy it’s not Dallas or SA bron vs Durant will be epic

  10. philtration - Jun 11, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Just keep pushing the ball down the court while Wade is whining to the officials.
    Easy baskets.

  11. fanz928 - Jun 11, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    No way all this could happen maybe harden going off but I don’t see durant as finals MVP vs lebron

  12. reddolfan66 - Jun 11, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    If you think the thunder are going to beat the heat on defense, Boston has a way better D and so does the Heat, Miami in 6

  13. dallascowboysfan101 - Jun 12, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    I,say it’ll b da thunder in 7

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