MIAMI, Fla. — It felt like a funeral on the day following the Oklahoma City Thunder's Game 4 loss to Miami in the NBA Finals.
A 3-1 series hole hung over the Thunder's head like the blanket of clouds that have swept in and stolen South Beach's scenic nature the past two days.
History says this team is staring at an insurmountable deficit. No team has ever come back to win the championship when trailing 3-1 in the NBA Finals. Thirty teams have tried. Thirty teams have failed.
Since the NBA Finals adopted the 2-3-2 format in 1985, all 13 teams that have taken a 3-1 series lead have gone on to win the title.
And when the Miami Heat exited American Airlines Arena, making way for the Thunder to take the court for its late afternoon practice, it felt like only a matter of time before the Thunder became the 14th team to fall.
NBA greats Charles Barkley, Chris Mullin and Jalen Rose all went on record Wednesday as saying this series is over. Their opinions matched many.
The only people who still seem to believe are, well, the Thunder.
“We know that it's a new day and anything can happen,” said Kevin Durant. “It's not over. You got to keep fighting and we're going to fight to the end no matter what.”
“That's the type of DNA we have here,” he said. “That's Oklahoma City as a city, Oklahoma as a state and the Thunder as a team. We're going to fight to the end.”
Nearly every Thunder player, as well as coach Scott Brooks, acknowledged on Wednesday that the team now has its back against the wall. Both history and the Heat have proved to be tall hurdles. The Thunder, though, is ignoring the history and focusing on how it plays against the Heat in Game 5 on Thursday night.
“It's not about numbers,” Brooks said. “It's about how hard you're willing to work, how much heart and desire you put forth and how you do it together collectively as a team. We have a group of guys that do that night in and night out.”
Just ask the San Antonio Spurs.
The Thunder, many thought, was dead in the water in the Western Conference Finals. Oklahoma City fell into a 2-0 hole in that series, blowing an opportunity to steal Game 1, before bouncing back to win four straight to advance. Yet before those four straight victories, the masses wrote off the Thunder as toast. Only 14 of 246 teams in NBA history had ever come back to win a best-of-7 series when trailing 2-0 — a 94 percent failure rate.
OKC beat the odds.
“Staying together,” said Russell Westbrook. “Just keep fighting, keep going at it. Keep coming in and working every day. I think that's what we did. Watch film, learn from our mistakes, what we need to do to win the game and that helped us out.”
With that blueprint still fresh in the Thunder's brain, it seems Oklahoma City has the makings of the perfect type of team to become the first squad in Finals history to climb out of a 3-1 hole.
The Thunder has maintained a youthful exuberance despite what the series record shows. That just may be a good thing. For all the talk about how the Thunder wasn't, and still might not be, ready for this stage because of its youth, that trait very well could be what digs Oklahoma City out of this jam. This team full of 20-somethings perhaps is prepared to benefit from its blind belief and cash in on its ignorance.
These Thunder players fully understand what's at stake but perhaps still don't realize just how difficult a task winning this year's title has become. Even if they know, they don't care. And that's what's made this group special.
“We're just going to play. That's the type of guys we've got here. That's the type of go-getters we've got here. They just don't care,” Durant said. “We're going to fight to the end no matter what. That's what we're going to do. That's all we can do. If we do that then we'll give ourselves a chance.”
Health and home-court also could be on the Thunder's side.
With the exception of James Harden's left hand bruise, the Thunder continues to enjoy extreme fortune in the health department going into Game 5. And in the event the Thunder does disprove the disbelievers and win Game 5, the series will shift back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7.
That's a key difference in this year's Thunder team and many of those unlucky 13 that have tested this route before. Of the 13 teams since 1985 that have gone on to lose the Finals after falling behind 3-1, five lost Game 6 on the opponent's floor. The Thunder, if it forces a Game 6, will return to a place where it is 35-8 this year.
Looking for reason to believe the Thunder can get it back to OKC? Under the 2-3-2 format, the team trailing 3-1 is 7-6 in Game 5.
“You can look at numbers and break them down, and a lot of people do that,” Brooks said. “You can twist them any way you really want to twist them … The bottom line is you can win a basketball game if you play well.”
The Thunder believes it still can.
Don't line up for the funeral procession just yet.