After dominating their opponents with little resistance throughout the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally feel the pressure of defeat as they are facing elimination in the NBA Finals.
The Heat, who appear to be playing better than they have all season, have overcome tough challenges this post-season, and have proven to be the more hungry team so far.
However, as impressive as the Heat have been playing, it's still not safe to count the Thunder out. Should the Thunder win Game Five, the series shifts to Oklahoma City for the final two games.
Here are five reasons why the Thunder still have a chance to win this series:
1. Kevin Durant
Durant has proven to be one of the best players in the league, and when given the ball, he is one of the most dangerous players in the NBA. He has played extremely well throughout the Finals, and has certainly held his ground against MVP LeBron James. If he's on the court, the Thunder have a legitimate chance.
2. Russell Westbrook
Although criticized for his decision-making, Westbrook is the most athletic player on the court. He can move the ball past anybody, and when he drives the lane, there is very little chance that it's not going in. However, the flashy guard still needs to improve at his position. Westbrook is expected to play like a true point guard and should perhaps think about shooting as a second priority. The Thunder can perhaps expect a smarter Westbrook for the rest of the series.
3. Thunder Bench
Oklahoma City easily has perhaps the best bench in basketball. Led by veteran Derek Fisher and Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, the Thunder bench has the ability to outplay any opponent. They have more depth than the Heat's bench, and have to play with that mentality if they have any chance of winning. They have averaged 29.1 points per game in the playoffs, and have played excellent defense to keep the Thunder alive for many of their games. If they capitalize on more opportunities, they can come out of the series as NBA Champions.
4. Defense on James
James has been the MVP of the series so far. He is averaging 30.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Oklahoma City can probably do a better job of containing him than they have in recent games. Dwyane Wade has not performed at his best in the series, and Chris Bosh has failed to put up big numbers. If the Thunder do a better job of denying James the ball in the half-court set, Oklahoma City can mount a comeback.
5. Play smarter basketball
This is the NBA Finals, and the Thunder clearly are not playing like themselves. Sure, they came back in the first game after trailing by 18 in the first half, but they have played mediocre since. Scott Brooks's club often seem to be beating themselves. In Games Three and Four, the Thunder took too many careless shots that came back to haunt them. They were beaten in Game Four after having a 17-point lead in the second quarter. The Thunder need to stay out of foul trouble, and shoot more effectively. It starts with Westbrook, and trickles down to every other player on the court. As much as basketball seems to be a one-man sport, a team effort is needed to win the Finals.
The Thunder have not played to their own standards and the fate of this series is in their hands. Even though the momentum is clearly in favor of the Heat, Oklahoma City has proven over and over that they enjoy adversity, and the pressure to win doesn't faze them.