TrueHoop: Oklahoma City Thunder

Do the Rockets and Celtics have a chance?

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
1:51
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Could the Houston Rockets and/or Boston Celtics pull off the impossible?

No team in NBA postseason history has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, but the Rockets and Celtics have both forced a Game 6 at home. Prior to those teams, only 10 teams in history forced a Game 6 after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Rockets and Celtics will both be at home in Game 6. According to history, there’s a 50-50 chance each team forces a Game 7. Six of those 10 teams to force a Game 6 were at home, and three of them forced a Game 7 -– the only three teams to force a Game 7 after trailing 3-0.

How did the Rockets get it done?

Kevin Durant was the primary ball handler on 14 of his 19 fourth-quarter touches in Game 5 but failed to score in the fourth quarter. Durant’s extra usage since Russell Westbrook’s injury includes 24 more touches per game, mostly in the backcourt as the team’s ball handler.

Durant was scoreless in the fourth quarter for the first time in his playoff career when playing at least 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets shot well from beyond the arc. They made 14 3-pointers in a playoff game for the first time since 1997 against the same franchise, when they were in Seattle as the SuperSonics.

James Harden made a playoff career-high seven 3-pointers (he made his first seven attempts).

The Thunder employed a “Hack-Asik” strategy in the fourth quarter but Omer Asik was 11-for-16 on free throws in the 4th quarter (1.38 points per possession). The Rockets scored nine points on 17 fourth-quarter possessions that didn't end in Asik free throws (0.53 points per possession).

How did the Celtics get it done?

Carmelo Anthony was in isolation on 52 percent of his offensive plays in Game 5, shooting 3-of-12 from the field on those plays. Anthony has shot 30 percent from the field in isolation for the series (46 percent on all other plays).

The Knicks used isolation on 16 percent of their offensive plays in the regular season, the highest rate in the NBA (league average: 10 percent). In the postseason, though, the Knicks have upped that rate to 27 percent.

Despite the high usage in the regular season, the Knicks were the fifth-most efficient team in isolation, averaging 0.87 points per play. In the postseason, the Knicks’ 0.71 points per play in isolation is second-worst among playoff teams.

The Celtics shot 50 percent on 3-point attempts in Game 5 after shooting 30 percent in the first four games of the series. The Knicks are shooting 23 percent on 3-pointers in their past two games after 38 percent in the first three games.

Team effort leads Thunder in the clutch

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
11:23
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsKevin Durant scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half to lead the Thunder.
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s quest to repeat as Western Conference champions nearly hit a bump in the road on Wednesday night as they held off a late rally by the Houston Rockets to win 105-102.

This is the fourth time in the Durant/Westbrook era (since 2008-09 season) that the Thunder have taken a 2-0 series lead in the playoffs. History tells us Houston’s chances at this point are slim.

In each of its three previous 2-0 leads, Oklahoma City went on to win the series in five games or fewer.

Clutch Thunder
Houston erased a 15-point deficit with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter to take the lead with 4:30 remaining, but it was the Thunder who controlled the game down the stretch.

Oklahoma City scored 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting in "clutch time" (last five minutes, score within five points), getting buckets from five different Thunder players.

During the regular season, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined to score nearly 80 percent of Oklahoma City's points in "clutch time."

But on Wednesday night versus the Rockets, it was jumpers from Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka that put the game away as Westbrook and Durant were outscored by their teammates 8-6 in “clutch time.”

Durant Chasing History
Durant scored 21 of his 29 points in the first half, not wasting any time in extending his streak of playoff games with 21-plus points to 28.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Michael Jordan have had longer streaks in the playoffs in the past 40 seasons.

Durant scored or assisted on 29 of the Thunder's 57 points in the first half, contributing to those points on just 30 touches.

He was silent for much of the second half, but hit a 3-pointer with 2:28 remaining to give the Thunder a 98-97 lead that they would not relinquish.

Harden not enough
James Harden almost single-handedly led the Rockets to the upset win over his former team, scoring 36 points to go with six assists and 11 rebounds.

The only other Rockets player to reach those totals in a playoff game in the past 25 seasons was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994.

Harden has struggled with his long-range shooting in the playoffs, making just 2-of-18 shots at least 15 feet from the basket in this series. During the regular season against the Thunder, Harden made 13 of 24 shot attempts from that distance, including 11-of-20 on 3-pointers.

What the win means
Only 15 times has a team rallied from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series in the NBA playoffs. However, both of these teams have a strong connection to those 15 comebacks.

Oklahoma City was the last team to come back from 2-0 series deficit, beating the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals last year. The Rockets have come back from a 2-0 series deficit twice in franchise history, in the Western Conference semifinals in 1994 and 1995.

What's on the line Wednesday night

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
11:51
AM ET
By Gregg Found, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
The Lakers have a chance to move as high as the 7 seed, or miss the playoffs completely.

Wednesday is the final day of the NBA regular season, and there’s no shortage of reasons to tune in. There are still playoff spots to be clinched, seeds to be determined and individual honors to be claimed.

Wild West Playoff Picture
Here’s how much we know for sure in the Western Conference entering Wednesday. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the 1 seed, and the San Antonio Spurs are No. 2. That’s it.

The Denver Nuggets have the inside track for the 3 seed. They’ll lock it down with a home win over the Phoenix Suns, or if the Los Angeles Clippers lose what could be the Kings’ final game in Sacramento. If Denver loses and the Clippers win, the Clippers take the third slot.

The worst the Nuggets or Clippers could do is the 4 seed and a First Round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, but who hosts the first game of that series is still to be decided.

If Memphis, currently with the same record as the Clippers, ends with a better record, it will have home-court advantage of the series, despite being seeded lower.

From six on down, it gets even more convoluted. If the Houston Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers (10:30 ET, ESPN) and the Golden State Warriors lose to the Portland Trail Blazers, the Rockets knock the Warriors out of the 6 seed.

The Warriors can’t fall any lower than seventh, but Houston could potentially fall as low as eighth. If the Lakers beat the Rockets, the Lakers take the 7 seed, knocking Houston to eighth.

If the Lakers lose to the Rockets, it opens the window for the Utah Jazz to get the final playoff spot with a win over the Grizzlies (8 ET, ESPN).


East is Much Simpler
If the Western Conference scenarios were too confusing, you might like the Eastern Conference much better.

Six of the eight playoff seeds are already locked in. The Chicago Bulls hold the 5 seed, and will hold onto it with either a home win over the Washington Wizards, or an Atlanta Hawks road loss to the New York Knicks.

Of course, with the 5 seed comes a potential Conference Semifinals matchup with the Miami Heat.

Individual Honors on the Line
The biggest head-to-head battle Wednesday night seemed to be Kevin Durant chasing Carmelo Anthony for the scoring title, but news that Durant will not play means that Anthony becomes the second Knicks player to win a scoring title, joining Bernard King.

Stephen Curry
Curry
But there is still history to be made. Golden State’s Stephen Curry enters Wednesday one 3-pointer behind Ray Allen’s NBA record of 269 in a single season, set in 2005-06.

Curry is averaging 3.5 3-pointers this season, meaning the odds are in his favor to break the record.

With Durant not playing, it also means Trail Blazers rookie Damian Lillard will likely lead the NBA in total minutes. He’d be just the third rookie in NBA history to lead the league in minutes played. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain (in 1959-60) and Elvin Hayes (1968-69).

Historic scoring title chase heats up

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
5:38
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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The New York Knicks will visit the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night riding the hot hand of Carmelo Anthony, who is making a late push for the NBA scoring title after scoring 90 points over his last two games.

Anthony’s 90 points are the second-most over a two-game span this season, just two points behind Stephen Curry and one point ahead of Kevin Durant for that distinction. The scoring title race is now on as Kevin Durant leads Anthony by just 0.18 points per game, which would be the third-slimmest margin in NBA history.

Carmelo excelling from 15-plus feet
The key to Anthony’s recent scoring surge has been his prowess in shooting from 15-plus feet, where 64 of his 90 points have come from over the last two games.

Anthony was averaging nearly 12 points per game from at least 15 feet prior to Tuesday's game with the Heat, the second-most in the league.

He has nearly tripled that production over the last two games. This monster two-game stretch is highlighted by Anthony’s 65.1 percent shooting from outside 15 feet in that span, nearly 30 points higher than the league average.

Durant chasing history
Kevin Durant became the youngest player to win three straight scoring titles last season and looks to cement his place in history with a follow-up effort this season.

Winning a fourth consecutive scoring title would put Durant in another stratosphere of scoring greatness and consistency, as he’d join Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan as the only players in NBA history to win at least four straight scoring titles. Chamberlain won seven straight scoring titles from 1959-66 while Jordan also won seven straight from 1986-93.

Durant is also looking to achieve something Michael Jordan never accomplished in his career. He is currently on pace to become only the third forward in NBA history to complete a season in which he shoots 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3-point line, and 90 percent from the free throw line, joining Dirk Nowitzki (2006-07) and Larry Bird, who achieved the feat in consecutive seasons (1986-88).

Can Bulls quiet ultra-efficient Kevin Durant?

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
9:58
PM ET
By Justin Page
ESPN Stats & Information
Archive

Getty Images Kevin Durant (left) has enjoyed an extremely efficient season, once again leading the NBA in scoring. Meanwhile, the Bulls have missed injured star Derrick Rose (right) at both ends of the floor.
The Thunder host the Bulls tomorrow night on ESPN. Here's what you need to know about this matchup of playoff probables:

DURANT MAJORING IN EFFICIENCY
Miguel Cabrera
Durant
Three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant is having an outstanding season on offense, even by his own lofty standards. He's again leading the league with 28.9 PPG, but he’s only attempting 18.0 field goals per game.

Charles Barkley (1987-88) is the only player in NBA history to average at least 28 points while attempting 18.0 or fewer shots per game.

Durant is also posting career highs in field-goal percentage (51.6), three-point percentage (42.6) and free-throw percentage (90.8).

If Durant continues this pace, he would become just the second player in NBA history (Larry Bird in the 1986-87 and 1987-88 seasons) to average at least 28 points, shoot at least 50 percent from the field, at least 40 percent from three-point range and at least 90 percent from the free-throw line.

BULLS MISS THEIR ROSE
On the Bulls' sideline, the impact of Derrick Rose's absence has been obvious at both ends of the court.

Rose took home MVP honors in 2010-11, becoming just the sixth point guard in NBA history to win the award, and even when he missed time, the Bulls managed to survive, posting an 18-9 record (.667 win pct) with Rose out of the lineup.

This season, however, Chicago has seen its win percentage dip to .582.

With Rose on the court last season, the Bulls averaged 107.6 points per 100 possessions (only one team had a higher rating last season). This season, the Bulls are averaging 100.1 in that category (24th in the NBA).

Filling Rose's position has been a struggle, with Bulls point guards averaging only 8.7 PPG. Last season, Rose averaged 21.8 PPG.

BULLS TRAVEL WELL
The Bulls may be on the road Sunday night, but that's where they've been at their best this season. They're 17-10 on the road so far, and they're the only team in the NBA with a better record on the road than at home.

In fact, if the winning ways continue for the Bulls and they reach the postseason, they would be just the fifth playoff team since 2000 with a better record away than at home.

The Bulls come off a big win over the Bobcats, when they committed just six turnovers (their fewest in a game this season), but they'll be visiting a Thunder team that is outscoring opponents by a league-best 8.7 points per game this season.

Westbrook's long-range shots down Lakers

December, 8, 2012
12/08/12
2:44
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
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Despite Kobe Bryant's team-high 35 points, the Los Angeles Lakers came up short of getting back to .500 this season, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder 114-108.

The Lakers have not won consecutive games under Mike D'Antoni who falls to 4-6 since taking over the team.

They are 1-8 this season when Bryant scores at least 30 points and have lost six straight games.

It was the Thunder's 11th straight game scoring at least 100 points, the longest streak by the franchise since Jan.-Feb. 1995 when they had 19 straight.

Russell Westbrook was a big reason why the Lakers fell to 2-6 on the road this season as he scored 27 of his 33 points in the first half including five 3-pointers. It was the most first-half points in his career.

Russell Westbrook's hot hand in the first half helped the Thunder beat the Lakers.
Westbrook made eight of his 14 field goals from at least 15 feet Friday, his most made shots from that distance in a game this season.

Westbrook entered Friday shooting 32.9 percent from 15+ feet and 49.7 percent inside 15 feet, but reversed that trend against the Lakers.

The Thunder used their transition game to outscore the Lakers by 15 points in the second quarter Friday and build a lead they never relinquished.

Eighteen of Oklahoma City’s season-high 41 second-quarter points came in transition and the Thunder continue to be the most efficient transition team in the NBA this season, averaging 1.32 points per play.

Jodie Meeks scored 17 of the Lakers 19 points off the bench.

The Lakers’ bench entered Friday next-to-last in scoring averaging 23.4 points. The Lakers fall to just 1-10 this season when recording 20 or fewer points off the bench.

The Lakers fall to 1-11 this season in games decided by 10-or-fewer points, the worst in the NBA.

They won more than 66 percent of such games in the previous five seasons, the highest percentage in the NBA.

Aggressive LeBron, Heat on brink of title

June, 21, 2012
6/21/12
11:49
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Garrett Ellwood/Getty ImagesLeBron James gets into the paint again for the Heat in the NBA Finals.
The Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of NBA Finals tonight (9 ET on ABC).

Numbers never lie, right? Entering this year, 30 teams had trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals and not a single team was able overcome that deficit and win a title. In fact, under the current 2-3-2 format (since 1985) none of the 13 teams facing a 3-1 hole have even forced a decisive Game 7.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE THUNDER?
After winning Game 1, the Thunder have dropped three straight games for just their second three-game losing streak of the season. They haven’t lost four straight games in more than three years, since February of 2009.

Oklahoma City has failed to reach 100 points in their last three games. They had just one such streak during the regular season, when they went five games in a row from April 1-8 without reaching the century mark. When the Thunder does reach 100 points this postseason, they’re 10-1.

One issue has been their poor distance shooting. In the Conference Finals against the Spurs, the Thunder averaged 41.3 points per game from 15+ feet while shooting nearly 45 percent. Against the Heat in the Finals, they are scoring nine points fewer per game and shooting under 38 percent.

The disappearance of James Harden has also hurt the Thunder. Harden had eight points in Game 4, his third game in single digits this series. Harden didn’t have a single-digit scoring game in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Harden has struggled as the pick & roll ball handler, scoring just four total points on those plays during the Finals, after averaging better than five points per game in the first three playoff rounds. Only 13 percent of his plays have been of the pick-and-roll variety in the Finals, compared to 41 percent in the first three rounds.

WHAT’S RIGHT WITH THE HEAT?
Two words: LeBron James. After a miserable Finals last year, James has emerged as the premier playoff performer this postseason.

James has recorded 671 points this postseason. He is 29 points away from becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to record at least 700 points in a single postseason.

One reason for his success is that he has been more aggressive attacking the basket.

He went 8-for-11 for 16 points inside the paint in Game 4. He’s recorded at least 16 points inside the paint in each of the last six games, his longest such streak in his postseason career (since 2006).

James has also been a primetime player under pressure, scoring 14 points on 4-of-7 shooting in “clutch time” situations (last five minutes of fourth quarter and overtime, score within five points) in the 2012 NBA Finals. In the 2011 NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, James failed to score or even draw a foul in clutch time.

STAT OF SERIES
The Heat have trailed in three different series this postseason. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team entering this postseason has won a title in NBA history after trailing in three different series in a single postseason.

Statistical Support from NBA.com

Westbrook's foul didn't decide Game 4

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
6:16
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesRussell Westbrook's 43 points weren't enough to carry the Thunder to victory in Game 4.
Is Russell Westbrook’s late-game mistake to blame for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Game 4 loss to the Miami Heat?

The numbers show that Westbrook had a lot more to do with the Thunder being in the game than losing it.

Leading by three points with 17.3 seconds left, the Heat gained possession of a jump ball with the shot clock dwindling. Seemingly unaware of the situation, Westbrook fouled Mario Chalmers, who went on to make two free throws to put the game away. But would the outcome have been different if the Thunder had simply played defense? Probably not.

Based on similar situations in over 7,300 games in recent NBA history, the Heat had a 97 percent chance of winning once they won the jump ball. When Westbrook committed the foul, that number went up to 98, and it rose to 99 when Chalmers hit both free throws. If Oklahoma City had not fouled and prevented a made shot, the Heat’s chances would have dropped to 95 percent.

Even if the Thunder had forced a miss and gotten the rebound with eight seconds to go, the Heat would have won 91 percent of the time. So if everything had gone right for Oklahoma City, its chances of winning were only nine percent. While that is better than one or two percent, it was a longshot at best for the Thunder to emerge victorious, foul or not.

Prior to any of that going down, though, it was Westbrook who put his team in a position to be in a close game at the end. The point guard scored 43 points, a career playoff high and franchise NBA Finals record, and did so on an efficient 20-of-32 shooting. And with his team down four entering the fourth quarter, Westbrook scored 17 points in the final frame, the most fourth-quarter points by a losing player in the last 15 NBA Finals.

In addition to pouring in 43, Westbrook also had seven rebounds and five assists. In NBA history, the only other players to reach those totals in a Finals game are Jerry West, Rick Barry, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal. In the Thunder’s biggest game of the season, he was their premier performer.

The Heat are on the brink of an NBA title, but a loss in Game 5 would significantly shift the series, giving home-court advantage back to the Thunder. A similar game from Westbrook Thursday night could do just that.

Free throws, clutch time key in tight series

June, 18, 2012
6/18/12
2:24
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImageseThe Heat and Thunder have a rest day today, but a critical Game 4 looms on Tuesday.
The Miami Heat may have a 2-1 advantage and the series momentum in the NBA Finals after taking Games 2 and 3, but the teams have nearly played to a draw over the three-game span.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have actually outscored the Heat by a single point after a combined 144 minutes of action.

What's been the difference for the Heat that's allowed them to lead in this tight series?

IMPORTANCE OF FREE THROWS
The Miami Heat have enjoyed a huge advantage at the free throw line, shooting 85 percent compared to 70 percent for the Thunder, and overall have an 13-point edge in points from made free throws.

The advantage for the Heat is most surprising when you take into account the expected free throws that each team should have made using season percentages.

Based on the number of times each player has gotten to the line this series and their rate of making free throws entering the Finals, the Heat have collected eight more points than they were expected to, while the Thunder have collected seven fewer points than expected.

That’s a 15-point swing that literally is the difference between the Heat being up 2-1 rather than down 0-3, if you consider the timing of the attempts in each game. (In Game 1, an 11 point win by the Thunder, free throws were not the determining factor in the outcome.)

In Game 2, when the Heat shot an incredible 88 percent and the Thunder missed seven free throws, the Heat’s four-point victory would have turned into a one point Thunder win if the Heat and Thunder would have made free throws at their usual rates.

And in Game 3, when the Heat shot a blistering 89 percent while the Thunder missed nine free throws, the Heat’s six-point win would have actually been a two-point Thunder victory based on the expected free throws each team should have made.

WHO’S MORE CLUTCH: LeBRON OR DURANT?
Entering the Finals, Kevin Durant was one of the most clutch players this postseason, shooting 60 percent in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime when the score is within five points (“clutch time”), the second-highest field goal percentage behind Paul Pierce.

However, Durant hasn't been as clutch during the Finals, missing five of six shots from the field in “clutch time”.

LeBron James, in a small sample, has quietly turned in to Mr. Clutch. Entering the Finals, James was shooting 30 percent in “clutch time” this postseason, but has made three of his five shots against the Thunder.

James has been better in the clutch this year in the Finals because he isn't settling for long-distance jump shots. His average shot distance is 11.6 feet in “clutch time”, compared to 22.9 feet against the Mavericks last year, when he missed all seven of his field goals in those situations.

IS GAME 4 MUST-WIN FOR THUNDER?
Since the 2-3-2 format began in 1985, 13 teams have trailed 3-1 in the NBA Finals. None of those 13 teams went on to win the title. In fact, none of the series even went to a deciding Game 7.

Statistical Support from NBA.com

Keys to Game 3: Painting a win, X factors

June, 16, 2012
6/16/12
3:23
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Garrett Ellwood/Getty ImagesLeBron James and Kevin Durant will try to lead their respective teams to the win in Game 3 on Sunday night.
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat will play Game 3 of the NBA Finals at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

How important is a win in Game 3? In NBA Finals series that are tied at one game apiece, the Game 3 winner has gone on to win the title 85.3 percent of the time. Here are some key factors that could decide this critical game:

GET INSIDE
In the Thunder’s Game 1 win, OKC outscored the Heat 56-40 in the paint, the second-most paint points allowed by the Heat in a playoff game in the Big Three era. Seven players scored from inside 5 feet for the Thunder, led by a postseason-high 14 from Russell Westbrook and 10 from Kevin Durant.

In the Heat’s Game 2 victory, Miami had a 48-32 advantage in the paint, the Heat’s second-largest paint points margin this postseason.

LeBron James was 9-of-16 in the paint in Game 2, and all but one of his 10 made field goals came from that range. Dwyane Wade also attacked the basket more in Game 2, going 3-of-7 from inside 5 feet after making just one of four shots from that area in Game 1.

X FACTORS
Shane Battier has been the biggest surprise of the Finals, scoring 17 points in each of the first two games, the first time he scored in double digits in back-to-back games this season. He has made nine of 13 3-pointers, after shooting a career-worst 34 percent from long distance in the regular season.

Nick Collison scored eight points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes in Game 1. But he disappeared in Game 2, scoring zero points while not attempting a shot in 14 minutes. His plus-minus of plus-21 this series is the highest of any player in the NBA Finals.

LINEUP COMPARISON
In the first two games, the Heat’s starting five have far outperformed the Thunder’s starting five. James, Wade, Battier, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers have outscored their opponents by a team-best nine points in the 39 minutes they have been on the court together.

Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have really struggled in their 28 minutes together on the court, having been outscored by 18 points, the worst of any lineup in the Finals.

FROM START TO FINISH
The Thunder got off to a slow start in each of the first two games of the Finals, falling behind in the first quarter by 11 points in Game 1 and 17 points in Game 2. They were able to erase the deficit in Game 1, but their comeback fell short in Game 2.

Westbrook shot a combined 5-for-20 in the first half of both games but made half his shots (15-of-30) in the second half. Durant, who averaged less than 10 points in the first half in Games 1 and 2, has taken over in the fourth quarter for the Thunder.

He has scored almost half his total points in this series in the final 12 minutes (33 of 68). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the first player to score at least 16 fourth-quarter points in consecutive NBA Finals games since the ABA-NBA merger (1976-77).

Statistical support from NBA.com.

Heat have tough road against Thunder

June, 14, 2012
6/14/12
9:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWestbrook joined Michael Jordan as the only players with 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut.
The Miami Heat will try and even the series tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder (ABC and ESPN3, 9 ET), but Elias tells us that Miami may already be in trouble. The Heat now trail in their third different series this postseason, and no team has ever won a title after trailing in three different series in a single postseason.

What's more, in each of their previous two NBA Finals appearances, the Heat lost Game 2 in both series (2006 and 2011). Miami is 4-5 on the road this postseason while averaging just 92.1 points, compared to 99.4 points at home. That road average is crucial, as the Heat are 8-0 this postseason when scoring at least 100 points but just 4-7 this postseason when they fail to reach 100.

Don't Blame James

While LeBron James struggled in the fourth quarter in the Finals last year against the Dallas Mavericks, that was not the case in Game 1 this time around. James ranked first on the team in field goal attempts and free throws in the fourth quarter and tied with Dwyane Wade for the team-high in points and points in the paint. His four free throw attempts were also more than the rest of the Heat combined.

James has also scored at least 25 points in each of his last 11 games, the second-longest streak of scoring 25+ points in his postseason career (had a 17-game streak across the 2008 and 2009 postseason).

Storm Warning

Things certainly look good for the Thunder. Since moving to Oklahoma City entering the 2008-09 season, the Thunder are 3-0 in series when they win Game 1. The Thunder are also 9-0 at home this postseason, and according to Elias, that is tied for the longest home win streak to start a postseason in franchise history. The Seattle SuperSonics started the 1978 postseason also winning nine.

What do the Thunder need to do to win Game 2? The answer lies in the fast break. The Thunder outscored the Heat in fast break points 24-4 in Game 1, marking the team’s second-highest fast break differential this postseason.

Another incredible game by Kevin Durant certainly wouldn't hurt, either. Durant’s 36 points in Game 1 tied the franchise mark for most points in a Finals game, and he also became the fourth-youngest (23 years-257 days) player in NBA history to score at least 35 points in a NBA Finals game.

Teammate Russell Westbrook is also heating up, having recorded at least 20 points and 10 assists in two of his last three games overall. That's impressive, considering he did not record any 20-10 games in his first 13 games this postseason. What's more, Elias says Westbrook is only the second player to record at least 25 points and 10 assists in his Finals debut, alongside Michael Jordan.

Thunder storm back, rally to win Game 1

June, 13, 2012
6/13/12
12:57
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Information
ESPN.com
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For Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s not how you start the game, but how you end it. Down by as many as 13 points in the second quarter and seven points at halftime, the Thunder rallied for a 105-94 victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Oklahoma City continued its dominance in “Loud City”, improving to 9-0 at home in the postseason, which ties the 1978 team for the longest home win streak to start a postseason in franchise history.

DURANT DOMINATES FOURTH
Durant exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 of his game-high 36 points in the final 12 minutes. Durant’s 17 points in the final quarter are tied for the most fourth-quarter points in an NBA Finals game over the last 15 postseasons.

At 23 years and 257 days old, Durant nearly made history with his 36-point effort. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he is the fourth-youngest to score at least 35 points in a NBA Finals game, behind Magic Johnson (20 years old), Tom Heinsohn (22 years old) and Rick Barry (23 years old, 7 days).

HOW THE THUNDER WON
The Thunder outscored the Heat 58-40 in the final 24 minutes, as Durant and Russell Westbrook took over the game. The OKC duo outscored the Heat by themselves in the second half, 41-40, combining to make 14-of-27 field goals and 11-of-13 free throws.

Durant and Westbrook combined for 63 points in Game 1, matching Julius Erving and Doug Collins for the most combined points by a duo in their NBA Finals debut, according to Elias.

The Thunder outscored the Heat by 20 points inside of five feet, as seven different players scored from this range for the Thunder. The 48 points scored and 13 assists inside five feet are the most by a Thunder team in the last three postseasons.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR HEAT
The Heat made 9-of-15 field goals from 10 feet and beyond in the first quarter of Game 1 but were just 7-of-31 from distance the rest of the game. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to go 9-of-35 on such shots in the game.

James was primarily guarded by Durant in the first three quarters of Game 1, but in the fourth quarter, Thabo Sefolosha got the call.

James scored 17 of his 30 points on 58 percent shooting against Durant, but was held to seven points on 29 percent shooting against Sefolosha.

James, Bosh and Wade got plenty of help in the first half with “Non-Big 3” players scoring 27 of the Heat’s 54 points on 11-of-17 shooting. But the supporting cast disappeared in the second half, tallying only eight points while taking just seven shots.

The Heat were outscored in transition by 14 points in Game 1, continuing a bad trend for Miami. The Heat have been outscored in transition in all of their losses this postseason, scoring nearly seven fewer points per game.

WHAT’S NEXT
How important is winning the first game of the NBA Finals? Teams to go up 1-0 in the NBA Finals have won the title 72.3 percent of the time (47 wins, 18 losses).

But Game 2 might be even more critical. Only three teams in NBA history have overcome a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals: the 1968 Boston Celtics, 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and 2006 Heat.

James and Durant deliver differently

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
1:40
PM ET
By Ernest Tolden, ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesJames attacked the basket far more than Durant, but Durant owned the perimeter this season.
Three-time NBA MVP LeBron James and three-time defending scoring champion Kevin Durant will go head-to-head in the NBA Finals (ABC and ESPN3, 9 ET), making it the 12th time in NBA Finals history that a matchup involved players who finished 1-2 in the MVP voting for that season.

James leads the Miami Heat into the Finals for the second consecutive season, making it his third-career Finals appearance overall. Durant will make his first-career Finals appearance, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to the franchise’s first championship round since they were the Seattle SuperSonics in 1996.

As dynamic as these two prolific scorers are, they record their points in different ways. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of each player’s strengths and the history of the matchup.

Easy Baskets

During the regular season, James attacked the basket more than Durant. Among the 1,683 total points James scored, 37.4 percent occurred within five feet of the basket. Only 24.1 percent of Durant’s baskets were scored within that range.

Inside the paint, James was one of the league’s leaders. He recorded 12.2 points per game in the paint, the fourth-highest average among all players this season.

Perimeter Shooting

On the perimeter, Durant has the edge. Of his NBA-high 1,850 total points, 43.4 percent of Durant’s points were scored outside of the paint. By comparison, James only recorded 31.9 percent of his points from outside that area.

Also, Durant is the better pure shooter. From 15 feet and beyond, Durant connected on 42.5 percent of his field goals, trailing only Dirk Nowitzki (44.8) and Chris Paul (42.6) among players that ranked in the top 20 in scoring during the regular season.

The Real Help

James might play alongside former Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, but Durant has benefited the most from his team’s point guard play. Overall, 48.1 percent of Durant’s field goals were assisted during the regular season, compared to just 37.4 percent of James’ field goals.

Much of that was a result of Durant playing alongside All-Star guard Russell Westbrook. Although Westbrook isn’t viewed much as a distributor, he assisted on 171 of Durant’s field goals, the third-most assists by one player on a single teammate’s field goals in the NBA this season. Only Steve Nash (217 to Marcin Gortat) and Chris Paul (187 to Blake Griffin) assisted more of a teammate’s field goals.

History Dominated by James

Game 1 will be the 10th meeting between James and Durant, with the previous nine coming in the regular season. Durant holds the scoring edge with a 27.3 points average, but James has been more efficient from the field shooting 49.7 percent. Overall, James has dominated the most important category, winning seven of the nine meetings. The Heat and Thunder split the 2011-12 regular season series 1-1.

LeBron's Finals trouble: Easy scores

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
4:50
PM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive

Bryan Terry/Reuters
LeBron James (right) may struggle in the NBA Finals when the Heat go up against the Thunder.
LeBron James was stellar against the Boston Celtics, averaging 33.6 points and 11 rebounds per game while making 52.7 percent of his field goals during the series. However, he’s got a tough road ahead of him when the Miami Heat take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals.

James is averaging 9.9 fewer points per game in the NBA Finals than in all other rounds of the postseason. He has averaged 19.5 points on 41.7 percent shooting in 10 career NBA Finals games, both career lows of any postseason round. In fact, his career high in the Finals is just 25. He’s averaging 29.4 points per game in all other postseason rounds.

Much of James’ struggles in the NBA Finals have come in the fourth quarter. For his career, James averages just 5.7 fourth-quarter points, by far his lowest fourth-quarter scoring average of any round in his postseason career.

What’s causing his decline in production? It’s in part due to his inability to get “easy points”. James’ production in the paint, in transition and at the free throw line has declined in the Finals.

James has averaged almost two more points in the paint before the Finals than he does in the Finals, and nearly three times as many points from the free throw line.

James’ two regular season performances against the Thunder this season were wildly different. in the first meeting James scored 17 points, going 0-for-3 from 3-point range and 1-for-2 from the foul line in a 103-87 Oklahoma City win.

In the second meeting James scored 34 points, going 3-for-7 from 3-point range and making 11 of his 13 free throw attempts. The Heat won that one 98-93. James scored 12 points in the paint in both regular season games against the Thunder.

Thunder boom in second half to win West

June, 7, 2012
6/07/12
1:44
AM ET
By ESPN Stats & Info
ESPN.com
Archive

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesKevin Durant led the Thunder's big second-half comeback to beat the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals.
For one half Wednesday night, Tony Parker was well on his way to carrying the San Antonio Spurs to victory and forcing Game 7.

Then Kevin Durant woke up… and Parker’s hot hand went ice cold.

Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Oklahoma City Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 in the second half to oust the West’s top seed and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1996, when the franchise was in Seattle. It was San Antonio’s largest blown playoff halftime lead ever.

The Thunder become the first Western Conference champion outside of the Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers or Dallas Mavericks since 1998. Coincidentally, Oklahoma City defeated all three during its current playoff run.

Durant, who played all 48 minutes, scored 20 points after halftime to key the Thunder’s huge comeback. He finished with 34 points and 14 rebounds, both team highs, and knocked down 12-of-15 free throws. Russell Westbrook played a solid supporting role with 25 points and eight boards.

Durant joins Xavier McDaniel and Gary Payton as the only members of the Oklahoma City/Seattle franchise with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game.

While the Thunder’s 3-point shooting was a major spark – they knocked down 10-of-18 from beyond the arc – they balanced it by scoring efficiently inside. Oklahoma City was 15-of-25 from inside 5 feet in Game 6, including a blistering 10-of-14 from that distance in the second half.

The Spurs watched their season end on a season-high four-game skid after running off 20 straight wins. After a dominant first half in which they scored 63 points on 54.5 percent from the field, they hit more iron than net in the second half, converting just 32.5 percent of their field goals.

A key was the Thunder limiting the Spurs’ pick-and-roll offense, allowing 19 points on 8-of-20 shooting on such plays (3-of-10, 6 points in 2nd half). The Spurs scored over 20 points on pick-and-rolls just once (Game 5) in the last four games of the series after scoring 30 in each of the first two games.

No player exemplified that more than Parker. The point guard had a first half for the ages, scoring 17 points in the opening quarter and reaching halftime with 21 points (8-14 FG) and 10 assists. He became the first player since at least 1996 to have at least 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff half.

Tony Parker
Parker
But Parker could not find his stroke in the second half, going just 4-of-13 from the field for eight points and two assists.

The Thunder become only the third team in NBA history to win four straight games in the conference finals after trailing 2-0 and now will wait to see if they will face the Boston Celtics or Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. With home-court advantage in that series, Oklahoma City has a prime opportunity to win its first title since 1979.

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