In sports, you can learn a lot about a team's maturity level by how they respond to adversity; and if Thursday evening's decisive Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals was any indication, then the Oklahoma City Thunder have quite a bit of growing up to do in that regard.
With their backs up against the wall, the Thunder did an excellent job of imitating roadkill Thursday night, as LeBron James put up a triple-double and the Miami Heat destroyed Oklahoma City 121-106 to capture the series four games to one.
This was a finals that many predicted would go seven games, and after Oklahoma City won Game 1, it appeared that those predictions might well come to fruition. However, after that, it was all Heat all the time, as the Thunder simply had no answer for James—who dominated the series en route to being named Finals MVP and capturing the first championship of his career.
It wasn't necessarily the fault of Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook—at least on the offensive end of the floor. Durant led all scorers in the series at 30.6 points per game, while Westbrook chipped in 27 points a game—although, that number is skewed somewhat by Westbrook's 43-point explosion in Game 4.
However, Durant's offensive numbers are also somewhat misleading. James played stifling defense on the 23-year-old when the Heat most needed him to, but when the roles were reversed, Durant couldn't answer. That's not meant as any sort of knock on Durant—who played about as well as can be expected against a man on a mission.
LeBron James simply wasn't going to be stopped, no matter who the Thunder used to guard him. On the rare occasions where the Thunder actually could slow James down, he simply kicked the ball out to the likes of Shane Battier and Mike Miller, who both came up big when called upon—shooting better than 50 percent from three-point land and hitting the sort of backbreaking shots that just suck the life out of a squad.
If there's any solace to be taken from the beatdown the Thunder just took, they can actually look to the team that just throttled them for it. At this time last year, the Heat were in a similar position—watching with their heads hung low as the Dallas Mavericks hoisted the Larry O' Brien trophy as NBA champions.
The Heat came back this season determined to avenge last year's failures—and avenge them they did. If the comments made by LeBron James to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated are any indication, he expects Kevin Durant and the Thunder will do the same—although, the 27-year-old superstar is in no hurry to tangle with Durant again.
"He's going to use this experience like I used it, as motivation" James said. "Hopefully I don't continue to have to run into him. Because he is that great."
Unfortunately for James, this is likely the last time he will be forced to face off against Kevin Durant in the postseason—at least if he's going to bring all those championships he promised to South Beach.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are a young and talented team whose nucleus will return intact next season; and as Westbrook told Mannix, when they do, it will be with this season's disappointment fresh in their minds.
"We told each other to embrace this feeling and remember this feeling," Westbrook said. "We kind of looked around and just [said] we've got to get better. We have got to be the guys that come back and push everybody next season. We have got to get better, before we can find a way to get back here."
Granted, the Oklahoma City Thunder were just taken to school by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade (who quietly had a very solid series while on the way to his second ring) and the Heat.
It was a lesson that needed to be learned though; and as Miami just demonstrated, sometimes the road to an NBA title begins with getting punched square in the nose.
The next step is getting back up.
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