MIAMI — The Thunder has lost a very dear friend in the NBA Finals, and team members are doing what they can to overcome the loss.
Free-throw shooting has been the franchise's bedrock since it arrived in OKC four years ago.
The Thunder has finished ninth, second, first and first in the league in free-throw percentage. OKC's .823 accuracy last season ranks fifth on the NBA's all-time list.
This season's .806 was down a tad from a year ago, but it still finished comfortably atop the league.
In its quest to reach the NBA Finals, OKC arose to the occasion by shooting .835 at the line the first three rounds against the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs.
Alas, under the bright lights of the NBA Finals, the Thunder inexplicably has wilted at the line against the Miami Heat, shooting a putrid .701 — a percentage that would have ranked 28th in the league this season.
Going into free-fall at the free-throw line is no way to try and beat the mighty Heat for the NBA title, which helps explain why OKC trails 2-1 in the best-of-7 series.
Compounding the problem, Miami is sizzling at .859 at the line in the Finals. This comes after shooting a combined .723 the first three rounds of the playoffs, including .691 in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston.
Heading into the Finals, several unknown variables surrounded the young and impressionable Thunder, but tossing bricks from the free-throw line was not one of them.
So far in the series, the Heat has attempted one more free throw than OKC, yet has scored 13 more points at the line.
The Thunder hopes to relocate its long lost free-throw friend before Game 4 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. in American Airlines Arena. Otherwise, OKC might brick itself into a corner in a tale more horrifying than anything Edgar Allan Poe could imagine.
Trying to get to the root of the Thunder's line woes brings nothing by shrugged shoulders and shaking heads.
When a great free-throw shooting team suddenly goes cold from the line, it suggests nervousness. However, don't dare suggest that to a younger OKC player like James Harden, who defiantly dismissed the suggestion during Monday's interview sessions.
“You can't make every shot. You can't make every free throw,” said Harden, who is shooting .714 from the line in the Finals after shooting .846 in the regular season.
Even three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant is not himself. A career .878 marksman from the line, Durant is misfiring at .737 in the Finals.
“I don't know, man,” Durant said, searching for an explanation. “We've just got to make them next game. I wouldn't say it's nerves because we miss a free throw, and (we) then hit a big 3 after that or get a big stop and then hit a layup.”
Young Thunder players appear to be fighting the “Seven Stages of Grief” trying to cope with losing their shooting touch at the line.
The first stage is “shock and denial.” No doubt all this is shocking. As for denial, see the aforementioned replies from Harden and Durant.
Starting guard Thabo Sefolosha admitted it's nerves.
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