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Sekou Smith

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Despite blowing double-digit lead in Game 3, the Thunder are upbeat about their chances The Finals.
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Young Thunder not feeling down -- yet


Posted Jun 19 2012 8:45AM

MIAMI -- They're supposed to be distraught and emotionally drained, a young team that has been pushed to the breaking point by the pressure that comes with The Finals and the non-stop physical assault of the Miami Heat.

Trailing the Heat 2-1 with Game 4 looming Tuesday night (9 ET, ABC), you'd think the Thunder camp would be filled with doubts about whether or not they can rebound from this latest setback.

But there is not even the slightest bit of uncertainty amongst the Thunder. They've been down before, written off even, when they trailed the San Antonio Spurs 2-0 in the Western Conference finals. And they showed themselves to be tougher and far more resilient than most imagined, winning four straight games against the Spurs to make it here.

So you'll have to forgive them for not playing their part in this drama.

"We had an opportunity to win that game last night," Thunder forward James Harden said. "Just a couple of possessions and we win that game. So it's not about us being down. We just watched film and we played a pretty good game, probably the best game that we've played in this series, as far as defensively being physical and active. So just bring that same type of effort in Game 4 and we'll win."

Ah, the beauty of bravado.

Some of the Thunder's young stars remain delightfully oblivious to the magnitude of each and every moment in The Finals. Sometimes that's a good thing, like when you need tunnel vision while you go to work erasing a 13-point lead to win Game 1. Sometimes it can be their downfall, as it was in the late stages of Game 3, when stumble after stumble cost them an opportunity to regain home court advantage with a win.

But once it's over, once that moment passes, the Thunder move on to whatever is next. That's why you might want to hold up on burying the Thunder right now. Because it's the same methodical approach they have used all season long, same one they used when everyone assumed their season was days from being over when the Spurs cowboy boots was planted firmly on their throats.

"We know we were down 2-0 against San Antonio and everybody thought the series was over," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "But I know our guys, they're very competitive, they're very resilient. They've always showed that type of effort every game, and we've always been a great bounce back team."

The Thunder will have to dig through their bag of tricks to right all of the wrongs that plagued them in Game 3. The missed free throws, poor decisions, inconsistent shooting and general lack of focus with the game on the line was appalling.

For those who haven't watched this Thunder team up close all season, a 2-1 deficit to LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with two more games to play on the Heat's home floor would seem like insurmountable odds.

For a Thunder team that has embraced their own idiosyncrasies -- the dynamics that work for them don't always work for everyone else and certainly don't always make sense to everyone else -- staring down the doubters is nothing new.

When you hear about them talking about simply playing harder being the best remedy for what ails them, it's not lip service. They truly believe in what they do and how they do it. They're aware of their own shortcomings and what needs to be done to fix them, even if they're not willing to share with the rest of us.

"We talk about things," Brooks said. "We always talked about playing better and looking forward to the next game. We've always done that. We had a couple of games, a couple of plays here and there that could have changed things up, but we don't look at that or feel sorry for ourselves that we didn't win the game. We felt we had a chance to win the game, and we try to get better from it and move on the next game."

With the memory of the four straight wins over the Spurs in the conference finals fresh in their minds, Thunder veteran guard Derek Fisher knows his team has the perfect learning tool to lean on heading into a Game 4 that serves as their season-defining moment.

A win here and the series is back to even. A loss puts them on the brink of elimination. There is no wiggle room.

"I think you can always use your past experiences individually, collectively, to help you maneuver situations you're in currently," Fisher said. "But still respecting the fact that this is a new team, a new series, the circumstances are different, the stage is bigger. But we're confident in our ability to put together the type of game that can get us a win tomorrow night. We're not a team that is shaken in any way in terms of not being able to win a game, and the next game is tomorrow, so that's the game we're concentrating on right now."

There is a Heat team on the other side of this discussion battling some history of their own. They were up 2-1 on the Mavericks last year and fell apart, losing the series in six games. So the Thunder know that they are not in an impossible situation.

"We felt we let two games get away," Russell Westbrook said. "We honestly felt we had a chance to win both games and tomorrow, we think we have an opportunity to win again."

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and the author of NBA.com's Hang Time blog. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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