2012 NBA Playoffs: Why the Oklahoma City Thunder Will Make the NBA Finals

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2012 NBA Playoffs: Why the Oklahoma City Thunder Will Make the NBA Finals
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Oklahoma City gets fired up for Game 2 of the first round.

Oklahoma City came into their playoff series with Dallas looking ahead at a tough road to the NBA Finals.

Now, after two close wins, the Thunder are up 2-0 on the defending champs, and looking ahead at a much easier path to the Finals.

Kevin Durant came through in the clutch again, draining the go-ahead free throws in OKC’s 102-99 win over Dallas. The Thunder won games 1 and 2 at the last second.

Russell Westbrook led the team with 29 points, while Durant scored 22. Derek Fisher, a veteran point guard the Thunder acquired in February, scored 11 off the bench.

Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki was clutch in the 2011 postseason, but he missed a 12-footer that would’ve put Dallas ahead by one with under 30 seconds left. James Harden made four free throws late in the game to give the Thunder a three-point lead, and when Jason Terry missed two threes in the last five seconds, OKC’s win was sealed.

Although they only outscored Dallas by a total of four points, the Thunder are up 2-0 in the series.

Kevin Durant has been clutch all season, and he’s been even more clutch in the playoffs. Russell Westbrook is scoring in the high 20s, Serge Ibaka is rebounding and playing good D down low, and Derek Fisher, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and the rest of the Thunder are producing.

For the Mavericks to win the series, they would have to win four of five against the Thunder. It will be easier to win at home, but with Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Ibaka on the other team, I don’t see Dallas winning the series.

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If OKC beats Dallas, they’ll move on to play the winner of the Lakers-Nuggets series. Both teams have talent, although after dominating Game 1, the Lakers are the favorite. That would pit Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and the Lakers against the Thunder.

Boy, would that be a good series.

Ramon Sessions, Bynum, Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace would likely make up the starting five for LA. However, Devin Ebanks has played well off the bench, and the Lakers have other weapons.

The starting five OKC would probably bring would be Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, Harden and Collison. Derek Fisher has lots of experience, and he can contribute off the bench, get open and knock down shots, as he did in Game 2. Kendrick Perkins has playoff experience and would match up well with Bynum in a physical battle.

Overall, I don’t think LA has enough to knock off the Thunder. Oklahoma City would have home court, and they have rambunctious fans that go nuts when the Thunder make baskets. If Scott Brooks puts Westbrook on Kobe, and Westbrook shuts Kobe down like he did to Jason Terry, LA will have to turn down low to win, and I don’t see that happening

Durant and Westbrook will be hard to stop, and with Harden and Fisher adding on to the shooters, Los Angeles will have their hands full. Add in OKC’s recent success against LA and you have OKC in the West finals.

They would play either Utah, San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers), or Memphis. Utah is very unlikely, and OKC would steamroll them if the Jazz somehow made the conference finals.

That leaves San Antonio, LA, and Memphis. San Antonio doesn’t have size down low, and Russell Westbrook’s one-on-one D should keep Tony Parker limited. As long as Parker doesn’t explode and the Thunder contest shots, they should win the series.

Against the Clippers, Chris Paul would likely be limited by Westbrook. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins down low could hold Blake Griffin in check, and the Thunder offense would stampede the Clippers' D.

Los Angeles gives up open shots, and the Thunder have shooters. Add in home court and you have a win for OKC.

Memphis would bring more to the table. Their guards would be limited, but Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph could be a problem. However, the Thunder beat Memphis last year, and they can do the same this year.

As long as the Thunder limit Memphis’ guards, rebound well and don’t allow Gasol or Randolph to dominate, the Thunder should be okay.

Overall, Oklahoma City is the best team in the West. They have great shooters, defenders, ball handlers, rebounders, shot-blockers and an energetic crowd. Factor in Durant’s clutch ability, Westbrook’s point and assist totals and Harden, Ibaka, and Fisher’s ability to explode at any time, and you have a great team.

Miami should watch out. Kevin Durant and the talented Thunder are coming.

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