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 28, 2014, 11:44 PM EDT
Clippers big man reportedly suffered injury during playoffs
Jul 28, 2014, 10:51 PM EDT
That wasn’t so painful, was it?
Jul 28, 2014, 10:11 PM EDT
Pistons center denies Warriors forward at the rim with relatively late, but incredibly awesome, leap
Jul 28, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
Tucker also re-signed with Suns for $16.5 million this offseason
Jul 28, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
National Basketball Players Associate scheduled to vote on Billy Hunter’s replacement today
Jul 28, 2014, 7:59 PM EDT
San Antonio cites guard’s leg injury
Jul 28, 2014, 7:19 PM EDT
Mike Krzyzewski said Derrick Rose looked healthy at Tea USA training camp.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
Donald Sterling’s right to appeal restricted, a pivotal and unexpected ruling
Jul 28, 2014, 5:39 PM EDT
Williams didn’t get quite the payday he was expecting as an unrestricted free agent.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
The USA has superior athletes and should use that to their advantage.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Derrick Rose seems to be moving and playing like the Derrick Rose of old.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:44 PM EDT
Thaddeus Young is not Kevin Love but he’d keep the Timberwolves from going into full rebuild mode.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:03 PM EDT
Wade may be looking forward to going up against LeBron, but I don’t think he’s going to like how the game ends.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:27 PM EDT
Ron Artest made a brief appearance on a rec league court in Los Angeles.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
When the game’s best player makes a uniform change, manufacturers spring into immediate action.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
LeBron said when switching to 6 four years ago that no one should wear 23 out of respect to MJ.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT
Insert your own “he only jumped over Lowry” jokes, we’re not going to do that.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:23 AM EDT
Rose is expected to make the roster, but will need to shake the rust off quickly to show he’s more deserving than the other elite guards in camp.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:42 AM EDT
“The fact that I haven’t been traded yet makes me feel comfortable.” —Klay Thompson
Jul 28, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
Because he could.
- Lakers make it official — finally — and hire Byron Scott as head coach 5
- Derrick Rose: “I’ve become a smarter player, but I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it.” 18
- Shelly Sterling beats Donald Sterling in court, clears sale of Clippers to Steve Ballmer 52
- Report: Timberwolves have talked to Sixers about Thaddeus Young as Kevin Love replacement 24
- All eyes on Derrick Rose as USA Basketball mini-camp begins 22
- Klay Thompson doesn’t anticipate being traded, says he expects to play with Warriors next season 8
- PBT Power Rankings: After summer shakeups, Spurs still team to beat 47
- Report: ‘No chance’ Kevin Love stays with Timberwolves 65