Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Least or Most Exciting NBA Finals?


These have been the most least exciting NBA Finals in recent memory. It’s compelling storytelling at its finest. LeBron James, your league MVP and villain teamed with his Heat superhero faction who fizzled out last year in the Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, takes one side of the court. At the other end, Kevin Durant, the young hero who did everything right coming out of high school, going to college, being drafted by a young, struggling team and helping fortify that team into a dominant group of young players gelling together. Durant could have been MVP this season, and nobody would have been hurt. Instead, LeBron won it and a lot of fans LeBron’s haters swore Durant was the more deserving of the award.

Miami struggled through the playoffs, but LeBron provided sparks when fans swore he’d shy away. At times, he did but his teammates forced the ball right back into his hands with just enough time for LeBron to make something happen. The Thunder, on the other hand, seemingly coasted through until the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against the experienced, high-powered offense of the 20-game winning-streak San Antonio Spurs. Suddenly, Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook put it all on their backs, dominated, and won 4-straight to seal their trip to the NBA Finals.

In game 1, the Thunder played lights out. It was like they’ve been playing in the Finals their entire lives. They scored at will, played stifling defense, and continued to build on what they did to arguably the best team in the league in the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. An 11-point lead, leaving everyone to believe the mass predictions of “Thunder in 6” were coming true. LeBron didn’t struggle, but Wade did, tremendously, in his worst Finals’ appearance. But then Miami adjusted, and the Spurs didn’t. Chris Bosh got more minutes, got to play the post, and LeBron attacked the paint the way fans have clamored for since his second year in the league. Miami got away with 1, and LeBron had a 4th quarter heroic.

Game three started off as sloppily as the Thunder could have ever envisioned in a nightmare. Their first quarter was horrendous, disappointing, and left fans wondering how they ever managed to get here. But they started to come back in the third, and in the 4th, they got it down to 2 points with minutes remaining. Kevin Durant takes an inbound pass, LeBron was not ready, and Durant is fouled before and during the shot, he misses, so he’s going to the line for two. Then there’s no foul called, Miami has the ball, Durant is sprinting back to play defense, and the Heat are scoring to take a sizeable lead and the game is now out of OKC’s reach. Miami goes up 2-1.

Game 4 started the exact opposite. Miami struggled, the Thunder put on a barrage, scoring 33 points in the 1st quarter and holding the Heat to virtually nothing. They played brilliant offense, they forced turnovers, they shot at a high percentage. Then everything started to crumble. They lost the lead, it flipped back and forth for 3 quarters, and the referees gave the Heat the benefit of the doubt in every call. They didn’t call obvious calls (I’m thinking of you, Haslem, as you tackled Fisher for a rebound) and the Thunder were stymied by the refs, having to win 2 games in 1. Russell Westbrook was having the time of his life, scoring at will, at one point in the 4th sinking 5 consecutive shots. But James Harden tried to get a call, any call, on a fast break, slowing down forcing a defender to bump him… but Chalmers was smart and sidestepped him, and forced him to put it up, because nobody from the Thunder was running up the court to be an assist.

The play draws major questions to the basketball IQ of Harden, but also of the entire Thunder team. Harden tried forcing a foul instead of getting the easy buckets. Memo to Harden – they foul you to prevent the easy bucket. It’s called an EASY bucket for a reason.

Harden missed the layup, didn’t extend the lead, and Miami responded at the other end of the court and took the lead… and they never gave it back. LeBron laid on the bench the final 4 minutes in severe pain from cramps. Durant couldn’t hit shots he had drawn up for him when Westbrook was the hot hand. Mario Chalmers played the hero to Miami basketball with a career playoff night. And Miami extended their lead to 3-1 with a chance to close out the Thunder in the Finals, in Miami, tonight.

If the Thunder are going to keep fighting, tonight is the night to start. The entire organization needs to be smarter. Scott Brooks needs to lead his team to victory, and make adjustments to Bosh in the paint. Perkins and Ibaka need to be utilized more as scorers, which means Durant & Harden need to join Westbrook’s violent shooting percentage from the other night in order to force Miami to contest them from deep and get Perkins and Ibaka clean looks down low.

Oklahoma City need to respond to every point the Heat score with LeBron driving. He’s going to get those points if he goes into the paint and Ibaka can’t block him. The Thunder need to move the ball and make Miami run. LeBron is cramping up, Wade’s back is hurt, Mike Miller can’t run anymore, and Shane Battier can’t keep up with you if you’re running and moving the ball to set up open shots. OKC, you’re young and fast, and you’ve outran everyone all year long, until now, against a team who can’t run. Don’t play Miami basketball and cry to the refs for every foul you think should go your way. Get back on defense and force tough shots. Make the easy baskets and let the fouls come when they do.

Otherwise, LeBron James finally wins his ring, and he does so in the fashion everyone has wanted to see him do it. Putting the team on his back, hitting big shots, driving to the basket, facilitating when he’s got to, and being the MVP of the league. This isn’t flopping LeBron. Sure, the Heat have the referees’ help, but they don’t need it; and that’s what makes this the least most exciting NBA Finals in recent memory.

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