The game last night between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat felt just like the way they did in the NBA Finals last season.
The Thunder were forced to play differently from the tip and they fell behind early while LeBron James and Miami were as comfortable as ever.
There was a big difference though. When that happened in the NBA Finals last year there was always still hope because James Harden hadn’t checked in yet.
It really hit me last night not having Harden anymore. I thought I had gotten over this and the Thunder had moved on and were better for it but now I’m not so sure.
There was a feeling that I think was true last year that the Thunder were actually the more talented team than the Heat. They had more fire power and the only way the Heat could beat them would be to pick them apart surgically, which they eventually accomplished.
That was okay because the Thunder were young. It was a learning process and you just knew that the Thunder would be better equipped to beat the Heat this season.
They may have taken a step back. Harden was always that huge advantage the Thunder had over anyone. Only OKC knew how talented he was and he would come in and take the game by surprise, especially if the Thunder had fallen behind early. It was almost as if he liked that situation better.
Now the Thunder are forced to play Kevin Durant the entire game just to make sure they don’t lose by 20.
Harden did struggle against the Heat last year in the Finals scoring just 13 points per game on 38 percent shooting, well under his season and playoff averages. That was almost comforting though after the Thunder lost that series. You could say, “We’ll get them next year because I know Harden won’t struggle like that again. He’ll learn from this and be more prepared next year.”
What we’re seeing in Houston now with Harden as “The Man” on his own team scoring 26.1 points per game and being named to the All-Star team pretty much confirms this.
Kevin Martin has done his best to fill the Harden void and for the most part, he’s given OKC what Harden did a year ago. But the Thunder no longer measure themselves on how they do against the entire league. It’s really just about how they stack up with the elite teams in the league like Miami or San Antonio or the Clippers.
It feels worse than last year now. During the game last night I found myself thinking of trades for the Thunder. Only Durant was off limits. I didn’t feel like everything was going to be alright anymore and that they’d eventually figure this out.
Harden let you be calm because he was so. He’s been gone for what seems like forever now and the Thunder are not better off without him this season. Maybe it pays off in the long run but for now, they’ve taken a step back against the team they needed to be ready to beat more than anyone.