Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong


Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A week ago, they were leading the NBA Finals. And now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading home for the summer to ruminate over lessons doled out by the Miami Heat. Favorites coming into the series, the Thunder fell in Game 5 of the finals Thursday night, as Miami finished off its run to a championship by beating the Thunder 121-106. Oklahoma City's 11-point win in Game 1 is long forgotten and irrelevant now, considering that for the first time in more than three years, the Thunder have lost four straight games. At the absolute worst time, on the absolute biggest stage, no less. "When you play against the best, you learn," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook finished with 19 points for the Thunder, though Westbrook's night -- one game removed from a 20-for-32 performance from the field -- came on a night where he shot 4 for 20. They came out with 4:44 left, the outcome long decided, the Heat fans going delirious. "We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there," Durant said. "Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough. It's tough, man. That's the only way I can explain it. But as a whole, I'm proud of the guys on how we fought all season." James Harden scored 19 points and Derek Fisher added 11 for the Thunder. Down 10 at the half, the Thunder cut the deficit in half by the time the third quarter was a minute old. It was the last gasp of the season -- Miami put the game, and the title, away with a 34-13 burst that pushed the lead to 93-67 on a three-point play by Dwyane Wade with 1:23 left in that pivotal quarter. Mike Miller connected on his sixth 3-pointer of the night, and Miami's 13th, on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Miller would soon add another, for good measure. From that point, the clock wasn't ticking down time left in the game. It was ticking down the time left in Oklahoma City's season. "We know what this feeling feels like," Westbrook said. "We'll remember this feeling, and that will push everybody in the summer, just try to keep everybody going and keep everybody's heads up." The Thunder came in saying they had to have that proverbial Game 7 -- win or else -- mentality. Apparently, they chose else. "You hate to go home and not win the whole thing. ... We lost to a team that played better than us in four of the five games," Brooks said. Even though it was a five-point game after one quarter, a 10-point game at the half and still a two-possession game early in the third quarter, the Thunder simply did not have enough answers for the barrage that came from Miami. Forget Miami's Big Three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. It was more like a Big Six for the Heat on this night. Two years of work, and a year of frustration after falling to Dallas in the title round a year ago, came pouring out of the Heat. By the time the third quarter was over, Miami had six players in double figures. Oklahoma City? Just two. And that was largely the downfall of Oklahoma City in this series. Durant was consistently great. Westbrook had more good moments than bad, by far. But the third option simply wasn't there, or at least, wasn't there often enough. "The best two teams were in the finals," James said. This Thunder team is built to contend for this title for a long time to come. Durant and Westbrook are already exceptional, and likely nowhere near their prime. Harden was the best sixth man in the league all season, though he struggled big-time in this series. Serge Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the league. The general manager, Sam Presti, is extremely well thought of in just about every league circle. And Oklahoma City has proven itself to be a city that loves its team. More good things for the franchise are certain. But a title -- that wasn't happening, not yet anyway, not against a Heat team that spent a year preparing for this stage. Now, it's Oklahoma City's turn to take a finals loss and use it as motivation. "You get here because you're good. You get here because you're committed to each other," Brooks said. "We definitely have room to improve. That's what the summers are for." Durant spent part of this past summer working out with James in the finals MVP's hometown of Akron, Ohio. He vowed to work even harder this time around. "I'm going to find the positives and the negatives," Durant said. "It was tough losing the finals. We got to the finals, had a tough road to get here. But we've just got to move past it, I guess, man. It's going to hurt for a little bit. We've got to move past it."

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Wizards focus on posting up Wall, Beal against smaller guards

Wizards focus on posting up Wall, Beal against smaller guards

Sporadically, John Wall would post up smaller guards last season. It didn't become a staple of his game, however, and Bradley Beal didn't do much of it either when he was being defended by them. 

Scott Brooks is trying to change that immediately. In seven preseason games, that was one of many focal points for the offense.

Wall is a big point guard at 6-4 and physically strong. Beal isn't exceptionally big for a shooting guard, but he has gotten more size and grown an inch taller than his backcourt mate. When 6-footers such as Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors have to switch onto Beal, the Wizards are getting the ball to him quickly at the rim to force a rotation from a second player to help or clear out for Beal to go to work. 

“As we all evolve we’re going to have to push ourselves to play different spots on the floor. John has great size at his position," Brooks said. "For him to post up and be a playmaker from that spot, defenses are not used to that. There are not a lot of pure point guards who can post up. He has the strength and he has the quickness and obviously he has the passing ability. With Brad, they have to make a decision. Are they going to put a bigger guy on John? We’re going to have that opportunity with Brad also."


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Brooks, Beal impressed with Wizards' passing this preseason

Brooks, Beal impressed with Wizards' passing this preseason

With their regular season opener set for Thursday (6:30 p.m. on CSN), Wizards head coach Scott Brooks was asked after practice this week what has impressed him the most about his new team now that their seven-game exhibition schedule is over. Brooks was quick to point out what has been an established strength for the Wizards in recent years.

"If I had to pick, our offense and our passing has been really, really good," Brooks said. "We're a very good passing team. I thought throughout this exhibition season that has been displayed."

The Wizards have ranked no lower than seventh in assists per game among NBA teams in the last three seasons. It certainly doesn't hurt to have John Wall at the helm of their offense. Wall, 26, has averaged at least 10 assists per game in the past two years. He ranked third in basketball last season with 10.2 per contest.

Wall, in fact, is seventh all-time in career assists per game (9.0) among players with at least 400 NBA games logged. Four of the six ahead of him on the list - Magic Johnson, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas - are Hall of Famers. The other two - Kevin Johnson and Chris Paul - are also good names to be associated with. 

Paul, for one, will likely join the others in the Hall someday. He's the only NBA player with more assists than Wall since the latter entered the league in 2010.

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Brooks spoke glowingly about Wall's abilities and his rare his combination of speed and court vision.

"It's uncanny, his speed with the basketball and that he's able to make good decisions at that speed," Brooks said. "He sees it slow motion as he's going fast and that's very rare."

Wall isn't the only one passing the rock, of course. Brooks hopes shooting guard Bradley Beal can get more involved in the cause. Beal has a 3.0 assists-per-game average in his career, but his new coach thinks Beal can average four or five.

That may come naturally, given Beal's thoughts on the subject. He believes the Wizards' offense reached a new level this preseason.

"That's probably the best we've passed since I've been here," Beal said. "That's just everybody having fun and not caring about who scores, just getting the best shot available. When we play like that, it's fun for everybody. It's fun for coaches, it's fun for the players, fun for guys coming in the game with momentum and energy."

The Wizards as a team notched 33 assists in their preseason finale against the Raptors in Friday night. Beal alone had nine of them and no turnovers, to boot. 

That's exactly what Brooks likes to see and he hopes it carries into the regular season.

"We have to continue to trust the pass," he said. "I think our passing has been impressive. We need to continue that."

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