- J.A. Adande, NBA
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Some of the issues that led to the Oklahoma City Thunder falling behind 2-1 in the NBA Finals are so basic, they defy detailed explanations. They missed 16 free throws in the two defeats, which were lost by a total of 10 points. There have been turnovers at critical junctures, such as a botched inbounds play in the final 16 seconds of Game 3.
If they are to even the series Tuesday, there have to be more complex solutions than just making free throws and holding on to the ball, right?
"Maybe don't get so caught up in trying to fix it," Nick Collison suggested. "Just focus on our effort, our concentration and really try to do those things like our principles that we always talk about: screening to set up plays, get the spacing to be a little bit better. But really, just try to get yourself ready to play in Game 4, and we'll play better.
"If we can continue to defend like we did for most of Game 3 and then clean up all those little things, we'll play better."
The Thunder can take solace in their defense, which held the Heat to 38 percent shooting in Game 3. Miami had 15 turnovers, including nine in the fourth quarter.
But sometimes it's not about the play; it's about the play before the play.
"That's the way it always is," Collison said. "If we have turnovers, it's because our spacing's not good. If Kevin [Durant] or our scorers are catching the ball too far out, it's because our screens aren't good enough. All those little things come into play.
"Miami's good. They defend well. They make it difficult on you. It's not easy to push buttons and fix things. You have to try to correct what you can."
There was a sense in the Thunder camp that Game 3 was when their lack of experience really showed. It was their third Finals game, but their first on the road, and it came against a Heat team with a heightened sense of urgency. The Heat have vowed to make this year different from last year, when they blew a 2-1 series lead against the Dallas Mavericks. Vows are serious. Grown-up stuff. You don't hear the Thunder making vows. Pledges, perhaps, but not vows.
Durant can't promise not to get into foul trouble. It's not entirely in his control. He can't help it if he gets called for a foul when he jumps vertically and, if anything, Dwyane Wade bumps into him.
That's how it went down at a critical juncture of the third quarter of Game 3, resulting in Durant's fourth personal foul and an almost-mandatory removal. A 10-point Thunder lead evaporated while he was on the bench. In Game 2, early fouls kept Durant out of action in the first half and stalled the Thunder offense.
"I've just got to play my game, not worry about the officiating or what they do, because they're going to make mistakes," Durant said. "Everybody does it. We're all human. So I can't really concern myself with that. I've never been a guy who complains about it or gets mad at a ref for making a call. So I've just got to play through it and be myself, and whatever happens, happens."
Scott Brooks could help by switching defensive assignments and asking Durant not to spend as much time guarding LeBron James. LeBron draws fouls more than he receives them. Ask James Harden, who received a foul while bodying up to LeBron near halfcourt when James wasn't even moving toward the basket. With the Heat in the bonus situation, they were gifted a pair of free throws.
Harden is the only one of the Thunder's top three players who has played two bad games in the series. If he can't outscore Shane Battier, as was the case in Game 3, Oklahoma City is cooked.
But Harden won't continue to make more mistakes than impact plays. Battier won't continue to make 73 percent of his 3-point shots. Durant won't continue to have his minutes curtailed by fouls. The Thunder won't continue to be outshot from the free throw line.
Or, at least, that's what they're counting on. That and their own nature, the type of resolve that allowed them to overcome a 2-0 deficit against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
"We've always been a great bounce-back team," Brooks said.
And maybe the bounces, and the breaks, will start going their way.
Down 2-1, Oklahoma City prepares for a better performance in Game 4 of the Finals.