The attention of the NBA world was squarely on Oklahoma City on Sunday night. It was a nationally televised game. It was a media contingent as big as any this season.
None of those media types was more knowledgeable than ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy. He spent more than a decade as a head coach in the NBA, so he had plenty to say about the Thunder and the Heat.
There's been a lot of talk about this Thunder-Heat game being a finals preview. Do you buy that?
I don't buy it, but I also don't negate the possibility. I'm just not one to jump to conclusions and skip steps. There's a lot of steps between now and the finals. Certainly, both teams are championship-caliber teams, but there's a lot that can go wrong, health being the No. 1 thing that can impact both teams.
When you talk about Oklahoma City as a championship-caliber team, what leads you to believe they could be that kind of squad?
I like their offensive explosiveness. With Durant, Westbrook and Harden, they are so good with the ball. I like how they can downsize and put Durant at the four; they can change the complexion of a game. I like their toughness inside. I like Collison, Ibaka and Perkins as role players. Now, there a lot of things they have to shore up.
What about that flip side? What don't you like about this team?
Their turnovers are problematic. You don't want to take away their aggression, but ... you commit the most turnovers of any team in the league and that's a problem, especially when you get into more of a possession game like it turns out to be in the playoffs. Even with that, they figure out how to win. Durant has proven to be a big-shot maker, and I think you could make the case that Westbrook this year has had the best year of any point guard in the NBA.
Why do you say that?
Watch him play. You can focus ... on the 1 percent you think you'd like to see changed, or you can focus in on, “This guy is an incredible basketball player.” You just look at him across the numbers and how he impacts winning, and this guy is a big-time winner. I don't think any point guard in basketball has played better than him this year.
So, why do you think there are those people who want to focus on that 1 percent, as you say, about Westbrook's game?
To ignore the facts? I don't know. I think it's the same with LeBron James. Not the level, but people for whatever reason when they get a perception in their head, they stick with that despite the truth. So, to me when you look at Westbrook, first of all he's there every game. I don't know if it's because (naysayers) think he should get the ball more, but man, Durant leads the league in scoring. He's got the ball enough. If they didn't have a guy like Westbrook scoring, that starting lineup that they play wouldn't work. They don't have a lot of firepower in that starting lineup. I don't understand (why people target Westbrook). People are talking about what he needs to do as a point guard. The guy never did it until he was a pro. That'd be like in professional football being a running back, and then them saying, “All right, you're a quarterback. Have no hiccups along the way.” I find it foolish.
FAR AND WIDE
The interest in this Thunder-Heat game went beyond Oklahoma City and Miami. It even went beyond the U.S. border.
Here's a look at where some of the media types came from:
China: Four different Chinese outlets had reporters at the game — Basketball Pioneers, Hoop, Sina and Netease.com.
France: Canal+, a premium pay television channel in France, had two people credentialed for the game.
Switzerland: Thabo Sefolosha regularly draws media from his homeland. Two came to Sunday's game from Neve Luezerner Zeitung, a Swiss regional newspaper in Lucerne.