NBA Playoffs 2012: What Thunder Must Do to Force a Game 6
Since the NBA Finals went to a 2-3-2 format, no team has successfully made the comeback. In fact, no team has even forced a Game 7.
It's not an impossible task—remember, the Thunder won four straight games against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals after falling behind 2-0—but the long march back has to start in Thursday's Game 5.
It's win or die time for the Thunder, and their attempt to stay alive in these NBA Finals must begin with a win in Miami.
Here's what the Thunder need to do to get this series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6:
Maintain Early Emotion
There was a certain amount of emotion to the Thunder's play early in Game 4, a feeling that Oklahoma City was ready to tie the series at two games. But after going up 17 points in the first quarter, things started to unravel.
For a four-to-five minute stretch after taking the 17-point lead, the Thunder relaxed. They took bad shots and turned it over. And just like that, Miami was back in the game with a couple of big shots and run outs.
The Thunder can ride that early emotion on both sides—back-to-the-wall, positive emotion from Oklahoma City and nervous, close-out-game emotion from Miami—to another lead in Game 5. The task from there will be maintaining that edge through 48 minutes.
Live and Die with Kevin Durant
This is no diss on Russell Westbrook, who put together one of the best performances ever in a losing effort in the Finals (43 points, 20-of-32 shooting). But Durant, the three-time scoring champion, needs to take this series by the throat if the Thunder are to get back to Oklahoma City.
He's still getting his points (averaging 30.3 in four Finals games) and shots (20.0 average), but Durant hasn't been the same kind of stone cold killer he was against San Antonio and in the fourth quarter of Game 1.
When the game is on the line in the fourth quarter tonight—a good bet, considering how this series has played out—Durant needs to be more assertive. The Thunder can handle going down in flames as long as Durant is firing away.
Get More From James Harden
It's no secret how poorly Harden has played in three of the four games this series. Save for a 21-point effort in Game 2, Harden has scored just 22 points and shot 6-for-26 from the field. In Games 3 and 4, Harden finished 2-for-10.
Maybe more distressing about Harden's play in Game 4 was his tentativeness. Normally a confident driver and shooter, Harden looked hesitant to make plays down the stretch.
If Harden's play from Game 4 carries over to Thursday night, the Thunder will have a hard time forcing another contest in this series. Oklahoma City needs him to play well.
Keep Fingers Crossed with LeBron
I'm not sure the Thunder have any other answers for James other than pure luck. Maybe the lower half will cramp again. But through four games, James is completely dominating this series.
How is he doing it? Several ways.
For starters, LeBron has developed a post game and now is going to it frequently, which makes him almost impossible to guard in a half court set.
When he faces up a defender on the drive, there isn't a player in basketball that can stop him from getting to the rim. And he's finishing near the basket at a high rate in this series.
Consider his average stats in the NBA Finals: 29.3 points, 10 rebounds, 6.3 assists, all while shooting almost 48 percent from the field and 82 from the line.
If James plays as well as he has over the last three games, there may not be anything the Thunder can do to get this series back to Oklahoma City. He needs to come back down to Earth Thursday night.
Limit the Role Players
This may be one of the bigger factors for Oklahoma City.
Shane Battier was the early engine, scoring 17 points in both Games 1 and 2. He's also shooting over 60 percent from three through four games.
Norris Cole gave the Heat a lift in Game 4, connecting on a couple of key shots in the first and second quarters that allowed Miami to stay in the contest.
And then there was Mario Chalmers, who exploded for 25 points—including several that came late—in Miami's Game 4 win.
The role players for Miami have routinely hit the open shots that Oklahoma City's continue to miss. Overall, that might be one of the overlying reasons why Miami is up 3-1 in this series.
If the Thunder are to take the 2012 NBA Finals to Game 6, the players not named Durant, Westbrook and Harden need to elevate their game.
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