OKLAHOMA CITY — There is an age-old truism pertaining to the NBA Finals that pertains to the question of old age.
Young teams rarely, and we mean very rarely, win NBA championships.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder somehow manage to emerge from the NBA Finals victorious, they’d be the first team with such a young nucleus to win the title since the Portland Trail Blazers in 1977 — a topic that our Hall of Fame columnist, Mark Heisler, addressed in his column from earlier today.
And when it comes to old age, or lack thereof, we’re talking about babes in the woods when it comes to the team that will play host to the opener of the best-of-7 series on Tuesday night.
Let’s start with Kevin Durant, who is 23 — which means he was a 2-year-old when Michael Jordan won his first championship. Same goes for Russell Westbrook, for whom the Clinton Administration is something he learned about in history class when he was in grade school.
And then there is James Harden, who is all of 22. He may have the best beard since ZZ Top was singing Gimme all Your Lovin’, but that song was recorded 6 years before he was born.
Are these kids going to be alright? (The album by The Who bearing that title was recorded nearly a decade before any of the Thunder’s Big Three was conceived, much less born.)
To get an answer, we turned to one of the Thunder’s old farts, Derek Fisher, who happens to be the proud owner of not one, not two, not three, not four, but five championship rings. (If anyone still playing is entitled to use the ‘not two, not three, not four’ sentence construction, it is Fish).
“Basketball experience is what matters,” Fisher said, “not age experience. How ever you want to measure it, having experience in certain situations is what matters.”
Fisher was a member of the Los Angeles Lakers when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were ringless, which was a time when Bryant was viewed as a precocious chucker and O’Neal was viewed as a behemoth of a big man who would never be able to overcome his free throw difficulties and lead his team to a title.
And when those 1999-2000 Los Angeles Lakers faced Reggie Miller and the time-tested Indiana Pacers, the conventional wisdom going into the series what that it was Miller Time, after so many years of trying.
Six games later, that little dose of conventional wisdom was obsolete.
And it’s not just conventional wisdom that has some folks dismissing the Thunder as too young to succeed on this big of a stage. There is the history factor, which is relevant until someone comes along and breaks the mold. Just over a week ago, folks everywhere were citing the historical data that teams falling behind 0-2 in a playoff series are defeated more than 80 percent of the time.
And what happened next? The Thunder (and the Celtics) went out and won the next three games.
The old saying goes that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But a lesser known saying is that those who live too much in the past unwittingly allow that to obscure their view of the present.
And what we have in the present is two very good teams with three superstars apiece, but teams with distinct flaws that their opponent will try to exploit.
The Thunder are a turnover-prone team, and the Heat are a team that thrives on turning transition opportunities into highlight-reel fast breaks. The Heat are a team with a fundamental construction problem in that their two best players duplicate each other a little too much, with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade needing the ball in their hands on a majority of their offensive possessions in order to be most effective.
The Heat do not have superstars at the point guard or center positions, and their 3-point shooters go from hot to cold with more frequency than a hotel shower when 400 guests are trying to use the plumbing system at the same time.
The Thunder have more bigs who can pound you relentlessly on the boards, and they have a big man in Serge Ibaka who can hit it from outside — although not with the proficiency from the 3-point arc that Chris Bosh displayed in Game 7 against the Celtics.
And another thing: Although the Thunder are the younger team, they have been together as a unit for a far longer time than the Heat. Cohesiveness is just as important as experience, and the Thunder is as tight-knit of a group as there is in the NBA. Just read this column if you doubt that premise.
Remember, Shaq and Kobe were ringless once, too.
And remember this, too: Durant and Westbrook have thrived on the world’s biggest stage, two summers ago in Turkey. For a refresher on that episode of their careers, click here.
“You never know if you have what it takes to win a championship until you do. You can play well in the Finals and have a great game and win three games and not figure out a way to win the fourth one, and you weren’t good enough to be champions that year,” Fisher said. “We’re not here by accident. Those three guys are no here by accident. They’re capable of getting a lot of things done.”
Fisher has been around long enough to know that of which he speaks. His team just knocked off a machine of a team in the San Antonio Spurs. His team’s best player has led the NBA in scoring for three straight years. His coach made great adjustments in the Western Conference finals to exploit the Spurs’ weaknesses. And his entire team came of age before our very eyes in rebounding from that 0-2 deficit in the last round.
They may be young, but they are not inexperienced. And that’s where the “Too Young To Win” school of thought gets a failing grade, IMHO.
Chris Sheridan is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every NBA Finals since 1994, with the exception of 2011(DNP-Litigiousness), and every Olympics since 1996. Follow him on Twitter.