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NBA Finals 2012: Thunder Must Mature Immediately to Defeat Heat

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NBA Finals 2012: Thunder Must Mature Immediately to Defeat Heat
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The Oklahoma City Thunder have made a living this postseason of owning the fourth quarters of tight games.

Their poise and maturity in the clutch against championship teams of the past in the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs made this young Thunder team look well beyond their years.

Yet if the second half of Game 3 tells us anything, it's that OKC needs to mature immediately to win the NBA Finals.

With a 10-point lead in the third quarter, the Thunder have no one to blame but themselves for what happened next. In a matter of minutes, the Thunder fouled two three-point shooters, missed five free throws and found themselves trailing for the rest of the game.

With the game on the line late in the fourth, the Thunder were plagued by poor execution, too many turnovers and missed free throws. That's not like the Oklahoma City team that NBA fans have seen through the entire postseason.

The finger can be pointed in multiple directions, but at the end of the day, the Thunder must show more maturity to win a championship.

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You can start with coach Scott Brooks.

After Kevin Durant was forced to the bench with his fourth foul, Brooks also sat point guard Russell Westbrook. Brooks sat by and watched his lineup of Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, Derek Fisher, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins lose the double-digit lead.

But despite losing the lead, the game was still Oklahoma City's to take, but it couldn't execute down the stretch. We expect that from a lot of teams. The Thunder are not one of them.

From the nine-minute mark on, they forced the Heat to commit nine turnovers and held Miami to 38 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, but instead of capitalizing, OKC gift-wrapped things for Miami, turning it over six times.

To win this series, the young Thunder must grow up fast.

Durant can't get into foul trouble in the fashion he has the past two games. In addition, a team that led the NBA in free-throw shooting at 80.6 percent during the regular season simply can't shoot 62.5 percent from the charity stripe in a finals game.

Instead of taking advantage of their Game 1 victory, the Thunder have taken a huge step back.

They allowed the Heat to outrebound them by seven in the fourth quarter. The Thunder also only managed 11 assists as a team...for the entire game.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

You don't win many big games that way.

But the Thunder's lack of maturity was most pronounced during the final minute of the game where their late-game execution was terrible, to be kind.

Durant made only 2-of-6 shots in the fourth quarter and only 1-of-5 with LeBron James guarding him. During the last 1:09, their last four possessions featured a bad shot by Durant, two missed threes from Westbrook and a turnover from Sefolosha.

If you can't execute late in games, you don't deserve to win. 

The Thunder must mature and get back to what has made them the team they've been up until Game 2 of the NBA Finals. 

Moving the ball, making shots (especially free throws), rebounding the ball, staying out of foul trouble, taking care of the ball and executing in the clutch are just a few of the ways the Thunder can get back into the series.

Game 4 is now a must-win situation, and if the Thunder don't grow up quickly and start making plays, then this series won't be heading back to Oklahoma City.

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