For the Oklahoma City Thunder, their road to the NBA Finals has been about as difficult as it can get for a young up-and-coming team. The Thunder have run through past champions in every round and they have passed every test they have faced thus far. They will have one more huge test which starts tonight as they open up the Finals against the Miami Heat in Oklahoma City.
After a disappointing loss in the Finals a season ago, Miami is back for the second year in a row with redemption on their mind. The series is full of tantalizing matchups, awesome storylines and a pair of Big Three’s, but it all starts with Kevin Durant against LeBron James. For years, the world has salivated over the possibility of James and Kobe Bryant meeting in the NBA Finals. Not a bad consolation prize to see LBJ and KD go at each other head-to-head for the chance to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Scott Brooks joined The Dan Patrick Show with Chris Mannix filling in to talk about how his team feels heading into game one of the Finals, whether Kevin Durant will start off guarding LeBron, if guarding LeBron is about picking your poison with his jumper versus his drives to the basket, whether Russell Westbrook will get less criticism if he helps the Thunder win a title, how important it is for the Thunder to win the individual matchups in this series and which of his players seems to be the most relaxed or confident.
How his team feels heading into game one of the Finals:
“Feeling pretty good. I thought we’ve had a couple of great days of practice. Our guys are excited, it’s a great opportunity. Like I tell them and they tell me they’re not just happy to be here. We’ve had a goal all season long to win a championship like 29 other teams had a goal and we have the opportunity to achieve that goal but we’re really focusing on a one game and playing the best we can in game one and then move on to the next game. That’s been our mentality all season long.”
Whether Kevin Durant will start off guarding LeBron:
“Yes I think so. We have multiple guys that we will be able to put on him. LeBron’s a terrific player, he’s one of the best in the world but we’re going to do our job to keep him away from the basket and hopefully Kevin does a good job defensively on him.”
If guarding LeBron is about picking your poison with his jumper versus his drives to the basket:
“Yeah Chris you have to. You have to pick your poison. He’s obviously one of the best players in the world for a reason. He can take it to the basket, he gets to the free throw line, just in the last game he had 17 free throws, and we want to defend him. We don’t want to defend and foul and put him on the line. We want to contest his jumpers and if he hits that you have to live with that. He’s a great player, he’s going to make some shots, we just don’t want to give him the coast-to-coast layups and we don’t want to give him opportunities that are easy around the basket. If he’s hitting threes and tough twos then you also have to pat his back and say ‘hey great shot’ and move on to the next possession.”
If a win in the Finals would lead to less criticism for Russell Westbrook:
“Probably not. I think people like to do that but I tell him, ‘Russell I don’t care what people say about you’ and actually I don’t think he cares much either. He plays as hard as he can and he’s getting better, he’s not the complete player, nobody on our team is, he makes mistakes just like we all do but what I like about Russell is he plays with passion, he wants to get better and he’s led us to a pretty good place. He’s not everybody’s point guard but he’s mine and I like having him. I appreciate what he brings to this team.”
How important it is for the Thunder to win their individual matchups in this series:
“There’s definitely always games within games and you have to compete against your matchup as best you can but it’s always been a team. I’ve never referred to this team as Kevin’s or Russell’s or James’ or our Big Three or our Big Two. We’ve always talked about this is what we have to do as the Thunder and if we do this and we do this, we’re going to be in position to win. It’s never been about individual play, it’s never been about small groups, it’s always been about our guys competing against the other team. We’ve always believed that. If I’ve ever singled Kevin out or singled the three out they would be offended by it. That’s not how they think.”
On the player that seems to be the most confident and relaxed:
“Kevin. I thought Kevin had a great day of practice yesterday and he was very confident and relaxed. I like that. He is one of our better players and he has to continue to be one of the leaders of our team. I don’t sense any guys on our team like stressing out or anxiety going into this series and the Finals but I do sense we’re all a little nervous. I told the guys you have to be nervous. I listened to the telecast a couple of games ago with (ESPN’s) Magic (Johnson) and he was talking about he was always nervous before games and until that ball was tipped off. To me that’s good because that means you care about what you do, you care about the results and we have a group of guys who all care about how they perform and how they perform for each other.”