My predictions for the NBA playoffs all went to hell when Chicago got nailed with some bad injuries in the opening round. I was forced to change tactics and settled on OKC as the eventual champs, although I thought they’d end up squaring off against Boston (damn you Miami!).
Even so, this NBA Finals might prove to be quite the exciting venture, what with the youth of the West squaring off against the Evil, Demonic “Older” Villains of the East.
I have no love for the Miami Heat. I find their Hollywood-esque personalities annoying, and their pity-me attitudes eerily disturbing since it was they who stood upon the rock and smote the rest of the world with their arrogant boasts. (Too much?) Yet, the Heat scare me … the way they did last season. Wade and James have proven to be quite the resilient bunch, failing to roll over and die upon the wishes of the world entire. Last season they looked incapable of making the NBA Finals thanks to lazy play and all-too-consistent defensive lapses. But they ended up prevailing against Boston and Chicago, only to fall to Dallas in six games.
This year, the Heat look poised for the same results. I counted them out against Indiana and Boston and now feel slightly stupid for doing so. In the end the problem with the Miami Heat lies in their lazy ineptitude to play four solid quarters of basketball. James proved against Boston that when he wants to throw down 40 points and dish out 15 assists he can do so with all the ease of drinking a glass of milk. And while I’m still surprised that series went seven games, the length of time it takes for a team to beat an opponent does not matter so long as the eventual outcome results in a W.
Miami is a good team, but not a great one. Those defensive/offensive lapses didn’t hurt them against the Celtics, but that’s because Boston was hobbling around on crutches for much of the series and lacked an offensive spark of their own. In reality, what helped the Heat prevail was Chris Bosh’s sudden return to form after sustaining an abdominal injury against Indiana. Those three treys caught the Celtics completely off guard, and helped push Miami’s lead to five, which is when James can play without any pressure (if the score is any closer he vanishes, or puts up 25-non impact, or Carlos Boozer-ish, points). Doc Rivers had no one who could stop Bosh and then had no one who could score consistently enough down the stretch (looking at you Pierce and Allen).
The Heat cannot afford those lapses against the Thunder, in my opinion the best team in the league right now. I keep reading articles stating why Miami will win the series that state youth and lack of physicality working against OKC in the Finals. As GOB would say, “Come on!”
Kevin Durant and co. proved everyone, myself included, wrong when they came back from an 0-2 deficit to beat a RED HOT San Antonio squad consisting of veterans and led by the best coach in the league. Scott Brooks made the necessary changes; Durant and Harden stepped up offensively, and Westbrook stopped chucking endless shots in favor of a more team-oriented style of play. The results were an astonishing 4-0 comeback, with every game won within the last five minutes …
The Thunder are not a perfect unit. Like the Heat, they go through lapses on both ends of the floor. And Westbrook, for all his growth this season, continues to make careless decisions that hurt OKC’s offensive flow. The addition of Derek Fisher (who is much more likable in a Thunder uniform) gave the Thunder some much needed veteran leadership (even if the youth tend to ignore him at times). For my money Fisher was the missing factor for OKC – and I say that as a Jazz fan who felt betrayed by his departure. Fisher doesn’t have the athletic gusto to impact the offense much, but he plays smart and helps calm his teammates down during times of distress. Plus, he can still hit that corner 3-pointer in pivotal game moments.
Miami doesn’t have anyone like Fisher to guide them home. Their bench consists of old, broken down vets like Juwan Howard who never won the big show. (The series doesn’t entirely hinge on Fisher’s leadership skills, but it’s close enough to where such experience proves pivotal.) For that reason, I’m going with OKC in five games.
Look, Miami still hasn’t proven me wrong. I’m sold on their athletic greatness, and their resiliency, but LBJ and Spoelstra still have no idea how to win in tight contests. The last two games against Boston were decided by double digits … and the one close battle, Game 2, was won by role players and bad calls. The Thunder won nearly every game against LA and San Antonio by making the big plays down the stretch during close games. Durant is clutch. Harden is clutch. Westbrook is clutch. Scott Brooks knows where to position his players in tight situations to better exploit their talents …
And people, that’s what this series comes down to. Clutch. Every game, except for maybe Game 1, will be close. Miami will play up to the Thunder’s level for three quarters, but then LBJ will vanish (unless that aforementioned five point lead comes into play) leaving Durant to steal the, ahem, King’s thunder.
Having Fisher helps exponentially because he’s a winner. The man’s played in every type of situation imaginable, even making a game winning shot against San Antonio with .4 seconds left on the clock back in 2004. He knows how to win – and adds another solid clutch performer coming off the bench.
Defensively, Miami will frustrate OKC in spades, but those odd lapses James and co. go through will give the Thunder enough time to wrack up the points in a way Boston never could. OKC has enough man power to slow down Wade, Bosh, and the Other Guys. James and Durant will cancel each other out (although I expect the self-proclaimed King to hit 40 in Game 3), but Wade will have a tough time against Sefolosha and, I suspect, Westbrook and/or Harden. Bosh will hurt Ibaka and Perkins from outside, but I don’t see that working as astutely against OKC as it did against Boston.
For one thing, OKC has three legit players who can capably take over a basketball game – Durant, Harden, and Westbrook. You can’t double team either one of them because doing so leaves too many options wide open. Where I see OKC having a hard time is in the paint. While the Heat lack a true center, they have enough physical bodies to alter shots. Durant isn’t a physical player, perhaps the one area where James trumps him; neither is Westbrook. The Heat have a strong defense, one that will force the Thunder to take outside shots … But I think OKC will make those shots more often than not … This series will be more like the LA/OKC series than the San Antonio/OKC series, except quicker and more offense-heavy.
The Heat WILL score, but they will not prevail against a powerful OKC team. If the Spurs couldn’t beat the Thunder, then why will the Heat?