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NBA finals Game 4: Five things the Thunder need to do to win

Jun 19, 2012, 11:58 AM EST

Oklahoma City Thunder Westbrook reacts with Durant and Harden as they lose to the Miami Heat during Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami Reuters

Miami has made its statement. Nobody ever questioned their talent, the questions were how LeBron James would deal with being back on the biggest stage, and secondly, would they bring consistent effort that they had lacked all playoffs?

LeBron has been the series MVP so far and for two games in a row the Heat have played at a sustained level of intensity they rarely have through the playoffs.

The ball is in the Thunder’s court to adjust for Game 4 Tuesday night. And they better do it now because they are down 2-1 and no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals. Oklahoma City needs to play with real desperation, and they need to execute better.

Here are five keys for OKC if they are going to tie this series up.

1) Protect the paint. In Game 3 it looked like a Miami conga line to the rim. The Heat were getting into the paint on cuts and penetration — they finished the game with 35 shots at the rim, plus all that action got them 35 free throws. Miami will win every time that happens.

In Game 3 Serge Ibaka made the adjustment and stayed with Shane Shane Battier at the arc rather than leave him to protect the paint, and for most of the game Battier was less of a factor (9 points). But having the league’s best shot blocker out at the arc does the Heat no good. I still think the Thunder need less Kendrick Perkins and more Ibaka (he didn’t play the fourth quarter of Game 3). Pairing them hasn’t really worked.

Also, the Thunder are hinting at zone (or zone-like defense) and that could work well, too — anything that makes the Heat a jump shooting team.

2) Would the real James Harden please stand up. Harden is the Thunder’s best playmaker late in games, a guy who is a threat to score or set others up. But in his quest to set others up these finals he has not been himself — 2-for-10 shooting last game with two key turnovers. In the finals he is averaging just 11.7 points on 40.7 percent shooting and he’s had one good half. He is the Thunder’s X factor this series and he has to be at his best. Harden needs to be a little selfish, get some buckets and draw the defense, then set guys up. OKC needs the All-Star level James Harden.

3) Scott Brooks needs to change rotations to what works. Put simply, if Kevin Durant gets in foul trouble, don’t sit Russell Westbrook at the same time. You need the scoring against the Heat, and they are already a good defensive team happy to muck things up and play ugly. You’ve got to find a way to keep Ibaka near the basket where he is a shot blocking threat. Brooks has been out-coached by Erik Spoelstra this series. The Thunder need the coach that made moves Gregg Popovich couldn’t match.

Which ties into….

4) Kevin Durant can’t get in foul trouble. This falls in part to Brooks because he has Durant trying to guard LeBron and that has been part of the foul trouble. Brooks needs to put Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron (he’s the Thunder’s best defender and Dwyane Wade isn’t healthy and is not as big a threat). Durant has to be part of this as well — recognize how the game is being called and if it’s tight on the perimeter then be more careful, avoid contact. You can’t help your team from the bench.

5) Get out and run. Half court ugly games will not work for the Thunder, they need to get out and go. Russell Westbrook needs to push the pace. It has to start with better defense and stops, but then they need to turn that into some easy baskets. In the paint. If the Thunder want to win, they need to set the tempo for Game 4.

  1. shockexchange - Jun 19, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Russell Westbrook had better be glad he’s not a teammate of Magic Johnson, otherwise he’d be playing PG for Charlotte right now. Just ask Norm Nixon … http://clicky.me/793y

  2. gmen4life33 - Jun 19, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Need to play Durant and Westbrook when you are up 10 in the 3rd, SMH.

    So what if Durant has 4 fouls? Does sitting him change that? No. The whole “buying time” thing is b.s, it doesnt make sense. The chances are the same that he gets his 5th foul quickly if he stayed on the floor or the 1st minute he is put back in the game. Only difference is you lose the minutes you bench him FOR SURE. How does an NBA coach not understand that. Play to win the game, not to “not-lose”.

  3. wolfmagic2012 - Jun 19, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    Go Heat. Now if these Okie guys were still called the Seattle Supersonics, I’d be rooting for them, but still miffed they left the Emerald City.

  4. TheJStyles - Jun 19, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    The sad part is..

    If both teams were playing their best right now…

    OKC would be up 2-1, of not 3-0…

    They are the better team. They just need to show it.

  5. fanz928 - Jun 19, 2012 at 4:39 PM

    Miami 3-1 tonight

    • TheJStyles - Jun 19, 2012 at 4:43 PM

      Until KD makes his second Free Throw, then it’ll be 3-2 tonight…

      • theahbal - Jun 19, 2012 at 5:33 PM

        did you mean 2-2? and oh it’s not going to happen! Defend the house in full swing

        3-1

  6. theahbal - Jun 19, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    “In Game 3 Serge Ibaka made the adjustment and stayed with Shane Shane Battier at the arc rather than leave him to protect the paint, and for most of the game Battier was less of a factor (9 points). But having the league’s best shot blocker out at the arc does the Heat no good”

    did you mean it does OKC no good? because the Heat would love to have dunks and layups at the rim while Ibaka plays defense on Battier!

  7. gbsoccer6 - Jun 19, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    The league is scripted, we all know OKC will tonight

    • Kurt Helin - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:01 PM

      How’d that work out for ya?

  8. rodge1 - Jun 19, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    @TheJStyles

    Neither team has played their best yet. Don’t be so sure about OKC being better just because of the regular season.

    • TheJStyles - Jun 19, 2012 at 6:52 PM

      OKC hasn’t even played CLOSE to their best.

      Miami has played very well, gotten countless breaks, and still wins games by 2 and 6.

      OKC is a better team. That’s not hyperbole, It’s the truth. Because they plas AS A TEAM.

      We’ll see if they have the mental capacity to get there…

  9. fincity305 - Jun 19, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    You forgot a hope and a prayer.. LETS GO HEAT!!! Parade on sunday!

  10. k3nn3k - Jun 19, 2012 at 7:24 PM

    What I don’t understand is why Lebron gets so much heat?! (get it?!) He did exactly what KG did, hook up with 2 other all-stars in order to get a ring. People sing KG’s praises for moving away from Minnesota and teaming up with Pierce and Allen (and Rondo). Lebron does it and he gets crucified. Who cares about The Decision? It was a press event, money went to the boys and girls club, and with everyone hanging on his decision can you really blame him for holding a glorified press conference? Everyone holds press conferences especially when you are an important figure in the game. And the Pre-celebration…that wasn’t even nationally televised, that was a Miami thing and what city wouldn’t be excited for this to happen to them? Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4…not 7…..how can you hate on Lebron for not having seven rings when he’s only been in Miami for 2 season, and BOTH seasons he’s made it to the finals. Anyway…give this guy a break. He has freakishly crazy talent and deserves a ring. So does Durant, but it’s Lebron’s time.

  11. jadyn3 - Jun 19, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    Miami hasn’t played their best basketball yet either

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