Beat San Antonio in the conference finals, 4-2.
Beat L.A. Lakers in the conference semifinals, 4-1.
Beat Dallas in the first round, 4-1.
Stat Leaders: Kevin Durant (28.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG), Russell Westbrook (5.5 APG, 1.7 SPG), Serge Ibaka (3.7 BPG).
Opponent: Eastern Conference Champs Miami Heat, 46-20.
Record Against Them This Season: 1-1
Writer: Chuck Chaney (@ThunderObsessed)
Web Site: Thunder Obsessed
For the first time since the move, Oklahoma City Thunder are in the NBA Finals. But we all shouldn't be surprised, right? Even though they defeated a team that had won 20 in a row, most pundits expected them to make the Finals. No matter, it's impressive that they beat the last 13 Western Conference champions.
With Royce Young of Daily Thunder busy covering the Finals, I got a great substitute in Chuck Chaney of Thunder Obsessed. He helps me preview the OKC Thunder in this Finals Q&A. Let's do it.
What were your feelings when the Spurs were up 2-0 on the Thunder? You weren't surprised that OKC won four straight on them, did you?
I felt that if any team could win four straight, it was this team. Game 2 scared me; we thought we were in trouble and if we dropped one in OKC, we would just be in for a repeat of last season. They regrouped, and confidence began to build. However, won 4 straight? I didn't expect it at all. I expected a 7-game series. This team is even surprising its own fan base.
Has Kevin Durant really taken his game to the next level in these playoffs?
Definitely. What Durant has done in these playoffs could possibly be remembered as one of the most memorable playoff performances. Three game-winners. What's funny is his stats are down, turnovers are up, and everyone thinks he's taking the game to the next level. He is. He's doing it when it matters, and making it count.
How impressed are you that the Thunder REALLY seem to be taking care of the ball?
Very impressed that they're taking care of the ball. Makes me wonder how serious the Thunder took the regular season. Were they just going through the motions or what? Especially Westbrook and Durant. Both are averaging almost a full turnover less between the two of them. When they're locked in, they don't turn the ball over. Which makes them REALLY scary.
Anyone outside the big 3 that really impressed you throughout these playoffs?
Serge Ibaka has been exceeding expectations. He's considered an inconsistent shooter, which he's not. It's just what the nation has seen. He's only in this third year and he's shooting 56% for the playoffs, has the best defensive rating of anyone on the team. He's quietly becoming the fourth player. Also quietly earning himself a big contract somewhere if he chooses not to stay in Oklahoma City with his fantastic play.
Thunder against the Heat. Give me a few keys for the Thunder to stop the Heat.
Offensive Rebounding. OKC also was bottom of the league in offensive rebound, and they've vastly improved in the playoffs. They're finally using their technique and actually blocking out instead of relying just on their talent and athleticism.
Keeping the Heat off the line. This means not playing LeBron so aggressive on the perimeter, a technique that backfired against Boston. LeBron was 9-of-11 at the rim in their two games against the Thunder. However, he was just 9-of-27 from the rest of the floor. Give him space, don't let him be too aggressive, force him to long contested jumpers.
Get your guy the ball. I love Russell Westbrook, I love this guy, and I'm a Westbrook apologist. He tends to take ill-advised jumpers down the stretch. He hits some, he misses some. However, the way Durant has been playing, he needs to feed him the ball if he's open. Durant has shown that LeBron James cannot guard him so use that to your advantage.
On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that the Thunder will win the 2012 NBA Championship?
Six. The Heat didn't get here by choice. They have arguably the best player in the world with LeBron James. They were here last year, and have an idea of what it takes to win a Finals game. They also beat Oklahoma City in the regular season, so this won't be a cakewalk as many Thunder fans have in their mind.
Anything else you want to say?
I'm as excited as a 15-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert for this series to tip-off. Many predicted this Finals before the season, and here it is. The one thing that has changed is that now, the Thunder are the favorites. The Thunder really aren't used to being the favorite. They've been discounted for the past three years. How will this team fare with the entire world looking on them? We're about to find out.
Never say never!
PHOTO CREDITS: 1) Layne Murdoch/Getty Images.