Jun 11, 2012, 8:45 AM EST
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.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
He will get another shot at being a head coach in the NBA. He deserves it.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:01 AM EST
Rondo moves the Mavs into contender status in the West. Problem is that is a crowded field.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:46 AM EST
The team officially described the sprain as “mild.”
Dec 19, 2014, 12:02 AM EST
Makes the haul even less impressive for Boston.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:00 PM EST
Phil responds to an article ripping the Knicks for making the deal.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:00 PM EST
Bryant’s contract runs through 2016.
Dec 18, 2014, 9:15 PM EST
Dec 18, 2014, 8:15 PM EST
The Rookie of the Year race is pretty dull now, frankly.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:35 PM EST
Anthony has been advised that sitting out would be smart.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
The foul was upgraded to a Flagrant 2.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:03 PM EST
The Mavs send three players and two picks to Boston.
Dec 18, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
They don’t want to give up picks.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
Spurs star made same clutch shot a decade ago against Lakers
Dec 18, 2014, 4:05 PM EST
Down goes Rocky, down goes Rocky
Dec 18, 2014, 3:40 PM EST
Trail Blazers guard just waiting to check into game, when his personal space gets violated
Dec 18, 2014, 3:09 PM EST
The Warriors are +15.8 per 100 when he is on the court. They will miss him.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:03 PM EST
Celtics forward shows up Magic
Dec 18, 2014, 2:28 PM EST
Updated with Lakers’ reported offer
Dec 18, 2014, 1:36 PM EST
Trade talks for Celtics point guard heating up
Dec 18, 2014, 12:55 PM EST
Where does this rank among LeBron’s most-lopsided losses?
- Dallas moves into title contender status with addition of Rajon Rondo 25
- Kevin Durant turns ankle, leaves game not to return; X-rays negative. 2
- Report: Celtics ‘pretty pleased’ with return they got in trade for Rajon Rondo 28
- PBT Extra: Jabari Parker’s injury, what does it mean for Bucks, Rookie of Year race? 3
- Reports: Celtics agree to trade Rajon Rondo to Dallas Mavericks 36
- Andrew Bogut undergoes PRP therapy on knee, out indefinitely 9
- Report: Mavericks trading for Rajon Rondo could happen ‘sooner rather than later’ 10
- Carmelo Anthony introduces his latest signature shoe, the Jordan Melo M11 10