NBA Playoffs 2012: Oklahoma City's Maturity Makes Them NBA Title Favorites

Matt ShetlerCorrespondent IMay 1, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - APRIL 30: Kevin Durant #35 and Kendrick Perkins #5 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrate beating the Dallas Mavericks in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on April 30, 2012 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City defeated Dallas 102-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Entering the 2012 NBA season, many experts tagged the Oklahoma City Thunder as serious threats to win the NBA title.

Why not? They are a team loaded with young talent, led by the three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, and after a couple of decent playoff runs the past two seasons, it looks like this Thunder team is ready to take the next step.

But younger teams that haven’t been there before tend to struggle in tight, pressure-filled situations.

However, this Thunder team could be the exception to that rule as they’ve shown themselves to be a very mature team under pressure, and it’s that maturity that makes them the favorites to win the NBA championship.

They have the scoring talent in Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins can protect the paint defensively.

But when all the chips are on the table, this team takes things to another level.

They’ve shown that maturity by winning two games against a tough Dallas Mavericks team by a total of four points. The victories came simply by executing down the stretch, which is something not all teams can do consistently.

Make no mistake about it, the defending champs have come for a fight, but the Thunder have out-executed Dirk Nowitzki and company with the game on the line.

Yet, it hasn’t just been the execution in the postseason. The Thunder have been getting it done in the clutch all season long, posting an impressive 15-7 record in games decided by six points or less.

Part of that success can be attributed to the fact that they have a legitimate go-to guy they can count on down the stretch in Durant. The Thunder scored 24.1 fourth quarter points per game, which ranked them ninth in the league.

When it gets to be crunch time, defined as five minutes or less remaining in the game with neither team holding more than a five-point lead, Oklahoma City outscored the opposition by 35 points on the season.

But it’s not just about offense, as Oklahoma City can play at both ends of the floor.

Opposing teams only shot .427 percent against them on the season (third in NBA) so Oklahoma City will be in almost every game they play.

For a young team, the Thunder have a ton of playoff experience, which will carry them very far in this postseason, but it’s their performance when it matters that makes them favorites to take home a championship.