Skip to content

Five keys for Oklahoma City to become NBA champions

Jun 11, 2012, 8:45 AM EDT

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Ricky Rubio with half-court alley-oop to Andrew Wiggins (VIDEO)

    Sep 30, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    Timberwolves New Players Getty Images

    We could see a lot more of this during the season.

  2. Byron Scott expects Kobe Bryant to score 23-24 points per game

    Sep 30, 2014, 12:15 AM EDT

    Kobe Bryant, Tony Allen Kobe Bryant, Tony Allen

    Lakers might need Kobe’s scoring, but they shouldn’t count on that much from aging star

  3. Cleveland Cavaliers now huge draw, expensive ticket at home, on road

    Sep 29, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

    Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day Getty Images

    Road tickets to see the Cavaliers are $131.33 higher per seat than the second most expensive team, the Lakers.

  4. Trey Burke, in wake of nude-photo scandal: ‘My judgments will be much better’

    Sep 29, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT

    Utah Jazz v Atlanta Hawks Getty Images

    Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey disappointed in what he’s learned so far about photos

  5. James Harden admits he needs to be better on defense. It’s a start, I guess.

    Sep 29, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT

    Houston Rockets Media Day Getty Images

    If James Harden doesn’t play focused defense this season it’s Kevin McHale that pays the price.

  6. Carmelo Anthony says he re-signed in New York because of ‘unfinished business’ with Knicks

    Sep 29, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT

    Carmelo Anthony Carmelo Anthony

    Anthony said it wouldn’t have felt right leaving after he forced his way to New York midway through the 2011 season.

  7. Erik Spoelstra nearly chose Grateful Dead tickets over chance to join Heat

    Sep 29, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT

    Erik Spoelstra Erik Spoelstra

    Spoelstra applied only on a bet with his German teammates

  8. Report: Kevin Durant says he wants to play in 2016 Olympics (his free agent summer)

    Sep 29, 2014, 4:05 PM EDT

    Team USA Showcase Getty Images

    KD has some words for those that questioned his motivation this summer, and they are not the words of Mr. Nice Guy.

  9. It’s official, Celtics sign Evan Turner to two-year deal

    Sep 29, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT

    Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards Getty Images

    Can he fit in the Celtics’ system better than he did in Indiana?

  10. Danny Granger reveals he had another knee surgery

    Sep 29, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    Danny Granger Danny Granger

    Without LeBron James, how many setbacks – even small ones – can the Heat overcome?

  11. 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

    Mike Dunlap, Jeffery Taylor Mike Dunlap, Jeffery Taylor

    The Hornets made the right move so far, keeping Taylor away from team activities while the investigation goes forward.

Featured video

What players stood out at World Cup?
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. R. Rondo (3714)
  2. L. James (3696)
  3. K. Bryant (3143)
  4. E. Bledsoe (2581)
  5. R. Allen (2394)
  1. D. Wade (2367)
  2. D. Williams (2260)
  3. K. Leonard (2043)
  4. D. Rose (2003)
  5. M. Smart (1885)