by Ron Matthews and Nick Gallo
It was no surprise the young Thunder got out to a bit of a slow start in Game 1 of Oklahoma City's first ever NBA Finals, but the Thunder shook off a slow start to erase a 13-point deficit to get a 105-94 series-starting victory.
The Thunder scored just 22 points in the first quarter but a strong second-half showing erased the early struggles. For a team whose core consists of two 23-year olds in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and two 22-year olds in James Harden and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder had to acclimate itself a bit to the Finals experience and Finals basketball. After the initial nerves and anxiety to get the game going washed away, the Thunder got back to playing its brand of hard-nosed hoops.
"Everybody is nervous." Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said after the game. "You're nervous until that ball is tipped up. If you're not, you don't care about what you do and our guys do (care)."
The Thunder is a resilient team, and has been all season and throughout the Playoffs. It has the poise and courage in its DNA to fight through adversity, and the character and commitment to turn every day into a learning environment.
The first-time experience of playing in an NBA Finals game is behind them. The setting and scale will no longer be a surprise. The team has adjusted to practicing at Chesapeake Energy Arena instead of the Integris Health Thunder Development Center per NBA mandates. The additional 2 minutes, 30 seconds of time that is added for the Finals between introductions to actual tipoff will become part of the Thunder's pre-game routine.
"You know, just being in The Finals, we were kind of nervous, I guess," forward Kevin Durant said. "That's something ... it can't happen next game or the rest of the series."
Added guard Derek Fisher: "I didn't necessarily sense it, but it made sense as you watched the first half unfold. I wasn't in each guy's head or in their mind, but you could expect and anticipate that guys would feel overwhelmed by the opportunity. Guys work their entire life to get an opportunity to play in the Finals and to play for a championship, so nerves and anxiety are to be expected."
Following practice Wednesday, Ibaka talked openly about the start to Game 1. Ibaka admitted the setting to being "bigger" than expected, but also gave credit to the Heat. In addition, the forward duo looked ahead in typical Thunder fashion to how the team can get out of the gates quicker next game.
"Miami was making shots," Ibaka said, noting the Heat was 5-for-6 from the 3-point line and 11-for-21 overall in the first quarter. "It was our first time to be here, but the good thing about us is we keep playing hard. We just need to play hard basketball."
NOTE: Game 2 – Thursday (June 14) in OKC, 8 p.m.; Game 3 – Sunday, Miami, 7 p.m.; Game 4 – Tuesday, Miami, 8 p.m.; Game 5 (if needed) – June 21, Miami, 8 p.m.; Game 6 (if needed) – June 24, OKC, 7 p.m.; Game 7 (if needed) – OKC, 8 p.m.