Not even the biggest conspiracy theorist could have predicted it. After a nasty lockout, a hurried season and a injury filled Playoffs, the NBA has The Finals it asked Santa Claus in the start of the season. The Miami Heat have won the East. The Oklahoma City Thunder won the West and they will meet, in a fight for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
To get here, the Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks, beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 and the San Antonio Spurs by 4-2. Ten of the last 13 NBA champions. If they want to be the next champs, Oklahoma City must beat another one…
The Miami Heat. The Heat went through the New York Knicks 4-1, Indiana Pacers 4-2 and the Boston Celtics 4-3. The Celtics were the only member of the “last 13 championships club” the Heat faced.
Both franchises took different paths to find success.
Miami got an NBA franchise with the big expansion of 1988 – the same one that brought us the Orlando Magic, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Charlotte “we moved to New Orleans” Hornets to the league. Their Big 3 was assembled through free agency when LeBron james and Chris Bosh decided to join Dwyane Wade.
Clay Bennett took the Supersonics out of Seattle and settled the franchise in Oklahoma City. After three bad years (two of them still in Seattle) the team was built via draft, with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
The ruckus in Oklahoma City meets its opposite in Miami’s cold, late arriving fans.
But, not all is differences.
Both teams are lead by talented Small Forwards not yet in the peak of their careers. Both play better when they throw the notion of a regular Point Guard out the window and let other players (LBJ in Miami, Harden – moving Westbrook to a Shooting Guard role – in OKC) organize the offense.
And, since Bosh’s injury, both teams have big parts of their Big 3 coming from the bench.
It’s impossible to run from the biggest matchup in this series: LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Both trying to change perceptions.
Durant wants to change the notion that he is an one dimensional scorer. He has been doing that, dominating on offense and helping out on defense with his size, wingspan and quickness, closing passing lanes and bothering shots.
James want to end this idea that he is a choker, and idea that came up after his disappearing act during last season’s Finals. A little bit of that is gone, after an amazing Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Finals and a very good Game 7. But, it will only go away completely after he leads his team to titles. Not one, not two, not three…
Chris Bosh was a big factor in Miami’s Game 7 win against the Boston Celtics. Bosh took advantage of Boston’s weak inside defense, a KG heavy one.
With KG defending the paint from LBJ’s cuts, Bosh was open to hit mid and long range shots.
Bosh will not have as much freedom during the Finals. Oklahoma City will have Kendrick Perkins defending the rim, leaving Serge Ibaka to roam the perimeter, searching for Bosh.
The teams split their two meeting during the regular season. And, even with the small sample size, one number jumped to my eyes: James Harden’s +/- in OKC’s win was +10 and in OKC’s lost was -4. With each series, the Sixth Man of the Year’s importance grows, as does his beard.
But, will the referees allow him to get calls close to the rim? Ask Knicks’ players how that works when you play the Heat.
Miami shot a lower FG% in every area but the above the break 3 pointers. OKC had problems finishing close to the rim.
OKC’s offense is yet to face a defense like Miami’s. Miami has not faced and offense like OKC’s.
OKC’s offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) was lower in those two games than it was during the regular season, 103.2 versus Miami and 107.1 the average in the regular season. But, their defensive efficiency was better, from their 94.4 average to 100 against the Heat.
The opposite happened to Miami. Offensive efficiency dropped from 104.3 to 94.4 and defensive efficiency went from 97.1 to 103.2.
Miami grabbed 8.8% less rebounds when facing OKC. Had less free throws attempts, assists, a lower FG% and higher 3 points FGA.
The Thunder also has less FTA, more more assists per game. OKC shot less 3 pointers. And, eventhough they grabbed less rebounds than their season average, they had an advantage of 6.5 rebounds per game.
To beat the better team, LBJ and Wade will have to show up night in and night out. And the rest of the team will have to step up. If they lose, they will have been beaten by the better team.
Thunder in six. But, I’ll be rooting for a 7 game series.