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NBA Finals: Thunder has lost the touch at the free-throw line

The league's top free-throw shooters during the regular season have gone dry in the Finals.
By John Rohde Published: June 18, 2012

“I mean, what else could explain it?” said the 28-year-old Sefolosha. “There's no way around it and there's no reason to lie about it to ourselves. This is the Finals so, yeah, I would think we'd be pretty nervous. We've just got to go to the line and learn to clear our minds.”

In Sefolosha's opinion, free-throw shooting is one of many facets OKC needs to get straightened out if it's to win the NBA championship.

“We need to not play so much for the prize (trophy) right now, but play for our pride, you know,” Sefolosha said. “That's what we have to do.”

Perhaps no one is better than 16-year veteran Thunder point guard Derek Fisher at explaining the inexplicable, but even he has trouble gaining any traction.

“It's tough to explain it,” Fisher said. “Sometimes you just miss.

“It's interesting that with free-throw shooting, a lot of times it's the biggest example of basketball being a team game because it just sometimes gets contagious. A guy misses a free throw, then a guy who makes 99 percent, he'll miss a free throw and it just becomes this contagious thing that happens for some reason.

“It may or may not be nerves, but if it is, it's understandable. It's a part of the biggest stages in every sport. You have to figure out how to balance that emotion and those nerves. Those guys teeing off on hole No. 1 at the U.S. Open yesterday had some nerves. That just comes with the program. Those that kind of figure that out realize that maybe you have some nerves and how to just balance it and manage it. Those are the ones who ultimately end up being successful.”

Who better as an objective outside party than television analyst and former coach Jack Ramsey, who coached 1,647 NBA games and has been with the league since 1969?

“Has to be nerves. Has to be,” Ramsey said. “Now, nobody likes to admit that. I see no other reason for the best-shooting team in the league for the regular season and into the playoffs to this point to shoot like they've been shooting.”

Is it contagious?

“I think so,” Ramsey said. “Sometimes you have to go through these learning stages to beat it, and then it should be there forever. But some players let it haunt them, and they never get it back.”

As for the Heat suddenly heating up at the line, could someone please explain that?

“I don't know, man,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said, seemingly embarrassed. “I think we got lucky that they missed some free throws (in Sunday's 91-85 loss in Game 3). They don't miss many. Unbelievable percentage as a team, and I think for us as a team, we've got to understand that.

“We shot poorly in the beginning of the playoffs from the free-throw line. I think we understand that if we want to reach our goal, we have to step up to the line and we have to make free throws when we get our opportunity. A lot of games can be lost at the line and they can be won at the line. I thought that we got lucky that they missed some (15 for 24), especially in the midst of our run to help us get back in the game. We missed a bullet there.”