Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder Must Get Tougher to Become Champions

Eric EdwardsContributor IIIJune 20, 2012

Kevin Durant contemplates elimination after the Heat win Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Kevin Durant contemplates elimination after the Heat win Game 4 of the NBA Finals.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

I like the Oklahoma City Thunder, and I was hoping that they would win this year’s NBA title.

I am an avowed Miami Heat hater, but not so much that I cannot give credit where it is due. And right now the Heat are due a great deal of credit as they stand on the verge of closing out the Thunder in five games.

Maybe OKC can make a stand and get themselves back into the series, but I seriously doubt it. No team has made it back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit, and this Thunder team looks for all the world like they're done for.

If this finals victory by the Heat teaches the Thunder anything, the lesson should be that the tougher team usually wins. And for the first time in a long time, the Heat were the tougher team in a series.

If the Thunder plan on ever hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA champs, they are going to have to get a lot tougher, both mentally and physically.

The Thunder should never be outrebounded by the Heat, yet they consistently have been. There is no earthly reason why a team with Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison should be getting outrebounded by the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem!

Being beaten off the glass by a smaller team speaks to a lack of physical toughness that must be addressed going forward if the Thunder are to be viable championship contenders in the future.

What is more problematic for the OKC squad here is the total lack of mental toughness they have exhibited in this series.

One of the biggest shortcomings of the Heat, in my estimation, has been their lack of mental toughness. Usually the Heat will fold up at the first real sign of resistance from a good team.

They have been the ultimate front-runners—able to dominate teams when they get a working margin, but unable to close the deal in close games.

In this series, however, it has been the Thunder that has been unable to close out games, even when they have had sizable leads.

Take Game 4, for example.

The Thunder went on the road, grabbed a 19-point-first-quarter lead and promptly got hit with a 17-0 run that let the Heat back into the game.

Mentally tough teams don’t relent. The Thunder weren’t able to stay strong in Game 4 or any of their other losses. That has to be corrected, or this team will never win a title.

This was a special year for the Thunder, and they should have even better years ahead of them.

If they can find ways to get tougher when it counts the most, they could blossom into the NBA’s next great franchise.