The Oklahoma City Thunder looked like they were on their way to an NBA Championship, after defeating the last three teams from the Western Conference to win the Association’s Title, on their way to the NBA Finals. The Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks, knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers by a 4-1 margin and then came back to win four straight after dropping the first two games of the Western Finals to the San Antonio Spurs.
They seemed to be destined to pop champagne bottles, after they came back from a first half deficit to beat the Miami Heat in the first game of the Big Dance, with Kevin Durant joining other legendary players from the Association, who won a Championship their first time at the Finals. They appeared as confident as seasoned-veterans by the conclusion of that game, looking forward to taking on their opponents from the East in their building Thursday night.
The franchise from Oklahoma City could easily be leading 3-0 in their current match-up, had they not wilted under the bright lights of the Championship round, in their last two contests. The Thunder have morphed from a dominant squad, to the 21st Century version of the “The Not Ready For Prime-Time Players,” as they now trail Miami 2-1 in the series after blowing a ten-point lead in the third quarter of game three Sunday night, losing by a score of 91-85.
Give the Heat credit for taking advantage of the opportunities that their rivals have given them, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have shut-up the “Haters” at least for now. The NBA MVP racked up a double-double, including 29 points and 14 boards while Wade knocked down 25 points and Bosh notched a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the night.
Durant put up 25 points in the loss, however foul trouble took him out of the contest in the third, with Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks pulling Russell Westbrook, who had 19 points in the game, soon there after. Without their two stars, the Thunder allowed their advantage to slip away and trailed 69-67 at the end of the period. The Heat fans at American Airlines Arena, were back into the game and Miami held onto take a 2-1 series lead.
The team from the West once again failed to get it done at the free-throw line; hitting just 62.5% (15-24) at the charity stripe, an inexcusable number for the team that had a regular season average of 82.9%. That is purely a matter of allowing the moment to master them; rather than the team mastering the moment, which may be too much to expect from a team as young and inexperienced as the Thunder are. They have the physical ability to win this series; however they may not yet have the mental toughness they need to complete the deed.
Oklahoma City now has two chances to extend this series and send it back to the Chesapeake Energy Arena; the two teams will meet again on Tuesday night, as the Thunder try to figure out a way to recapture what they lost after the first game of this match-up.