Jun 11, 2012, 8:45 AM EDT
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.
Jul 5, 2015, 3:12 AM EDT
Quality pickup by the Kings.
Jul 5, 2015, 12:14 AM EDT
Phil Jackson gets a gold star for this move.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
McRae was the 58th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and is a member of Philadelphia’s Summer League squad.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
Nice addition by Orlando.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
He would have to take a paycut, but Dallas needs help at the point.
Jul 4, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
The Spurs are going to just keep going on, being the San Antonio Spurs
Jul 4, 2015, 5:01 PM EDT
Jul 4, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Bargain for Toronto — as long as the Raptors aren’t expecting any offense.
Jul 4, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
The LaMarcus Aldridge Effect
Jul 4, 2015, 12:21 PM EDT
Biggest name left in free agency will make San Antonio a powerhouse.
Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT
Cuban believes Jordan can average 20 points, 20 rebounds per game.
Jul 4, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Fits with West’s desire to play for a contender, but he’d have to take very little money to sign there.
Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
The Clippers went small the final five minutes of Game 7 against the Spurs, and it worked.
Jul 4, 2015, 12:33 AM EDT
At this price, it’s a fair pickup for New Yor, giving hem another role player.
Jul 3, 2015, 11:03 PM EDT
Hopefully Scott Skiles will play Harris this time.
Jul 3, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Curry is just that good.
Jul 3, 2015, 9:00 PM EDT
A big reason Jordan left L.A. to sign with the Mavericks.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:37 PM EDT
Beverley’s defense provides a perfect complement to James Harden.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:34 PM EDT
Rondo is not exactly going to space the floor for Cousins.
Jul 3, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
They would make solid backups at a fair price.
- Spurs reset franchise for post Tim Duncan life in one impressive week 12
- Report: Lakers ‘actively discussing’ trade for Roy Hibbert with Pacers 39
- LaMarcus Aldridge has chosen to sign with Spurs 85
- Who should Clippers get to replace DeAndre Jordan? How about Blake Griffin. 42
- Report: Tobias Harris reaches four-year, $64 million extension to stay with Orlando 25
- Report: Rajon Rondo agrees to one-year, $9.5 million deal with Sacramento Kings 48
- Report: DeAndre Jordan agrees to four-year, $80 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 58
- Report: Kings signing Marco Belinelli to three-year, $19 million contract 19