The game of basketball has changed drastically since the era of the Dream Team, which is rightfully hailed as one of the greatest sports teams of all time. And with every era, history is written for every player who has had the opportunity to showcase their skills in the NBA Finals.
And this time, the Miami Heat are likely to clinch their place as 2012 NBA Champions with their Game 4 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a game where the Thunder lost the energy they started with in the first quarter, jumping out to a 17-point lead at one point in the first half.
OKC, for all of the talent that they have, still have some learning and growing to do. They must learn the sting and bitter taste of defeat as well as the sweet taste of victory. Oklahoma City, despite all the outside noise of questionable calls by referees, failed to come through in the clutch in Game 2 and Game 3, and the Heat outperformed the entire Thunder squad in the fourth quarter, where the Thunder failed to contain likely NBA Finals MVP Lebron James.
OKC forward Kevin Durant, for what seems like a long time, vanished for much of Game 4, and failed to be an aggressive and lacked the drive that he showed in previous games. He vanished in the second half and failed to show the heart of teammate Russell Westbrook, who was the primary reason that the Thunder still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
James Harden undoubtedly has been the biggest disappointment of the series. A rising star in his own right, the Sixth Man of the Year failed to deliver from the bench and was too hesitant a scorer for the Thunder, who needed the energy boost Harden generally provides late in games to stall the Heat runs when Durant and Westbrook hit their cold spots.
It is interesting to note that Durant, Westbrook and Harden are all 23 years old or younger. They do not have the starting veteran leadership that a Kobe Bryant, a Boston Big Four member (Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Rondo) or a San Antonio Big Three member (Parker, Ginobili, Duncan) has. Role players like Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher don't provide the kind of invaluable leadership to effectively lead a championship contender like the Thunder.
Going forward, the Thunder still have the potential and capability to make more runs at an NBA Championship. Being on the big stage with such little veteran leadership is a challenge in itself.
Give credit to Lebron James; he has delivered in the fourth quarter this year, despite his dismal NBA Finals record and unfavored playing style and charisma. Dwayne Wade, a once favored Heat franchise player before "Lebron the Kid" came to town, will likely win his second championship, his first since winning with Shaquille O'Neal in 2006.
But both Durant and Westbrook, the biggest names on OKC's roster, must continue to develop as players, and not catch the contagious colds of the NBA and become complacent players. Durant must become more aggressive when he has the ball in his hands, and Westbrook must continue to become smarter as a point guard, as both players continue coming in to the prime of their careers. The Thunder must also improve their decision-making—especially in the fourth quarter—and not always be so hesitant when it comes to attacking the basket. They also need to take better care of the basketball, especially in the last two minutes of the game.
There are no moral victories in defeat. But one must know the feeling of victory and defeat, and work to overcome that defeat. It's what has allowed teams like the Boston Celtics to win the 2008 NBA Championship; it's what has allowed a team like the Dallas Mavericks to win the 2011 NBA Championship. And it's what made the likes of players such as Magic Jonhson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan great players.