By John Schmeelk
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No team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, but it has happened earlier in the playoffs plenty of times. As much as the Heat have outplayed the Thunder in this series, the margin has been extremely small. A few plays here and there and the Thunder could easily be the team up 3-1. If Oklahoma City can do a few things differently, they can still win this series.
1. Figure Out Defensive Matchups: Other than Russell Westbrook guarding Dwyane Wade, Scott Brooks still doesn’t seem to know what his best matchups are. He had Kevin Durant on LeBron James the entire series despite foul trouble, but then he seemed to change his mind in Game 4. Despite Durant being out of foul trouble, and James destroying James Harden in the post, Durant was nowhere to be found. I understand keeping Durant off LeBron early to avoid early fouls, but in the 4th quarter, Brooks must get his best defender on LeBron.
2. Better Team Defense: After struggling offensively against the Celtics and Pacers, the Heat have scored consistently against the Thunder. Part of it comes from better team basketball by Miami, but the Thunder’s inconsistent defense has a lot to do with it too. Late in the game the Thunder had trouble guarding a simple pick and roll set with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Mario Chalmers was lost in rotations twice, turning into a wide open three and layup. They also allowed Miami a couple offensive rebounds and extended possessions. The Heat aren’t running anything particularly complicated and the Thunder are still struggling with simple concepts like “turn LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into jump shooters.”
3. Get James Harden Going: He has been downright bad this series, averaging only 10.8 points per game and shooting a terrible 35%. The Heat have completely shut down his high screen and roll game by trapping. His slow motion/herky jerky game has also been stymied by more athletic defenders. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant need help, and it has to come from James Harden. Getting some points from the likes of Serge Ibaka wouldn’t hurt either.
4. Figuring out Rotations: Scott Brooks seems to only be consistent with one part of his rotation: his starting lineup. The bad part is that starting lineup is being outscored fairly consistently by Miami over the course of the series. In such a close matchup, those points can be critical. It might be time for Brooks to make a change. With the Heat playing small, having Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins on the floor at the same time doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Nick Collison also disappeared for large swaths of Game 4, strange since he has been the Thunder’s best defensive big man, given his mobility. There are constantly different people on the floor at the end of games too, and Brooks needs to change that. Go with Fisher, Westbrook, Durant, Harden and Collison and see what happens.
5. Make Some Plays at the end of the Game: The Thunder have done some downright stupid things at the end of games. They’ve turned the ball over and failed to get it to Kevin Durant when he’s the hot shooter. I won’t even mention Russell Westbrook’s foul. Oops, I did. This is more on the players than the Coach, who need to get over whatever Finals jitters they might be dealing with.
It’s not that complicated, but the Thunder have some work to do. If they can get it back to Oklahoma City, they have a real chance to win the series. In my opinion, Game 5 will be the toughest one to get. I can’t wait to see if they can do it.
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