TORONTO - There are many things to like about the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the thing that makes a guy just shake his head about this team is how poised they remain regardless of the deficit.
And you need look no further than Kevin Durant for the guy who sets that tone.
Whether he’s torching his opponent with that effortless jumper that never seems to get properly contested — granted Durant’s wingspan and his 7-foot-frame have plenty to do with that — or semi-disappearing from the offence in the early going, Durant’s expression never changes.
When the Heat were up 13 in Game 1 on Tuesday night, Durant had the exact same look on his face as when they began to pull away in the fourth quarter on their way to a 105-94 win.
When a teammate hits a shot, if the cameras happen to find Durant on the way back up court, he steals a look at the scoreboard and then locates his man on defence. If he has just hit a shot and the cameras find him, he’ll steal that look at the scoreboard and go right back to work. It doesn’t seem to matter whether that basket extended a lead or cut into a deficit.
It doesn’t change, much the same way the Thunder’s poise remains constant.
The Thunder are supposed to be the young guys. Outside of Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, this team has not experienced an NBA Finals before Tuesday.
But you would never know it they way they carry themselves.
Durant is 23-years-old. He plays the game the way all those old timers wish everyone played it. Watch him hit a big shot and you can just about hear some long in the tooth geezers gasping in admiration.
This series is a long way from being decided but with that kind of approach and a 1-0 lead in the series, the Thunder are going to be very tough to beat.
Is there even a way for LeBron James to win regardless which way this series goes?
For every Jeff Van Gundy who reminds us how locked in James was in Games 6 and 7 — both elimination games in the Eastern Conference final against the Celtics — there is someone else reminding us that LeBron’s 17.8 points a night in last season’s NBA Finals was the lowest in the history of the game for a player who averaged 25 or better in the regular season.
For every guy out there predicting last year’s shortcomings in the Finals will only fuel James’ fire this time around, there’s another naysayer convinced James, as talented as he is, can’t get it done when it counts most.
Of course most of that latter group is just wishful thinking.
We get that James is a tough guy to wish good things for. He bailed on his hometown Cavs in only the worst possible way. But at some point even James biggest detractors have to let that nationally televised “Decision” thing go. Sure the fine folks in Cleveland have every right to wish only the worst on James. He earned that from them. But for those outside Cleveland, it would seem that at some point the rest of us just have to start appreciating his freakish talents for what they are. And what they are is rather incredible.
RED ROCKET NAILS IT
Great scouting report from Toronto fan favourite Matt Bonner who despite still licking his wounds from the Western Conference Finals loss to OKC, agreed to a semi-regular appearance on FAN 590 afternoon show with Tim Micallef and Sid Seixeiro. Bonner’s X-factor for the series was Shane Battier, the Heat power forward who Bonner felt gave the Heat the length and mobility to at least contest Durant. In Bonner’s opinion the Spurs didn’t have that kind of player and Durant scored at will on the Spurs because of it.
Turns out, at least for the first half, Bonner had the right guy but for the wrong reason. Battier, the former defensive player of the year winner, was on an offensive tear early in Game 1, scoring 11 points before the contest was even through the first quarter. He did it with a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range.
ODE TO DORIS
Take a lesson, Craig Sager. It is possible to ask a coach in the heat of the game a pointed question and get a solid answer. Doris Burke does it just about every chance she gets. Sager may have Burke in the look-at-me fashion department (and that’s not a compliment) but Burke has the all-too-rare ability to ask her tough questions, get good answers and not come across as a fawning sycophant.
ESPN though dropped the ball on Burke’s pre-game interview with Dwyane Wade. Wade answered the question every follower of the Heat has been asking himself all season. The question is why isn’t Wade being the Wade of old. In Wade’s words, “I had to give LeBron the baton and let him finish the race. He is the best player in the game. It doesn’t do me or the team any good if I’m stepping on his toes.” That is why Wade has been a shadow of himself and a much bigger passer and much less effective scorer for the bulk of the playoffs. It’s an interview that deserved a bigger stage than the 45 seconds it got crammed into just after the game got going. Full credit to Burke for getting such an honest answer from Wade.