Thunder Learning, Adjusting to Finals Experience

It was no surprise the young Thunder got out to a bit of a slow start in Game 1 of Oklahoma City’s first ever NBA Finals, but the Thunder shook off a slow start to erase a 13-point deficit to get a 105-94 series-starting victory.

The Thunder scored just 22 points in the first quarter but a strong second-half showing erased the early struggles. For a team whose core consists of two 23-year olds in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and two 22-year olds in James Harden and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder had to acclimate itself a bit to the Finals experience and Finals basketball. After the initial nerves and anxiety to get the game going washed away, the Thunder got back to playing its brand of hard-nosed hoops.

“Everybody is nervous.” Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said after the game. “You’re nervous until that ball is tipped up. If you’re not, you don’t care about what you do and our guys do (care).”

The Thunder is a resilient team, and has been all season and throughout the Playoffs. It has the poise and courage in its DNA to fight through adversity, and the character and commitment to turn every day into a learning environment.

The first-time experience of playing in an NBA Finals game is behind them. The setting and scale will no longer be a surprise. The team has adjusted to practicing at Chesapeake Energy Arena instead of the Integris Health Thunder Development Center per NBA mandates. The additional 2 minutes, 30 seconds of time that is added for the Finals between introductions to actual tipoff will become part of the Thunder’s pre-game routine.

“You know, just being in The Finals, we were kind of nervous, I guess,” forward Kevin Durant said. “That’s something … it can’t happen next game or the rest of the series. “

Added guard Derek Fisher: “I didn’t necessarily sense it, but it made sense as you watched the first half unfold. I wasn’t in each guy’s head or in their mind, but you could expect and anticipate that guys would feel overwhelmed by the opportunity. Guys work their entire life to get an opportunity to play in the Finals and to play for a championship, so nerves and anxiety are to be expected.”

Following practice Wednesday, Ibaka talked openly about the start to Game 1. Ibaka admitted the setting to being “bigger” than expected, but also gave credit to the Heat. In addition, the forward duo looked ahead in typical Thunder fashion to how the team can get out of the gates quicker next game.

“Miami was making shots,” Ibaka said, noting the Heat was 5-for-6 from the 3-point line and 11-for-21 overall in the first quarter. “It was our first time to be here, but the good thing about us is we keep playing hard. We just need to play hard basketball.”

FAST BREAK POINTS

While the national media in focused on the star appeal of this series, the Thunder continues to go about its business to make individual sacrifices for the good of the team and push each other to get better every day.

Collison said guard Thabo Sefolosha was key to the Thunder playing its brand of basketball. With active hands on defense and his ability to cut through the lane for easy baskets, the Thunder outscored the Heat, 58-40, in the second half and forced six of Miami’s 10 total turnovers in the final 24 minutes.

“Thabo was a huge key to the game last night. He really got us going in the third quarter,” Collison said. “He got some deflections and created loose balls and set a very aggressive tone for us.”

-James Harden, when asked about the keys to last night’s victory, said that moving the ball, getting our bigs involved, guys knocking down shots, just having confidence and trust in one another in order to make plays were all important. The team did a phenomenal job last night just playing Thunder basketball defensively and offensively to make the right play.

-Harden on Kevin Durant’s 17-point fourth quarter: “It’s usual, Kevin being Kevin. Scoring and putting us on his back and really taking the game over. Making shots, doing a pretty good job on LeBron and impacting the game the way he knows how to do.”

-We have some very good defenders and we have guys that can guard multiple different positions. Thabo can guard ones, twos and threes. Kevin can guard ones, twos, threes and fours, Russell can guard ones, twos and some threes. That’s a good luxury to have and throughout the game we can switch them off on different players.

-Brooks on shot distribution throughout the game: “We just talk about things that are important to us. It’s always about making the right play. There are going to be many opportunities for Kevin and Russell and James where they have to step up and score, but it’s always about making the right play.”

-Brooks on the defense the Thunder wants to play against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade: “We just play hard basketball. We do our best every possession. We at least want to make it tough, we don’t want to give them any layups in transition, we don’t want to put them on the free throw line and I thought we did a decent job as a team not putting them on the free throw line.”

-Brooks on the Thunder’s defensive strategy: “We have a philosophy with what we do, we’re not going to change it up in its entirety. We’re going to stick with what we do and try to do that very well. If it doesn’t work, we have some options and we have some different counters that we can do. Our guys, we have a system and our system is based off of effort, it’s based off of teamwork.”