Surprised by the Thunder

Russell WestbrookAfter winning 4 in a row against a San Antonio Spurs team that hadn’t lost in a month and a half, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked like they were on a roll headed into the NBA Finals. They seemed pumped and ready to face a Miami Heat team that had just been beat up through a seven-game series with the Boston Celtics. They looked poised to jump out of the starting gate with two games at home in front of arguably the best crowd in the NBA. They looked ready to be crowned champions.

Things look a little different now.

The Thunder are down 2-1 after dropping a game at home and one on the road and if they don’t get it together quickly, since the Finals are a 2-3-2 format, they may not get a chance to go back and play at Chesapeake Energy Arena until next season.

Things are looking a little bleak for the Thunder, which comes as a real surprise to me. Anyone else? Did anybody think James Harden would be a no-show when his team really needed him? Did anybody think Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would get outplayed by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James? I didn’t. Not after the series against the Spurs and definitely not after the second-half beatdown the Thunder put on the Heat in Game 1.

I bet sports writers all over the country were already writing their LeBron pieces in their head after the Heat collapse in the first game of the series. “This guy can’t win when it counts,” “He chokes under pressure,” “This is why he can’t measure up to MJ.” Well LeBron has fired back at those hypothetical headlines and done what he’s been criticized his whole career for not doing: winning when it really matters.

Granted, the difference between Game 1 and Games 2 and 3 wasn’t what LeBron James did, it’s the help he got from his teammates. In Game 2, Wade looked like he just flipped on a switch and decided he was going to start playing, Chris Bosh looked like he was finally ready to be the inside force he was supposed to be all along, and for some reason, Shane Battier became a 3-point sharpshooter.

This is what the Heat need, it’s what they’ve always needed. They have to get contributions from people not named LeBron. If you asked me if the Heat had a shot before the series started, I would have said no. But they seem to finally get the idea that their success is based on the team, not the individuals they have.

Now there’s no guarantee that this continues. If they go back to 1-on-1, isolation basketball, things could fall apart in an instant, and that 2-1 lead they’ve worked so hard to get could be a 4-2 loss in the end. I’ve been surprised up to this point, but now I’d be surprised if they reverted back to the old ways after a taste of success.