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Thunder learn one more painful lesson, talk about taking one more step

Jun 22, 2012, 1:40 AM EDT

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook AP

To a man, as they hugged the Larry O’Brien trophy, Miami Heat players said the sting of losing in the finals last year drove them to their win this year. They felt the pain, absorbed the lessons and got better.

As the clock was winding down and the party was winding up inside AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden stood together, huddled at the end of the bench talking. Saying exactly what Heat players said a year ago.

“We hugged each other and told each other to embrace this feeling and remember this feeling,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got to be the guys that just got to get better, man, before we can find a way to get back here.”

And everyone — including LeBron James, who said as much after the game — expect the Thunder will be back on this stage. And they will be better.

We’ve seen it before. For the past three years the Thunder have been eliminated by the eventual champion — first the Lakers, last year the Mavericks and this year the Heat. The previous two years the Thunder used those lessons to come back a smarter, more ready NBA team.

To a man after they were eliminated from the finals in Game 5 — a 121-106 Heat win — the Thunder players talked about what it will take to get back to here and be better next year.

“There’s things that wen have to work on,” coach Scott Brooks said. “I’ve never used age as an excuse. But we got some incredible experience these last three years of being the playoffs and it kind of – it has helped us get to this point and to compete at this level.”

The next step is on the defensive end for this team — they were a solid defensive team (OKC was ninth in the league in points allowed per possession) but the Heat won this series because they could find a level of defense the Thunder could not.

“But just one thing, (the Heat) played extremely physical basketball,” Brooks said. “They are a very athletic team and they use it every possession, and that’s something we will talk about. You have it, you better use it.”

There is also the focus that is needed.

“I think now we know that every possession in the finals matters. It counts,” James Harden said. “There were several possessions that we just gave away (in Game 5). I think that third quarter, we brought the lead out to five quick (it was 7), and then they hit two threes in a row. Every possession matters in the finals. We just gave too many away.”

They gave away a few all series. And that stung the Thunder. A lot. Thunder players all talked about being a family and you could see the tears and feel the emotion as they left the floor. You could see it as Kevin Durant talked to his mom. The key — the thing the Thunder’s three leaders were already talking about — was to use that as fuel.

“You just have a lot of regrets but the only thing you can do is get back to work,” Kendrick Perkins said. “And each individual has to think about it when you’re lifting weights, as you run suicides, just think about this feeling, think about this moment and how close we came. We just fell short.”

You get the sense this team will be back. And once again they will have learned a lesson. They will be better. And that could be scary good.

  1. finsfan71 - Jun 22, 2012 at 1:50 AM

    OKC is the real deal. Their fans will witness many special nights.

    • finalword33 - Jun 22, 2012 at 7:44 AM

      Like last night.

  2. dreamzilla - Jun 22, 2012 at 1:51 AM

    OKC OKC OKC!!!!!!!!!….they will bounce back …the new powers of the west for sure ….give them 2 yrs and they will hoist the trophy for sure …i see about 3 to 4 rings for this squad over the next 10yrs

  3. thenmoveback - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:01 AM

    “LeBron can’t cover Durant” hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahshsh. World champions

    • scalfor3 - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:06 AM

      durant did average 30 in the series. he and the thunder will be back, and they will be better

  4. reddolfan66 - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:05 AM

    Thunder is going to sweep the heat, just kidding feel your pain thunder fans keep your heads up ya will get a championship with this group..

  5. reddolfan66 - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:13 AM

    Let’s go HEAT Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo2011 NBA Champions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. realfootballfan - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:14 AM

    until they get more physical and get more offense in the post, they’ll be this generation’s Mavericks that storm the regular season but come up short when they play a physical team like the Heat every year.

    I didn’t get all of the Thunder ball washing when they’re a jump shooting team with limited offensive options (as good as they are), especially limited in the post along with not being in the same galaxy as the Heat defensively.

    Unless they fix that, they’ll be on the wrong end of a few of these kinds of series with the Heat because the West is pretty weak these days and over inflated their prospects to the national media.

    • scalfor3 - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:33 AM

      i wouldn’t call them a jump shooting team. westbrook and harden are at their best attacking the rim and durant can obviously get there as well. they could use another shooter (eric maynor?) and someone who can get them more o from the post than ibaka/perk/collison

      • realfootballfan - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:21 PM

        They’re primarily a jump shooting team.

        Where is the post up game? It was the same criticism I had for LBJ this time last year. Durant is an eyelash under 7 feet and can shoot over anyone, which is why he’s going to have to get down there and bang if he wants a ring. It will be more difficult because he’s naturally so slim and not physical, but that’s what it will take.

        Also, their defense simply is not on that level. LBJ can guard most players on any team from a 5’10” PG to a 7′ center. Wade is perhaps the best smaller shooting guard I’ve ever seen blocking shots, and Bosh (who I initially thought it was a mistake for them to sign that summer) is the glue that makes the whole defense impossible to beat because with his additional length, it’s a nightmare to consistently get what you want against that team.

        OKC simply does not have that kind of personnel. Harden is their 3rd best scoring threat (really their only other scoring threat besides Durant and Westbrook), and the Heat erased him in this series.

        Durant is a more likable version of Carmelo Anthony, while Westbrook (who contrary to popular belief is their best overall player) is Derrick Rose with a better outside shot. That combination will get you to the brink, but it’s not going to beat the Heat until they add more facets to their game and more pieces around the two to take them to the next level on both ends of the floor.

        The biggest mistake OKC fans and management could make is thinking that they are right there because really they’re not. You’ll end up like the Suns and Mavericks playing good regular seasons for years with no rings to show for it and wasting the primes of two terrific players.

      • scalfor3 - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:17 PM

        durant is already much better than carmelo anthony at age 23…

      • dstep24 - Jun 22, 2012 at 11:16 PM

        They’re a losing team. That’s all that matters.

        Cheers,

        Seattle

  7. camnellum12 - Jun 22, 2012 at 2:53 AM

    This may just be me, but the OKC Thunder really sound like the 2009 Magic. After Orlando lost to LA in 5 games, everyone was saying “Dwight is only 23 years old, once he learns post moves and his team gets more experience, they’ll be back.” Now look at the Magic, they’re depleted, Howard may not even stay, and Orlando lost some key players that helped them get to the ’09 Finals. Now I’m not saying that OKC won’t be back, but some players won’t return, an injury to a key player of the team can occur, and everything else. To be honest, the NBA Finals are up for grabs, you’ll never expect who’ll be in it, but I do love the LeBron-Durant match up.

    Look at this interview, didn’t OKC say the same things tonight? And spare me the “it’s the typical thing to say” speech, it’s too coincidental. http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=txnbafinalsmagic

    • realfootballfan - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:38 PM

      Not quite as limited as Orlando, but you’re on the right track with what I’m saying.

      Just like that Orlando team, as currently constructed, the Thunder will lose to the Heat, who are also in their prime, every time these teams match up just like the Magic would lose continuously to the Lakers if that went down again.

      Now, Orlando’s kingdom fell apart pretty quickly because the Heat were put together a year after their Finals loss, but as they were put together, they were a jump shooting team with one unpolished offensive physical presence. it was one post up guy with four physically soft outside shooters who were all also questionable defenders, which meant they would get beaten anytime they played a team like the Lakers, Spurs, or Boston when healthy.

      Similarly, they were banking on the East staying weak to allow them to continue to be a finesse jump shooting team, but of course the Bulls emerged from the dark Del Negro era and the Heat were put together shortly thereafter, which led the Magic to desperation moves like trading for an over the hill Jason Richardson and Vince Carter to fill the void of having more facets to them than what they took to the Finals in ’09 and thought would be enough to get them back for years to come.

  8. funktron2x - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:02 AM

    What, spam all the posts with the same thing? A loosey-goosey, ooh-I-found-a-pattern (even if it’s not real) bunch of mumbo jumbo? This team ain’t anything like the drama-hungry Magic. Get real.

  9. rickyspanish - Jun 22, 2012 at 5:40 AM

    Harden should substitute the word “we” with “I”. His most memorable plays were a bad blocking foul and pretending he got hit in the throat. Westbrook’s 21 Jump Street vest at the press conference was awesome.

  10. mrhonorama - Jun 22, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    I think there should be a lot of concern that Scott Brooks turned in one of the worst coaching performances in modern Finals history. The man made, by my unofficial count, zero adjustments throughout the series. This was a close matchup, and while some of the 4-1 outcome was due to luck (esp. Thunder’s bad luck with 3’s), Brooks’ inability to recognize the folly of playing Kendrick Perkins so much and to never even think about playing zone to upset the Heat’s rhythm, shows either a stubbornness or lack of will that is inconsistent with a championship level coach. There are better coaches on the market, and OKC would be well advised to hire one.

  11. loungefly74 - Jun 22, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    I think the Thunder and the Heat have the best chances of getting back to the Finals BUT no way am I discounting all the other contending teams…and the “surprising up n’ coming” team no one saw coming (like the thunder a few years ago)…my point is several teams out there can win the title on any given year.

  12. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 22, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    Congrats to OKC on a great season, and congrats on a great finals. Said it before and I’ll say it again, OKC is like a bionic octopus, but all 8 legs can shoot, play D , and run. A very very scary team.

    Just not their time yet.

  13. bobthis - Jun 22, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    First of all congrats to the Heat. I chose the Thunder to win this series but they completely folded and quit after game 2. Same problem the Lakers had. They can’t play 4 quarters in the playoffs. The Heat had too much size and the refs let James knock people down in the paint like a fullback. After a while the Thunder wanted no part of the contact and let Lebron have his way. While I understand that the “stars” always get special treatment I still don’t like it.

    • truthhurtstoo - Jun 22, 2012 at 11:17 AM

      so your really saying they’re a soft jump shooting team, right? The HEAT were too manly for them?

      • bobthis - Jun 22, 2012 at 12:45 PM

        Not soft shooting at all. Just not physical enough for the Heat.

  14. jammers11 - Jun 22, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    Even great teams like MJ’s Bulls and the Piston had to lose before finally winning the big one. OKC will be back so LeBron better enjoy this one now.

  15. jbraxton3rd - Jun 22, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    OKC will be better when they learn defense..

    • dstep24 - Jun 22, 2012 at 11:18 PM

      …or when they no longer have a lying cull for an owner. But that won’t happen until the relocate, which will happen after their fans leave, which will happen when Durant skips town for a real NBA market.

      Hugs,

      Se Attle

  16. leeann10 - Jun 22, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    Although I am a Thunder fan, congratulations to the Heat! LaBron is fantastic. A pleasure to watch in any game. The Thunder will be back. They are young, they are not as physical as they need to be, but they will grow into that. Just being in the finals is a spectacular accomplishment. Durant and James are actually friends, and will play together on the USA team. That will be fun to watch.

  17. mikejd12 - Jun 22, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    Thanks to the okc fans that acctaully show some respect! That being said…it is now King James! Kiss the ring! MVP, MVP

  18. joeyballgame4 - Jun 22, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    heres a lesson,

    dereck fisher, you had a good career. now retire.

    -an irrelevant pistons fan

  19. miamatt - Jun 22, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    The Thunder are a great team to watch, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they come back. Congratulations on a great season!

    • dstep24 - Jun 22, 2012 at 11:18 PM

      Great teams don’t get obliterated in 5 games by a team that doesn’t play to 70% of it’s potential.

      • scalfor3 - Jun 23, 2012 at 11:51 AM

        i get hating the owner, but hating the players because the team was moved is pretty asinine

      • dstep24 - Aug 15, 2012 at 2:02 PM

        Actually, I am a friend of Nick Collison, and have a lot of love for several players on that squad. They just aren’t a great team yet. Ignore my comment and just look at the 4-1 spanking they took.

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