THUNDER BATTLES HISTORY IN GAME 4
Based on what has transpired to date since the NBA Finals instituted the 2-3-2 format in 1985, Game 4 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in American Airlines Arena is a must-win for the Thunder.
OKC trails 2-1 against the Miami Heat in the best-of-7 series.
There have been 13 Finals series tied at 1 under the 2-3-2 format. On Sunday, Miami became only the fourth home team to win Game 3 in such situations.
The other three were the 1985 Los Angeles Lakers (vs. Boston), the 1998 Chicago Bulls (vs. Utah) and the 2004 Detroit Pistons (vs. the Lakers).
Of the previous 12 winners of Game 3, 11 have gone on to win the NBA title.
The only time the Game 3 winner didn't claim the title was last year when the Heat took a 2-1 series advantage over the Dallas Mavericks before losing 4-2.
In addition, the winner of Game 3 in the entire history of the Finals has won the championship 85.3 percent of the time.
Through three games, the 2012 NBA Finals is the most-watched Finals ever on ABC, averaging 16.1 million viewers, according to Fast Nationals from Nielsen.
Sunday night's Game 3 broadcast delivered 15.4 million viewers.
Additionally, the series to date is up 7 percent in household rating (9.7 vs. 9.1) and 5 percent in viewership compared to last year's three-game averages (Miami Heat vs. Dallas Mavericks). The 9.7 three-game average is the highest since 2004.
Game 3 recorded an 8.8 household rating, lowest of the series. The game got a 41.9 rating in Oklahoma City, peaking at 54.7 at 9:30 p.m. It got a 29.6 rating in Miami and 24.3 in Tulsa.
The Thunder was the NBA's top free-throw shooting team the last two seasons with percentages of .823 and .806, but OKC is shooting just .701 so far in the Finals.
“We just need to be able to relax and shoot them with confidence,” veteran forward Nick Collison said. “It's a hard thing to really point to and do differently other than just our mindset. It's each guy. I think we'll shoot better. We haven't, but I think we'll calm down and shoot better. That's what we're hoping for.”
The misses certainly aren't due to a lack of practice.
“We always shoot them,” Collison said. “You just have to make them in the game. We probably shoot 50 to 100 on most days, even on shootaround days. The way guys do workouts, they get free throws during shootaround, they do shooting usually after shootaround (in) pregame. It's got to be just confidence, I think, is the big key with that.”
How do you fix it?
“Maybe don't get caught up in trying to fix it,” Collison said. “Just focus on our effort and our concentration and really try to do those things like our principles that we always talk about like screening to set up plays, the spacing to be a little bit better, but really just try to get yourself ready to play in Game 4 and we'll play better, I guess. If we can continue to defend like we did for most of that game and clean up things, I think we'll play better.”
A CHANGED MAN
Thunder center Kendrick Perkins was on the court when LeBron James took off a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey for the last time after losing to the Boston Celtics in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals.
Perkins let out a sigh and said the 2012 version of James is much different.
“He's a better player from then,” Perkins said during Monday's interview session. “He's a lot older. He's matured more. He's been to the Finals last year and he's got more help. He's on a better ballclub now.
“At the end of the day I feel like with LeBron, it's hard. You've got to try to take away his paint points and get him to try contested twos. I know over his last four playoff games he's something like 6 for 35 outside the paint on shooting.”
Veteran Heat forward Shane Battier also shared his thoughts on the new James.
“Focused, focused, focused,” Battier said. “As playful as LeBron can be, he's been pretty focused, I'd say, for the last half of the season. This is important to him.”
Three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant is averaging 8.5 points in the fourth quarter through 18 postseason games, but is averaging 12.3 points in the fourth quarter in the Finals. … Veteran Thunder guard Derek Fisher needs three 3-pointers to tie Lakers ex-teammate Kobe Bryant for second on the all-time NBA Finals list. Robert Horry holds the career 3-point record with 56. … Fisher's four-point play in Game 3 was the 12th in Finals history. Three of the last six have been surrendered by the Heat. … James' 29-point game Sunday ended his streak of five consecutive 30-plus-point playoff games, which was a Miami postseason record and matched his personal high of five straight with Cleveland. ... James has 13 30-plus-scoring games this postseason. The playoff record in one postseason is 16, shared by Chicago's Michael Jordan (1992) and Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon (1995). Jordan and Olajuwon both won championships those years. … Battier is 11 for 15 on 3-pointers in the Finals. Since the NBA instituted the 3-point shot in 1979, only Orlando's Rashard Lewis in 2009 (11) has that many 3-pointers in the first three games of the Finals. Entering Game 3, Battier had made at least four 3-pointers in three straight games. According to ESPN.com, the last player to make four 3s in four consecutive postseason games was Orlando's Dennis Scott (1995).
Television analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy shared this observation during the Game 3 telecast: “If I had one regret about my time coaching Steve Francis, (it's) I tried to change too much too soon. That's why I love what Scott Brooks has done. Russell Westbrook has gotten better rapidly … and the point is, he has improved. He's improved dramatically."
JOHN ROHDE, DARNELL MAYBERRY AND MIKE SHERMAN