Thursday night in a crucial Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are faced with a daunting win or go home matchup, and if they want to survive another game, they'll need to score on more than four-of-13 possessions in the final six minutes like they did in Game 4.
It was the curse of the Miami Heat's Big Three—well, make that Big Four, after Mario Chalmers exploded onto the scene and found a way to contribute with 25 points.
In order for the Thunder make a run at the championship, they must protect the basketball at all costs and make all of their possessions count.
Russell Westbrook showed up Monday night with 43 points on 20-of-23 shooting, but it wasn't enough to overcome, even with what has become a strong average from Kevin Durant, who finished with 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
The Heat will get buckets, and the Thunder have found that, even when they disrupt Wade, James and Bosh, the Heat's Big Three seemingly dish it out to Chalmers and Shane Battier waiting in the wings to hit wide-open threes.
Battier is soaking up his first Finals appearance, and he provides the Heat with a capable outside shot––one of the few places that stars Wade and James lack consistency.
It has proved to be a deadly weapon against the Thunder during the Finals, and so Durant and Thabo Sefolosha are really going to have to step out and get a hand in their faces around the three-point line.
Ultimately, it will be up to the star of the Thunder squad, Kevin Durant, to put the team on his back and come up with a performance that would resemble something of the great Michael Jordan's heroics.
Sure, they are down three games to one and it seems like an almost insurmountable task to overcome, but they have absolutely nothing to loose at this point. Now, they can just go out there and try to execute a game plan that has worked for the majority of the season.
But it can't just be a one-man or even a two-man show––the Thunder need to get production across the board if they want to stay alive for Game 6.
This includes reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who is having one of the worst series of his career at the worse possible time.
After an abysmal nine-point performance in Game 3, Harden returned to the hardwood to play 38 minutes, but yet again, his contributions were minimal, seeing as he could not get anything going on the offensive end.
His confidence has been completely shattered by the Heat, and they have exploited this by toying with him with just about two minutes remaining, leaving him uncovered with no passing options and daring him to take a shot, which he did and fired up a 16-foot clunker.
For a guy who, throughout the regular season, and much of this playoff season for that matter, has been reliable, the super-sub has come into the game and injected life into an average bench unit, while excelling with the stars.
Being forced to defend the bigger and stronger LeBron, standing 6'8" and 250 pounds, night in and night out must be taking a toll on Harden's 6'5", 220-pound frame.
He is a versatile commodity to have off the bench, and the Thunder understood that when they took him with the third overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Harden is a craft player, who can both punish with his jump-shot and take the ball strong to the hoop. But he has been completely knocked off his game by Dwayne Wade and company, who helped push him to his atrocious Game 4 stat line: two-for-10 for eight points and four turnovers.
This super-sub has looked like a super-dud in these past two games, and Miami knows that they have him on the ropes.
If they come out in Game 5 and leave him opportunities to score, I believe Harden will instantly gain back some lost confidence if he is successful in scoring. There's nothing a few buckets can't fix, as far as basketball related problems go.
If Harden can contribute at least 20 points on a decent shooting night, say seven-for-11, in addition to the usual production out of Durant and Westbook, then the Thunder may be able to stave off a Finals loss––at least for one more game.
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