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.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
Jabari Parker says he passed more than Carmelo because he had a better team to pass to.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
He wants Steph Curry money, but he’ll likely get more like $7 million a year.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:32 PM EDT
Gasol basically wants D’Antoni gone, but even then he likely moves on.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
Oscar Robertson thinks ‘Melo should get out of Dodge (and go to Houston).
Apr 24, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT
Kevin Pritchard tweets message from Pacers president
Apr 24, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Less-heralded Damien Inglis declares, too
Apr 24, 2014, 12:01 PM EDT
He will not be getting a baseball contract soon.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:26 AM EDT
Dwyane Wade does writeup on Serena Williams
Apr 24, 2014, 10:52 AM EDT
Harden is frustrated. He should be, shooting under 30 percent for two games.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT
Grizzlies guard gets Joe Dumars Trophy over Jeff Green, Channing Frye, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard and Mike Dunleavy
Apr 24, 2014, 9:24 AM EDT
Trail Blazers forward is averaging 44.5 points trhough two games
Apr 24, 2014, 8:46 AM EDT
Dwight Howard was aggressive early and put on a show, but LaMarcus Aldridge won the war.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
All three series Thursday night are tied 1-1.
Apr 24, 2014, 2:48 AM EDT
LA has 89 points and 26 rebounds in two games.
Apr 24, 2014, 1:40 AM EDT
Trail Blazers take 2-0 series lead with second win in Houston
Apr 23, 2014, 11:54 PM EDT
The Spurs turned the ball over on 26.2 percent of their possessions. It’s very unSpurs like.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:28 PM EDT
This should have gotten McRoberts ejected.
Apr 23, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Bobcats keep battling, but Heat have too much talent.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:23 PM EDT
He has Durant, LeBron and Griffin on his MIP list… but it makes a good MVP ballot.
Apr 23, 2014, 9:15 PM EDT
Big-time blocked shot by Henderson.
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