MIAMI — A pressing question is floating around Miami.
Which team is more desperate going into tonight’s Game 4, the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Miami Heat?
According to Heat forward Chris Bosh, it’s not even close.
“We know what kind of situation this is, and we’ve been here before,” Bosh said after his team’s shootaround Tuesday morning. “We’re really relying on our experience to give us that desperation that we need so much. We live with that pain every day. Every time I think about it I just want to put out every game.”
Bosh, of course, was referring to the Heat’s humbling and, at times, humiliating loss in last year’s NBA Finals against Dallas.
And Bosh, of course, has a point.
Nothing the Thunder can do will replicate the pain the Heat feels from falling short a year ago. Miami has a motivator that has festered for more than a year. Whether that makes all the difference in this series remains to be seen. It certainly doesn’t guarantee the Heat anything.
That’s because the Thunder has plenty of motivation as well entering tonight’s game.
Since the NBA Finals switched to a 2-3-2 format in 1985, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 series deficit. Thirteen have tried. Thirteen have failed. The Thunder can’t afford to risk being the 14th team to give it a go. Players know it. Coaches do, too. It’s not something that has been talked about among the team, but you can bet it’s in the back of every last player’s mind.
The Thunder thinks coming out and simply controlling the “little things” better will result in an improved performance. OKC wants to take care of the ball and play defense without fouling and be the first team to make hustle plays. And oh yeah, make some free throws.
Whether the improvement in those areas stems from desperation or sheer execution is up for debate. A sense of desperation can’t hurt. But you won’t find anyone on the Thunder talking about how the team is desperate.
Heat guard Dwyane Wade, for one, thinks the Thunder will be much better.
“What I expect every night in the Finals,” Wade said when asked what he expects out of OKC tonight. “I expect them to come out and give a better effort, especially at the end of the game. But last game was a great effort. It could have went either way. We came out on the winning side. So we expect both teams to come out and give a great effort. Both teams want to win. No team wants to win more than the other team at this point.”
Wade then elaborated on his last sentence.
“I think both teams want to win equally as bad,” he said. “You work so hard to get to this point and it’s a dream for everybody to be in the Finals. You get so close, you start dreaming about it. You envision it. So I can’t say one guy wants to win more than the next guy. That would be totally wrong to say that. I believe everyone wants to do it. But it’s only one team that can.”
A FEW NUGGETS
- Kevin Durant on how being down 2-0 to San Antonio may now help the Thunder in its current 2-1 hole: “It’s different, but we’ve been in this situation before so it’s kind of making us at ease a little bit.”
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks when asked about Durant and Russell Westbrook sitting at the end of the third quarter of Game 3 delivered a reminder, or newsflash to some, on how he manages his lineups. “I don’t know how many times we’ve played it in the playoffs, but I know we played 66 regular season games and that happened 66 times. Those guys are always off the court at the same time. It was nothing that we don’t do. We do it all the time. We do it every game. So the people that have not watched us play, they thought that was a big deal. But James and that second unit play without Russell and Kevin probably four to five minutes per half each game. And we did it for 66 games in the regular season, and we’ve done it for most of the playoffs. That did not lose the game.”
- Love that retort by Brooks. Even love the logic behind it…for the regular season and even earlier rounds. However, it might be time to change that philosophy a bit more. This is the NBA Finals, against a deadly Miami Heat team.
- Durant said his missed free throws have frustrated him more than his fouls. “The fouls,” Durant said, “that’s not why we lost the game. It’s not the whole game. Of course I want to be on the floor, and it’s tough to be off because of fouls but that’s not why we lost the game. But I make free throws. I’m an 80 percent free throw shooter so when I miss two out of four it’s very frustrating for me. So I just got to be more disciplined, take my time, bend my legs and go back to when I was 8 or 9 years old and knock them down.”
- Here’s a pretty amazing stat for you: Durant has attempted just one free throw in all three of the first halves. Total. Not one in each of the three halves. One! That’s one foul shot for the reigning three-time scoring champ in 61 minutes of basketball. That’s almost impossible.
- KD was asked if subpar games, with missed free throws, for example, cause him to lose sleep. “I lose sleep over losses,” Durant said. “I can care less about how many free throws I missed. Of course, if we would have won the game and I didn’t miss those free throws I wouldn’t even think about it. I lose sleep over losses. I think if you don’t care about it when you go home then it’s something wrong with you. I really put my heart into this so of course I get upset. My mom and my dad got to calm me down sometimes. But I’ve learned how to kind of let it go quicker than I usually did and I learn from it.”
- Michael Jordan reportedly said the Heat will win Game 4 and go on to win the championship. Why that matters I have no idea. But Heat players were asked about it today. “For us, it’s important that we believe it, as a team that we’ll win Game 4,” Wade said. “It’s going to be a lot of things said from the outside about what people believe and feel. But in a series, things can change fast. It’ll look like one team has all the momentum and, boom, it goes the other way. So we’re keeping our ears closed to the outside and just worrying about what’s going on in here.”
- Nick Collison on the Thunder’s uncharacteristically poor foul shooting: “We just need to be able to relax and shoot them with confidence. It’s a hard thing to really point to and do differently other than just our mind-set. It’s each guy. I think we’ll shoot better. We haven’t, but I think we’ll calm down and shoot better. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
- Collison was asked if the Thunder should/would spend more time on foul shots. “We always shoot them,” Collison said. “You just have to make them in the game. We probably shoot 50 to 100 on most days, even on shoot-around days. The way guys do workouts, they get free throws during shootaround, they do shooting usually after shootaround, pre-game. It’s got to be just confidence, I think, is the big key with that.”
- Asked how the Thunder corrects the little things that are plaguing OKC like missed foul shots, turnovers and silly fouls Collison said “Maybe don’t get caught up in trying to fix it.”
- Brooks on the philosophy of not talking about the free throw problem (among others) and hoping it fixes itself: “I talk about it, but I just say ‘Guys, just step up and take your shot. Relax and shoot it with confidence.’ That’s what they’ve done all year. There’s no reason to change now.”
- If you want, you can read about “beef” between Serge Ibaka and LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Durant.
- After yet another poor performance against the Heat, we’re again asking what’s up with James Harden? He’s been MIA against MIA (OK, bad joke). But one potential reason among the other factors could be his limited time on the court with Collison. As you know, Harden and Collison have amazing chemistry. They’ve played well off each other all year just through basic basketball instincts, reading and reacting. However, in Game 1 Harden and Collison were on the court together for just 10 minutes, 43 seconds. Harden, of course, had just five points on 2-for-6 shooting in that game. In Game 2, when Harden played 14 minutes, 32 seconds with Collison, he had 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Then the duo’s court time together took a slight dip again in Game 3, just 13 minutes, 13 seconds. Harden had nine points on 2-f0r-10 shooting in that one.
- Brooks shared his plan for how he hopes to get Harden going. “We’re going to try to play a little faster with James,” Brooks said. “When James had a good game in Game 2, he played a faster pace. He got the ball and attacked. He didn’t wait for the screens. He just got openings and drove and kicked and then got the ball back. That’s what we have to do. James is a terrific player. He had a tough shooting night. I expect him to bounce back tonight.”
- Post-practice workouts by players who don’t get burn are always fun to watch. After shootaround today, Royal Ivey, Lazar Hayward and Reggie Jackson ran steps all throughout the lower concourse. They were joined by a few front office members and some support personnel, assistant GM Troy Weaver being one of them. The group ran up one section, went out to the concourse and ran down another. They did that throughout most of the lower bowl, if not all of it.
- Of note, and deserving of its own nugget, Eric Maynor led the group of stair-masters. He’s looking better and better in his recovery each time I see him. Seems like he’s doing more strenuous stuff by the day.
- Heat forward Shane Battier sees similarities between Westbrook and Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. He said the point guards were comparable. “I think that’s fair. I think that they both take control of their teams. They show an aggressiveness that when they’re really aggressive, they’re really tough. And I think there’s an air of defiance in a good sense. And that’s what makes them good.”
- Not sure how many people have thought of this. But I hadn’t either until it came up yesterday at practice. A part of Battier’s success in this series can be attributed to his history against the Thunder. He spent 3 1/2 years in Houston battling Durant. And, of course, he was a part of that riveting series with the Grizzlies last year. “There’s a level of familiarity,” Battier said. “I’ve been going against KD for many years now. I know what he is. I know what he’s not. It doesn’t help me much, but at least I think I know. I think it helped me to know what their crowd is like and trying to relay that to our guys. It’s a crazy atmosphere in Oklahoma City. But in terms of schematics, it’s different from year to year.”
- I asked Battier to elaborate on how Durant has evolved from what he was not a few years ago. “Well, he takes much better shots now from his earlier years,” Battier said. “He just understands the game. He’s just older. He takes great shots. Early on, he took any shot which made him a little more dangerous. Now he takes such high-quality shots he doesn’t really have any holes in his game.”
- In case you missed it, I was on ESPN First Take this morning. Obviously, there is a ton of Finals talk. But you can hear my segment starting at about the 36-minute mark.