NBA Finals: Young and Reckless — Loss of poise dooms Thunder in Game 3

The Thunder lost to the Heat 91-85 Sunday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The Thunder lost because despite playing 40 minutes of solid basketball, it lost its mind through a stretch of the third quarter and its poise through a stretch of the fourth.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 18, 2012

MIAMI — Bad decisions. Panic-induced play.

Who were those masked men? What happened to the Boys of Poise who belied their age? What happened to the ahead-of-its-time Thunder team that threatened to win an NBA championship long before its appointed time?

The Thunder lost to the Heat 91-85 Sunday night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, not because the good guys couldn't throw a foul shot into Biscayne Bay, and not because LeBrawn James again played a he-man game, and not even because foul trouble again found Kevin Durant in what is becoming a recurring theme.

The Thunder lost because despite playing 40 minutes of solid basketball, it lost its mind through a stretch of the third quarter and its poise through a stretch of the fourth.

Guilty as charged, said the man at where the buck stops. “We've just got to own up to it and get better,” said Kevin Durant.

If these NBA Finals don't go the Thunder way, Game 3 will be long remembered. The Thunder could have won this game. Should have won this game, even, since it played the hot pants off Miami, notably two-thirds of the Heatles.

The Heat shot just 37.8 percent overall and made just five of 31 shots outside the paint. No way should you lose a game like that.

But the Thunder did. It suddenly looked like the team that history says can't win. Too young. Too inexperienced.

The Thunder had proven otherwise until Sunday night. Until a series of bad decisions after OKC took control in the third quarter:

* Durant biting on a Dwyane Wade pump fake with 5:41 left in the third quarter, resulting in Durant's fourth foul. You've got to stay down, Kevin. Got to. Non-negotiable. I know you're competitive, but you can't risk a foul that sends you to the bench for half the third quarter.

Without Durant, the Thunder's 60-53 lead withered away in less than five minutes.

“I'm just trying to play aggressive on both ends, and unfortunately I'm getting some fouls called on me,” Durant said. “But I've got to play through it.”

* Four straight bad plays centered around Russell Westbrook. A bad-pass turnover and a charging foul, sandwiched around wild or long shots after the offense stagnated. You can't do that, Russell, because it appears the constant criticism you endure is starting to reach your coach ...

* Scotty Brooks sat Westbrook with 5:01 left in the quarter, apparently to settle him down or teach him a lesson or offer Westbrook up as some kind of sacrifice to the gods.

Whichever, this was not the time.

Westbrook can be maddening, but a timeout and a stiff lecture or a pat on the back is the way to go. But Brooks dropped capital punishment on his own team by playing without both of its stars for the last five minutes of the third quarter.

Derek Fisher replaced Westbrook and produced a four-point play with 4:33 left, to give the Thunder a 64-54 lead. But the Heat outscored OKC 15-3 the rest of the quarter.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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