Thunder's 'young guns' have veteran experience, poise
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2012
6/17/12 at 6:36 AM
John Klein: Miami’s fate might rest in the hands of Wade.
Thunder Insider: Clean start an obvious priority for Game 3.
Bold talk from Harden: ’This is the perfect team.’
Heat looking to ensure better outcome this year.
NBA Finals notebook: South Beach Factor no concern to Thunder.
OKC takes it 7-3 on style.
MIAMI, Fla. - It was a quintessential Thunder moment.
After Russell Westbrook's media session ended on Saturday, he walked away from the stage as Kevin Durant approached. Westbrook popped Durant with a playful body block - the kind of thing you more typically see in a high school hallway than in the NBA finals.
It reminded witnesses that Westbrook and Durant are really young guys, and the "young team" angle has been addressed by every reporter covering the finals. With this comment on Saturday, James Harden provided a perfect sound bite for that particular storyline: "We are the young guns, I would say."
At 23, Durant is a fifth-year pro. The 23-year-old Westbrook in nearing the completion of his fourth season. At 22, Harden is a third-year man.
They are young men, but the Oklahoma City stars qualify as being seasoned veterans. Because of their shared experience, they don't seem to be rattled by the magnitude of the moment. Their combined career totals, including playoffs: 1,032 games, 39,670 minutes played, 15,974 shots attempted.
"Of course, everybody is going to say it's not our time - we're too young," Durant said last week. "That's not the approach we ever want to take with anything,"
When do young players graduate to becoming young veterans?
For Harden, "it happened quick. I would say (during the 2010-11 season). Us coming from an average team to one of the best teams in the league so quick, I had to change. My work ethic had to improve. I had to be more consistent. Get my focus locked in."
On Sunday night, an international television audience and an American Airlines Arena crowd of 19,600 will watch as the Thunder challenges the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the finals. The circumstances are extraordinary, but the extraordinary has become routine for Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
With the series tied at one game apiece, Oklahoma City attempts to steal a road win after a home defeat in Game 2.
"They've always had great ability to bounce back after a tough loss," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of his players. "We expect the guys to come back with better effort (and) better play - and for 48 minutes."
Because the Thunder supporting cast has been inconsistent - great one game, below average the next - it has become quite obvious that Oklahoma City's championship possibility hinges on the scoring and leadership of Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
During the Saturday news conference, Westbrook seemed amused by this question: "What type of adjustments do you think you have to make to Game 3 to become a better point guard?"
Westbrook's response: "I'm not making no adjustments. Regardless of what anybody says, or regardless of what you guys say about how I play, it doesn't matter. I'm going to play my game regardless of what happens. I'm going to go out and give 110 percent and try to find a way to help us win the game.
"... There's always room for improvement, always room to get better. But the style of play that I play with - that's not changing."
During the 2005-06 season, Chris Bosh was Toronto's best player. He averaged 22.5 points. A few days after playing in the All-Star Game, he turned 22.
"I had to really work on being a leader and getting guys to follow me," Bosh, now Miami's power forward, said on Saturday. "At 22, that's a tough cookie to swallow. It wasn't easy, but it made me the stronger and more resilient player that I am today."
Commenting on Oklahoma City's four-year development from a 23-59 squad to an NBA finals participant, Bosh said, "I think everybody knows how much they were struggling three years ago, and how tough it was. But that's all a part of growing up. You have to play and just have experiences. They're not always good.
"You're going to have more tough experiences than easy ones. They're (called) growing pains for a reason - they hurt."
With an average age of 24.6, the Thunder is attempting to become the second-youngest team to win the NBA title. The average age of the 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers was 24.2.
"Most of the (Thunder) guys are 22 (or) 23, and people are going to say we'll be here next year or the year after that," Durant said on Saturday. "But nothing is guaranteed. With the way this league is going - so many great teams - you never know.
"So this is a great opportunity for us. We have to seize the moment and be ready. ... Injuries might play a factor the next few years or whatever. You never know what happens in this league. I really can't be that arrogant to say we'll be here next year for sure or the next few years for sure. We've got to take advantage of this moment."
2012 NBA FINALS: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER VS. MIAMI HEAT | SERIES TIED 1-1
Big second half for Thunder.
Slow start dooms Thunder.
7 p.m. Sunday, at Miami
8 p.m. Tuesday, at Miami
8 p.m. Thursday, at Miami
7 p.m. June 24, at OKC
8 p.m. June 26, at OKC
Radio: All games on KYAL fm97.1, KAKC am1300
Original Print Headline: Beyond their years
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook participates in a news conference after Game 1 of the NBA finals basketball series against the Miami Heat. SUE OGROCKI/AP Photo
Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook talk during a break in the second half of Tuesday's Game 1 of the NBA finals in Oklahoma City. JEFF ROBERSON/Associated Press