The Thunder were able to sneak by on a last-second game winner from Durant in Game 1, but can they keep it up for the rest of the series and playoffs? This and other questions came to mind when I was thinking about whether or not the Thunder can make it to the finals.
Can the Thunder keep rolling?
The Thunder did a decent job against some of the more-veteran teams in the West during the regular season. The Thunder went 2-1 against the Lakers, 1-2 against the Spurs and 3-1 against the Mavericks.
So far in the playoffs, the Thunder have been able to manufacture two wins against the under-achieving Maverick squad. OKC looks like the more-veteran team towards the end of games— especially Game 1.
The veteran Mavericks couldn't find a great shot or execute well enough to get their first win of the series, while the much-younger Thunder ran a great play to get Durant a game-winning look.
But can the Thunder keep this up? Can they keep playing above their age?
Even if the Thunder beat the Mavericks in the first round, the Mavs have underachieved all year. If the Thunder do get out of the first round, their likely opponents will be the Lakers followed by the Spurs—two teams with a lot of postseason experience and championships.
Will the Thunder be able to play at a high level against teams who are used to the limelight?
Russell Westbrook has been playing well all year.
Since he came into the league, he's been surprising people and other teams by quickly climbing the ranks among point guards to become of the league's best and toughest-to-guard.
In the first two games of the playoffs, Westbrook has been especially good. Westbrook scored 28 and 29 points respectively, much better than his 19-point career average.
Westbrook is shooting almost 50 percent from the field in the playoffs and has been scoring at will against Dallas. Can Westbrook keep this up though?
According to Hoopstats.com, Westbrook has had a lot of rough outings this season that showed his age and lack of consistency. His most recent less-than-good performance happened less than a month ago against the LA Clippers when he played 32 minutes, managed just nine points and shot 25 percent from the field. Another poor performance came after Christmas against the Grizzlies when he played 31 minutes and managed just four points, going 0-13 from the field.
Will Westbook continue to play well in the playoffs or will he have another rough game where the shots just won't fall? Five of his 10-worst games have come in the last two months of the season. Will he be able to avoid a drop in productivity?
One of the Thunder's biggest weaknesses is their offensive low-post game. Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, while solid defensively, aren't the biggest threats on the floor for the Thunder. OKC has gotten by for the last few seasons by letting Durant, Westbrook and Harden take over the offensive duties.
Even though Ibaka had a very uncharacteristic Game 1—scoring 22 points—he followed up with just two points in Game 2. Collison's stat line is similar, only averaging two points per game in the playoffs.
The Mavericks, while they do have Nowitzki, don't have a dominant big man who plays low in the post. If the Thunder do continue to outscore the Mavs to a first-round victory, how will they deal with Andrew Bynum?
Bynum is a big man's big man.
He plays almost exclusively under the basket and can score at will. Will the Thunder be able to keep up with the Lakers offensively? Then if the Thunder beat the Lakers and get to the Spurs, can their bigs match Tim Duncan's scoring?
While the Thunder big men are formidable defenders, they aren't much offensively, which might come into play later in the playoffs if they beat the Mavericks.
The Mavericks, though they won the NBA championship last year, weren't great throughout the 2011-2012 season. They underachieved all year and weren't that consistent, only getting the seventh seed in the West.
The teams that the Thunder will most likely face if they move on are much different. The Lakers and the Spurs are veteran teams with a lot of—for the most part—healthy talent. The Thunder won't be able to count on their opponent playing poorly, as we've seen the Mavericks do towards the end of games this postseason.
Which begs the question, will the Thunder be able to play with better teams on a bigger stage?
This is the biggest question on my mind for the Thunder.
Injuries have played a major role in the Eastern Conference playoffs, with some of the biggest stars going down—including Derrick Rose, Amare' Stoudemire and Dwight Howard. Will the Thunder be able to avoid such a fate?
The Thunder play a high-flying, run-and-gun style of basketball that relies on their athletes to knock down jumpers and get to the rim.
Russell Westbrook is especially in question for me. Westbrook plays a very similar game to Derrick Rose, who we all know spent a lot of his season on the bench. Will Westbrook be able to stay healthy playing his high-flying style? Westbrook is averaging just under 30 points per game in the playoffs, and if the Thunder lost him, they would be in a very hard way.
Staying healthy may be as important as the Thunder actually playing well if they want to have a legitimate shot at the NBA championship.
While the Thunder had a great regular season, they haven't looked dominant in the postseason against a very rough Mavericks team. They have relied on two or three players to perform all season. Partner that with a weak offensive post presence, and the Thunder have a lot of question marks on their path to the finals.
What do you think? Do the Thunder have a chance to get to the finals or are there too many obstacles in their path? What other obstacles do you think they have to face before raising the trophy in June?
Thanks for reading!