In losing Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder fell into a 3-1 deficit in the series. This is a problem, because no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.
Fortunately for the Thunder, they've been coming back throughout these entire playoffs. They won four games in a row against the seemingly unstoppable Spurs in the Western Conference finals, including Game 5 in San Antonio. This series isn't over, but the Thunder are going to have to make some changes to how they're playing.
Step 1: Cut down on the turnovers
The Thunder just haven't played smart in this series. In their three losses, they've turned the ball over 32 times. Against Miami, that essentially means giving up free points. When LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have the ball in transition, they're unstoppable.
If the Thunder continue to make mental mistakes, they're going to lose. They have to start taking better care of the ball. Even a bad shot is better than no shots.
Step 2: Get James Harden more involved in the offense
Outside of his solid Game 2 performance, James Harden has been awful in these finals. He's averaged 7.3 points on 6-of-26 shooting.
Harden is supposed to be one of Oklahoma City's stars, and he might be even more important to the offense than Russell Westbrook. He keeps the team moving while Westbrook and Kevin Durant are on the bench. He's responsible for their entire second unit's scoring.
If he can't score, the Thunder are incredibly vulnerable to Miami runs when Durant or Westbrook are sitting.
The Thunder need to get him easy shots so he can get into a rhythm. His first three or four attempts in Game 5 will be critical; he was tentative in Game 4 and desperately needs a confidence boost.
For Oklahoma City to win, it needs all of its stars to contribute, not just two of them.
Step 3: Use more zone defense
It has become apparent that nobody on the Thunder can guard LeBron. When Thabo Sefolosha tries, his size disadvantage is exposed; when Durant tries, he gets into foul trouble; when Harden tries, he gets frustrated and commits stupid fouls.
Their last hope is a zone. Fortunately, zone defenses have worked in the past against Miami. Dallas used one perfectly in the finals last year to keep LeBron out of the paint and limit Miami's three-point shooters.
Oklahoma City has the players necessary to run a zone. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka can control the paint as Tyson Chandler did last year, and their athletes can cover space.
Doubling LeBron and Wade in man coverage isn't working; the Thunder need to focus on just keeping them away from the rim and making sure Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers aren't getting wide-open shots.
Step 4: Win or lose with Kevin Durant
Russell Westbrook was fantastic in Game 4, but he's taken 100 shots so far in the finals. Kevin Durant has taken 80. That can't happen. Durant is one of the two best players in the league; you have to live or die with him controlling the ball.
Durant is the MVP runner-up, the scoring champion and Oklahoma City's best player. The NBA Finals generally come down to whose best player plays the best. Last year Dirk Nowitzki outplayed Miami's stars, and the Mavericks won.
If the Thunder are going to win this series, they have to do it with Kevin Durant carrying the load. If he takes 32 shots and they still lose, then so be it, but Russell Westbrook can't keep the ball away from him.
Durant won them Game 1; now he has to win them the rest of the series.