When you lose in the NBA Finals, you can’t help but look back at what could have been. What couple of plays or lineup changes could have turned the tide in the series?
The Oklahoma City Thunder lost in five games to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals ending last Thursday night. The Thunder may have only won one game in the series but the first four were all very close and ultimately decided by less than 10 plays.
The Thunder did not play their best basketball in this series. They reverted back to a more isolation-heavy offense and their best playmaker, James Harden, was anything but that.
The holes in the Thunder roster were evident against the Heat. Their lack of post-up scoring, assists and wings to throw at LeBron were all exploited.
You don’t have to look far to see a way the Thunder could have won the series. You can pick just one thing that could have made it so they swept the Heat.
Eric Maynor would have been that one thing.
People forget that Maynor is even on the Thunder, tearing his ACL after just nine games this season.
“It’s a different feeling just sitting there and not being ready to play,” Maynor said about watching the NBA Finals from the bench. “It’s got to be nerve-racking. I would want to live that out myself.”
Maynor was a weapon for Oklahoma City and would have been just that all season, in the playoffs and in the Finals. He only averaged around four points and three assists per game but did the job of backup point better than just about anyone in the league.
Maynor even finished a playoff game instead of Russell Westbrook last year in the only game OKC beat Dallas in the Western Conference Finals. He was that good and could have been this year.
The Thunder were dead last in the NBA in assists this season, mainly because they didn’t really have a point guard on their team. Westbrook isn’t a true point making Harden about the only guy who can consistently create for others. It was a dimension they were missing this season and they needed as many dimensions as possible to contend with the Heat.
In the Finals, the Thunder averaged 15.8 assists per game. They averaged 18.7 assists per game in the first three rounds of the playoffs and 18.5 in the regular season.
Once the Thunder realized they were playing against the best defense they had seen so far in the playoffs and Harden was out of his element, turning to Maynor would have worked.
The Thunder will get that chance next season with a healthy Maynor, who is up for a contract extension this summer along with Harden and Serge Ibaka.
“If we really want to continue,” Maynor said. “It feels like we got something special here. I feel like if guys sacrifice to get something done then everybody will be here still. I want to be here. It’s very important to me. Whatever we got to do to get it done, we need to make it happen. I enjoy being here, and I want to be here longer.”
The optimist will still say it wasn’t the Thunder’s time yet this year and that Maynor’s season-ending injury helped lend to Harden’s growth as a monster sixth man.
There will be plenty of regrets for this Thunder team with regards to the 2012 NBA Finals. Playing against the best defense in the NBA without a point guard will be one of them.
“I think we’re going to be held to a lot of expectations,” Maynor said. “Everybody is going to expect us to be back in the Finals. But it don’t come easy.”