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.
Sep 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
GM Ainge hints he’d offer the max to Rondo next summer.
Sep 30, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
We could see a lot more of this during the season.
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Sep 30, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
What about Chris Paul?
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When will John Wall join his Mohawked teammates?
Sep 30, 2014, 12:15 AM EDT
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Orlando’s new uniform a dud
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Well, will he?
Sep 29, 2014, 8:25 PM EDT
Daryl Morey has way better hair than Trump.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey disappointed in what he’s learned so far about photos
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If James Harden doesn’t play focused defense this season it’s Kevin McHale that pays the price.
Sep 29, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT
Anthony said it wouldn’t have felt right leaving after he forced his way to New York midway through the 2011 season.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT
Spoelstra applied only on a bet with his German teammates
Sep 29, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT
KD has some words for those that questioned his motivation this summer, and they are not the words of Mr. Nice Guy.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT
Sounds like fun
Sep 29, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Can he fit in the Celtics’ system better than he did in Indiana?
Sep 29, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT
Without LeBron James, how many setbacks – even small ones – can the Heat overcome?
Hornets GM: It was important for franchise to act “decisively and quickly” on Jeff Taylor domestic assault arrest
Sep 29, 2014, 1:29 PM EDT
The Hornets made the right move so far, keeping Taylor away from team activities while the investigation goes forward.
Sep 29, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
New York coming off a 37-45 season
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- LeBron James on running the Cavaliers offense: ‘This is Kyrie’s show’ 29