Russell Westbrook and the Thunder tried to come back from a halftime deficit in Game 2, but the Heat tied the series at 1-1.  (AP)

Russell Westbrook and the Thunder tried to come back from a halftime deficit in Game 2, but the Heat tied the series at 1-1. (AP)

 

In the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat evened the series at one game apiece Thursday night, and they will enjoy a home court advantage for the next three games. Royce Young is an NBA writer for CBSSports.com and the publisher of DailyThunder.com. He talked to Bill Littlefield for this week’s Only A Game.

Oklahoma City got out to very slow starts in Games 1 and 2, but came out of Game 1 with a win. Young said many will point to head coach Scott Brooks’s starting lineup, but the source of the Thunder’s early-game struggles may be simpler.

“They’re just missing shots,” he said. “When you miss shots, it’s hard to stay in games. They only scored two points in the first six minutes of Game 2. I don’t know if it’s a match-up issue or if it’s anything other than they just didn’t play well at all in those opening six minutes.”

The Thunder fans have been among the league’s best at providing a strong home court for their team. Does OKC have to win a title this year for fans to remain as enthusiastic as they have been all year?

“A lot of people have some realistic expectations,” Young said. “I think people realize that this team is mostly made up of 24- and 23-year-olds and that the future is extremely bright for them. But you want to finish with a championship, and if you don’t do that, it’s going to be really, really rough.”

LeBron James has been harshly criticized in the past for his shortcomings in the postseason. He’s played magnificently during these playoffs, which begs the question of whether is there is a difference in his play during this postseason and the last one.

“He just looks more relaxed in games,” Young said. “It doesn’t look like he’s feeling the pressure. In Game 2, he picked his spots really well…and he knocked down some clutch free throws. He shut everybody up.”

This series features two of the players in the argument for “Best Player in the NBA”: James and Kevin Durant. What happens in this series could have a lot to do with how that discussion plays out going forward.

“Durant has evolved into a guy who can really pick his spots in games,” Young said. “In Game 1, he scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. In Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, he scored 16 straight points in the fourth quarter. Kevin Durant is an incredibly efficient scorer…I don’t know if he’s the world’s best player, but he’s certainly in the top two.”

With the series going to Miami for three consecutive games, Young thought the Thunder’s road just got tougher.

“Now the Thunder have put themselves in a difficult position where they have to win one time in Miami, otherwise the series doesn’t come back to Oklahoma City,” Young said. “I picked Oklahoma City to win the series in six games, and I don’t know if you’ll see that slow start again. I think they’ll really feel the pressure to play well.”