NBA Finals 2012: Fundamental Lapses Will Lead to Thunder's Downfall vs. Heat
The fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder were young was an advantage all along during the playoffs. They were too fast for the Dallas Mavericks and too deep for the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
In Game 3 against the Miami Heat, though, it wasn't an advantage. The Thunder were too young and too sloppy down the stretch to beat the Heat. Finally, they played like their age, and the Heat played like theirs.
What that translated to was an experienced group of veterans showing the kids how to win in the fourth quarter.
After losing Game 2 at home, the Thunder needed to do several things in order to swing this series back into their favor. They needed to keep up with the Heat in the paint, they needed to limit Shane Battier and they needed to be smarter about their shot selection.
By all means, the Thunder did some of those things, to some extent. They limited Shane Battier, except when it counted, allowing him to go two-for-two from beyond the arc and fouling him on one of those critical three-pointers late in the third quarter.
The Thunder contended with the Heat in the paint—they scored 42 points inside, the Heat scored 46—but they were out-rebounded 45-38. Furthermore, Kevin Durant disappeared for much of the third quarter after getting into foul trouble.
LeBron James, meanwhile, escaped the game with one personal foul (fancy that) and helped the Heat overcome a 10-point third-quarter deficit that would eventually lead to victory.
The Thunder's shot selection was marginally improved, but still not good enough. As a team, they shot better from the floor (42.9 percent) than Miami (37.8 percent). However, they still fired away from long range and shot a dismal 22.2 percent from three, far worse than the Heat (30.8 percent) on a night when neither team could get anything to fall.
That being said, the Thunder's shot selection still was a massive problem, particularly when it came to Russell Westbrook. The 23-year-old took four ill-advised attempts from long range and missed three of them—including one wide-open attempt with 10 seconds remaining. James Harden missed all four of his attempts.
Who will be the most important factor for the Thunder going forward?
Still, those missteps weren't the primary reason for the Thunder's loss. They lost because they stopped doing the little things they'd been doing up to this point. For one, they stopped dominating in the fourth quarter, which had previously been a strength.
Secondly, Harden picked a terrible time to have one of his worst games of the playoffs. He had been instrumental to the Thunder throughout, registering 16.6 points per game, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 43.1 percent from three. Last night, he went 2-for-10 from the floor with four personal fouls.
That wasn't even the worst part. That was the free-throw shooting. As a team, the Thunder shot 81.2 percent from the charity stripe this season; against the Heat in Game 3, they shot 62.5 percent.
To beat the Heat, the Thunder have a list of to-do items that is growing by the day. In addition to everything they needed to do before—Durant needs to be better than LeBron, Battier needs to be contained, Westbrook needs to be much, much smarter—they now need to go back to the fundamentals and improve upon what used to be their areas of strengths. They need to be strong in the fourth quarter. The bench needs to come up big. They need to knock down their free throws.
The list shouldn't be getting longer at this point in time. If it does, there might just be too many items for the Thunder to handle.
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