Despite being 1-3 down, something no team has ever come back from in the 2-3-2 era, the Oklahoma City Thunder know it’s still open. They’ve lost the three games by a total of 16 points, meaning a play here and a stop there would mean at least one more win. The problem is figuring out LeBron James and the team the Miami Heat have suddenly become.
This was always the plan, the dream. For LeBron James to know and trust that even when he’s not on the floor, the Miami Heat players can take care of business. The finale in Game 4, after James hit the go-ahead three, giving the Heat a 97-94 lead before he returned to the bench with his cramping legs, was proof that this team can finish without him. Dwyane Wade and surprisingly Mario Chalmers were there for the close out.
The Thunder know what they need to fix, the problem is actually performing those upgrades and tweaks on the court. They all know they’ve got to stop LeBron James and Heat players from getting in the paint (46 points last game). They just can’t seem to to do it. Kendrick Perkins for the fourth time in a row looked ill-suited for the lineups the Heat were putting on the floor, while Serge Ibaka has lost a bit of confidence due to the weird benching in Game 3. He’s not a threat with his jumpers and the Thunder have yet to figure out how to make the most of him as a shot blocker in the paint.
Brooks keeps switching Durant on different players. There’s a problem with his defense, with his foul trouble in games 2 & 3. It keeps moving the other players and their defensive assignments as well, and Brooks may be too caught up in how Durant is utilized, missing out on strength of his other guys. His offense, despite the ‘easier’ job on defense, isn’t improving. Durant is shooting in good percentages, 55% so far in the Finals. But he isn’t being aggressive enough or near the hoop nearly enough, averaging only 4.8 rebounds. Scoring ‘only’ 53 points over the last two games is also hurting the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook had an insane game last time around. Scoring 43 points, people still found how to put him down, especially with that late foul on Mario Chalmers that denied the Thunder of having a shot at tying the game. But Westbrook needs to keep playing like he did. Following his instincts and not his ego. Brooks tries to tame him, or at least improve Westbrook’s decision making. But he has another player in far greater need of someone helping him.
James Harden has gone 5, 21, 9, 8. Not what you expect from your number three scorers. He’s taking bad shots, making bad decisions and not getting looks because the Heat have decided they’ll let Westbrook try and beat them on his own. No help on him when he blows by. The Thunder, going with Westbrook, stopped moving the ball quickly, and every time they find a lead like their early 17 points one, they start settling for jumpers and allowed the Miami Heat back in the game.
In short, it’s time for the superstars to step up for the Thunder. Westbrook already has, and now Durant and Harden need to follow. They just seem too docile, with their heads down, losing confidence, despite everything they keeps saying about fighting and believing they can turn things around.
Chris Bosh may be the best example of where these two teams are at. He took a step back from trying to be the 3rd superstar and is simply doing what his team needs him too. Hustle, wake up the crowd, defense and rebounding. After a bad game 1, Bosh is averaging 11.7 boards per game, outplaying both Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Most of all, he makes smart choices and good decision when he gets his touches. That’s something that needs to start happening for some Thunder players, James Harden most of all.