Oklahoma City's James Harden (13) passes the ball beside Shawn Marion (0) of Dallas during game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in the NBA basketball playoffs between the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
With Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder has perhaps the best young nucleus in the league.
Now, the sole focus is meshing their talents and marching toward a title.
“We learned that we're talented enough to play for a championship,” said Collison. “But we got to learn how to play basketball better. We need to learn how to win games better, and that's difficult. That's the hardest part, learning how to make plays down the stretch at this stage of the season.”
The Thunder outplayed the Mavs for 42 minutes in Game 5 before seven fourth-quarter turnovers became too much to overcome. Oklahoma City saw a seven-point lead with 5 1/2 minutes remaining slowly whittle away. While the Thunder struggled to find quality shots, the Mavs marched to the foul line, where they made 11 of 13 attempts, while turning the Thunder's turnovers into another 11 points.
Each of those miscues was a part of a large body of lessons the Thunder took away from not only this series, but this entire postseason experience.
“A couple of times this postseason, we lost our composure,” said Perkins. “It started with me as being the leader, as they call me, the big brother on this team.
“It's nothing about our talent, it's nothing about our togetherness, it's all about our mental. We got to have a great mental toughness going into next year. And we got to expect that even though we haven't won a title, it's going to be a target on our back because I feel like we're one of the elite teams.”