The NBA Finals have begun in an emphatic manner. After the Oklahoma City Thunder roller over the San Antonio Spurs, who were looking as near-invincible as any team can, they awaited their Eastern Conference opponent. And while it took them seven games, the Miami Heat eventually triumphed over the Boston Celtics. This presents, of course, a sort of dream match-up for all sorts of basketball fans. Commissioner David Stern has got to be giddy over the ratings prospects of the Heat in the Finals for a second year in a row, especially against his youngest, most marketable stars. Old school purists must find something delectable about the way the Thunder have taken on characteristics of the Spurs after dispatching them, passing the ball in that crisp manner, and always deflecting individual praise in deference of the team concept. Finally, the drama-seeker in all of us craves LeBron James in almost every situation. Win or lose, he presents compelling viewing.
Game 1 showed the tenacity of the youngsters in Oklahoma. The Heat poured on the points in the first half, but the Thunder hung on, and changed the game in a significant manner in the second half. Eventually winning by 11, it seemed as though the Thunder had the momentum heading into Game 2, at home.
On Thursday night, however, the Thunder came out flat. They came out uninspired. They came out looking like a team that thought, perhaps, the road to the trophy would be a bit easier than it turned out to be. They fell into an 18-2 hole, with just over seven minutes elapsed in the first quarter, and the game almost seemed out of reach by halftime, when the Thunder trailed 43-55.
However, after tying the second quarter, the Thunder proceeded to win both the third and the fourth quarters, eventually pulling within four points with four minutes to play.
The aforementioned hole, however, ultimately proved to be too much. In conjunction with the five fouls that Kevin Durant was playing with - having picked up that dreaded fifth foul only a minute and a half into the fourth quarter - still more than ten minutes left in the game! - the Thunder simply could not get the job done. They now face the daunting task of going into Miami and playing three straight games in South Beach.
The pressure now shifts from Miami and the anti-LeBron crowd to the young Thunder. Coming into the series, they were seen as slight favorites. Of course, it'll be very difficult for Miami to win all three in a row at home, but the Thunder have got to consider their backs to be up against the wall now. Coming back home for the final two games of the series, needing to win both is a terrible place to be. On the other hand, there are worse options, such as Miami sweeping these middle three games, and closing the series out in Florida. The Oklahoma City Thunder have responded thus far in the Playoffs every time they've needed to, and the truth is: they need to now more than ever.