Just a week ago, Oklahoma City had won its fifth consecutive playoff game to take a 1-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.
The Thunder had taken four straight against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals and disposed of the Miami Heat in Game 1 by 11 points, 105-94.
Now they’ve lost three straight to Miami by a total of 16 points. The Heat beat them in Game 4 on Tuesday night, 104-98, despite having a 17-point, first-quarter lead and Russell Westbrook going bonkers with 43 points.
If the Thunder lose Thursday night in Miami, their season will end on a four-game skid just San Antonio’s did at their hands.
Wouldn’t that be ironic.
Can OKC avoid this early of an elimination and force a Game 6 at home? Sure, but this franchise is going to through the same process great teams had to do before signing free agents to win now, not later.
The Detroit Pistons had to get through the Boston Celtics before winning back-to-back titles (1989-90). The Chicago Bulls had to get through the Pistons before winning three straight championships. (1991-93).
The Thunder’s time will come as they will learn from these 2012 finals:
Must want it. Kevin Durant must not only demand the ball, but get in position to get it. Late in Game 4, he not only stood around with his hand up across from the free throw line, but did not create any space or stay stationary so Westbrook or James Harden could get him the ball.
As great as Durant is, there are a couple more steps he must take in order to become that unstoppable force in the Finals, not just in the playoffs.
Knowing the situation. Westbrook should catch major flak for fouling Mario Chalmers with 13.8 seconds left when the shot clock was reset to five seconds on the jump ball. Got to know the rules, but he wasn’t the only one who made late-game blunders:
Tied 94-94 (with 3:15 left in the game) After James left the game with major leg cramps, he comes back in and hits a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down to give Miami the lead for good, 97-94, with 2:51 left. The guy was barely moving. Why didn’t Thabo Sefolosha force James to make a move on those bad wheels instead of letting him dribble into a 3 from the top of the key.
Tied 90-90 (5:48 left in the game) For all of Derek Fisher’s championship experience, why would he challenge Dwyane Wade at the rim when he has little left in terms of lift. With James laying on the ground after getting hurt on a drive, the Thunder had a 5-on-4 break after Fisher corralled the loose ball.
Fisher did his job. So all that was left for him to do was throw it to James Harden, Durant or Westbrook. One of those three would have either a got bucket, got fouled or possibly both. Instead, Wade rejects Fisher and James gets a lay up to put Miami up 92-90 with 5:35 left.
Defending penetration. Down the stretch, Chalmers and Wade got to the rim in making Miami’s final two shots from the field to help the Heat extend their lead to 101-96 with 44.6 seconds left. Can’t allow teams to get in the paint that late in the game and if they do, Serge Ibaka must make guys earn it from the line or block the shot.
Now Oklahoma City has a chance to extend the series by learning from its late-game mistakes. If the Thunder go down Thursday night, they will remember how it felt and won’t make those same mistakes the next time they’re in this situation.