Well it happened. We all knew it would eventually, and it did. Sooner than I expected.
Oklahoma City got schooled, owned, and outplayed by a Miami team that suddenly figured out how to utilize all of its major assets. No one, myself included, expected James and co. to finish this strong mainly because of their sub par performance in these playoffs. And yet, whenever their backs were against the wall someone – Chalmers, Battier, Miller – would step up and save the day. Or at least HELP save the day.
Initially I thought Miami consisted of three superstars surrounded by a bunch of NBA washouts – in these Finals the Heat were anything but.
This was the team that David Stern had in mind when he assembled them a few years ago – an unbeatable slam-dunking machine, replete with terrific outside shooting and awesome athleticism. I won’t say it wasn’t somewhat numbing to watch. I mean come on! The way they played in Game 6 – where they hit 14 three pointers and completely manhandled the suddenly very young looking Thunder – literally blew my mind. Miami hit EVERY shot, played terrific defense and put every detractor (myself included) into full on silent mode. (After an unimaginable cussing fest during the first three quarters, of course.)
Tonight, Mike Miller (he of the spastic back) drilled 7-of-8 from downtown for 23 points. Chalmers hit 2-of-4 (treys) for 10 points. Battier went 3-of-7 (treys) for 11 points. James’ numbers were awesome: 26 points, 13 assists, 11 rebounds. Wade hit 20 of his own. Bosh had 24. That’s six players who scored double digits. How did it happen? As Miller said at half time: “They have to double team James, Wade and Bosh.” Three All Stars surrounded by clutch veterans – that’s who the Heat looked like in Game 5. (On a positive note, I was correct in saying this series would be over in five games … I got the team wrong is all.)
On the other end, the Thunder looked pathetic. A team that clobbered the mighty Spurs only days ago looked young, out-of-sync and … small. I felt like I was watching a high school freshman team taken on the varsity squad.
The only thing I can think of is physicality. Miami has a hard time against physical squads, hence the seven games it took to beat Boston, but they thrive against finesse teams. The Thunder don’t play physical and rely strictly on outside shooting to get the job done. The Heat would double team Durant and Harden at the top of the key and force them to give up the ball to one of their supporting stars. Said supporting players didn’t step up. At all. Fisher was miserable in this series, missing big 3-pointers and easy layups. Ibaka never found rhythm. Perkins was downright awful. The Heat forced OKC to take the ball to the hole, which they did early on in Game 5, but also made them play a more muscular form of basketball Durant and co. weren’t entirely comfortable with.
I think OKC needs to find some toughness by bringing in a stronger center who can actually score. That’ll be tough with their salary situation.
My only parting shot is thus: the NBA changed these past few years, for better or worse I’m still not sure. The Heat turned into a powerhouse literally overnight with a few trades and some clever off-season moves. (LA did the same when they acquired Pau Gasol; Boston did it too when they picked up KG.) Loyalty no longer matters. Neither does hard work, dedication, or commitment. Instead guys like James, Bosh, and Wade sidestep all of those age-old necessities in favor of simple tactics; easy outs. That’s the NBA today.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Jerry Sloan retired when he did. He sensed, all too late, how much the game had changed the moment his star player began throwing him around the locker room. Sloan’s mantra bathed itself in slow progression; trying, failing, and trying again. Guys like D-Will and James have no need of that. They want rings NOW. And instead of working towards a common goal – the way Jordan, Bird, Magic, and Thomas did – these so-called stars flee to overtly charted waters where they doggie-paddle through media hype and expect to be taken seriously.
I just can’t buy that. Sorry.
But who cares, right? Certainly not LeBron. He and Wade and Bosh are probably drinking champagne, goofing around in the locker room, making dramatic post-game statements about teamwork and character … After which they’ll cruise Miami in search of post-game parties; en route to touring the world as NBA Champions. They have detractors, sure. But far more fans, which is why this “experiment” must be seen as a success. Are they the dynasty James predicted they’d be? I’m not sure, especially since their biggest contributors in these finals were all over the age of 30.
In other news, Kevin Durant decided to join Kobe Bryant in LA.
Turns out, the biggest call of this series was that no-call against James when he fouled Durant in Game 2. If that call is made, Durant goes to the free throw line. Tie game.
Oh well. I can’t do anything about it now. James won a ring and will probably change his name to God.
(Yep, LBJ currently has one more ring than John Stockton and Karl Malone, Jazz fans.)
This is the new NBA, people. Either embrace it, or stop watching.