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 31, 2015, 3:20 PM EDT
Will he accept the required tender?
Jul 31, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT
The Phil Jackson Effect
Jul 31, 2015, 1:58 PM EDT
Why does USA Basketball chairman make such a distinction?
Jul 31, 2015, 12:52 PM EDT
Johnson makes $24.9 million, but this is the last year of his contract.
Jul 31, 2015, 12:47 PM EDT
New York drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo’s brother last year
Jul 31, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
No. 58 pick will reportedly head overseas or to D-League
Jul 31, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
Guard didn’t show much in short stint in New York
Jul 31, 2015, 8:35 AM EDT
“One thing to come out of this will be more camps, more clinics, more games, more youth competition, and from that you get into infrastructure, and building more courts.” —Masai Ujiri, Raptors GM and native Nigerian
Jul 31, 2015, 7:59 AM EDT
“And the coin flip was as much about, is there going to be anything else that we could do? Because we knew we had to do something.” —Mark Cuban on trading for Rajon Rondo.
Jul 30, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Hoiberg has a much stronger offensive reputation than Tom Thibodeau.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:43 PM EDT
Portland received Mike Miller and two second-round picks in addition to Haywood.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Lieberman would be the second female assistant coach, after Becky Hammon
Jul 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
Scott was charged with possession of marijuana and MDMA.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Smith says he was talking more about family stability than money in his controversial comments.
Jul 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Huestis spent last season in the D-League.
Jul 30, 2015, 7:06 PM EDT
Could Gregg Popovich take his place in 2020?
Jul 30, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
In what will be the last year for Duncan and Manu Ginobili, not to mention David West’s long career, there will be plenty of desperation and energy in San Antonio.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:49 PM EDT
Arenas suggests LeBron isn’t selfish enough.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT
Spurs coach happily assigns credit
Jul 30, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Will Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Pekovic or Gorgui Dieng start beside him?
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