Friday Night Videos: 10 best plays of 2012 NBA finals

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Now that there are no more games, seems like a good time to bring back the Friday Night videos tradition. We just give you a good video to start off your weekend right.

How about the 10 best plays from the 2012 NBA finals? That works for me. This was a great finals, really close games (save Game 6). It’s not a rivalry yet, but when the Thunder and Heat meet next year it will be.

2012 NBA Finals Miami Heat: Dwyane Wade and the aura of two

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It’s not going to mean to him what it means to LeBron James.

It can’t. He didn’t go through the suffering year after year. He didn’t face the constant questions, the constant criticism. No matter what, Wade had cemented his legacy in his third season. He had a ring, and once you hit that level, you’re protected by shielding. That’s not to say Wade hasn’t taken criticism over the past two years. But the difference in what it means is significant. So no, this isn’t going to mean to Dwyane Wade what it means to LeBron James.

But in the aftermath of the Heat’s 121-106 win over the Thunder to win their first NBA Championship in the Triad era, we’re left with the revision to Wade’s legacy. Because two matters. And if you don’t think it does, talk to any member of the Boston Celtics, talk to anyone around the league. Multiple titles does put you on a different tier. One ring can be evaluated as a one-off, a sneak-in, it’s getting off the targeting of not having a title. But two? You’re legit. You’re someone you can build multiple titles around.

Wade’s path is different, and the Decision is always going to color that, but in a lot of ways, Wade’s second title was more difficult to accomplish than the first. Setting aside the level of difficulty the Heat faced in their opponents (and this should not take away from that ’06 Mavs team which was phenomenal), this was the first title where Wade had to figure out his role in a team, not the other way around. In 2006, everything was built around Wade. It was 15 Strong, but in reality, it was 14 complimenting one. And that’s a model for success. Putting a great player in a position to succeed has proven to be a path to the title.

But this was much more difficult. Wade had to figure out when to be the aggressor, the initiator, and when to move off-ball. He had to know when to operate as a decoy, and when to excel as a playmaker. He had to score, he had to play smart, and most of all, he had to defend.

These playoffs were far from the offensive brilliance of Dwyane Wade that we’re used to. He struggled with his shot, struggled with his touch, struggled with the toll on his body. But defensively, Wade was locked in. After a series of uncharacteristic whining episodes against the Pacers, he responded. It should not be understated that Wade had a fantastic series guarding James Harden. It’s spoken of as if Harden simply vanished, and like it was with LeBron James against the Mavericks in 2011, that wasn’t the case. It was a series of brilliant defensive adjustments and individual efforts that lead to Harden being limited, shut out, disappearing.

Wade may go down as the greatest shot-blocking guard ever, and this series was a showcase of that. His unique combination of elevation and timing for a superstar, especially given his overall output, makes him a gamechanger. If the Heat’s offense settled into a hierarchy of LeBron-Wade-Bosh-everyone else, the defense was a cloud of talent that played together. Wade was a huge part of that.

Let’s also not ignore the elephant in the room. We’ve seen superstars run coaches and other stars out of multiple teams. Wade could have balked at the role he was tasked with, he could have blown up Erik Spoelstra or had Bosh traded. He could have created a power struggle in defiance. He didn’t. He kept his head down, responded to bad games with good games, and made the little plays. He became the best complimentary player since Scottie Pippen.

Wade became a villain publicly more than ever these playoffs, which is a shame because of his contributions off the floor to charity and his overall maturity. But maybe that was necessary for the Heat to establish the identity they needed. He supported James at every moment, supported his coach, even after yelling at him in a game, supported the franchise.

Wade joins the fraternity of players with multiple titles, and when he retires, that will be the first thing we discuss about him. He gave us flashes, the one-handed runner, the finish after contact, the explosive transition plays. Wade has already made noise about how “father time” and how he can see it in the distance. We may have already seen the best years of Dwyane Wade’s career. But there’s every indicationto believe we haven’t seen the best of Dwyane Wade’s teams.

The star and the teammate. Dwyane Wade, 2-time NBA champion.

NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 4: Revenge of the little brother

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In the NBA Finals last year, Mario Chalmers hit a huge three to give the Heat the lead late vs. Dallas. It was supposed to be his moment. Finally, finally, he would be accepted, respected, celebrated. It would be about him, and his game, his shot. It was not. A blown rotation and an answer from Dallas and the series had shifted for the final time. That was the game where everything ended for Miami, when you look back.

The Heat could have moved on from Chalmers this year, could have opted to go in a different direction. They stuck with the guy they’ve come to know as “little brother.” And in Game 4 vs. Oklahoma City, it paid off. Chalmers scored 25 points on 9-15 shooting and the Heat pulled away for a 104-98 victory, going up 3-1 in the Finals.

In every playoff series, there are what I call “You have to be kidding me” guys. Players who a team’s fans know as guys who can hit big shots, make big plays, who are playing well under the radar. Players who the other team’s fans have no expectation of anything positive from. When they deliver, those fans are left screaming “You have to be kidding me!” as a player they never feared hits big shot after big shot. Shane Battier was that player for three games. In Game 4, it was Mario Chalmers.

What’s maybe even more stunning is that Chalmers did it without just hitting open 3’s on the catch-and-shoot. He was going to the rim. He sped past defenders (including Kevin Durant for much of the game) and hit tough layup after tough layup, hanging the ball on the edge of the rim with enough back spin to slide back in. It wasn’t Dwyane Wade or LeBron James, but they were monster shots all the same.

The burden of being a young, inconsistent point guard finding your way on a team of superstars is you’re constantly being considered in the context of another level. Chalmers is notoriously confident to the point of absurdity. He honestly believes he’s as good as those players, he honestly believes he can change a game, a series, a season. In Game 4, he backed it up. He made smart decisions, and when he didn’t, he made up for it with hustle plays. Twice, Chalmers responded to turnovers with defensive pressure to force the ball back to Miami’s way.

Chalmers has constantly faced being screamed at by James and Wade for any mistake. Overthrow a full-court outlet pass? Criticism. Miss a defensive rotation? Criticism. Turn the ball over? Fail to get the ball to a star in a key spot? Take a bad shot? Constant and consistent verbal abuse. You have to live with the standards. In Game 4, there were none of those words, just glowing support post-game from the superstar big brothers. The kid had done it, he’d pulled his weight, he’d made the shots, he’d won the game.

Little brother has arrived, when Miami needed him most.

Video: Russell Westbrook with a crucial mistaken foul off jump-ball

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43 points. Seven rebounds. Five assists. Russell Westbrook was pure and complete brilliance for 46 minutes.

And then he made the biggest mistake of his career.

Westbrook played the best game of his professional career, in a game where the Thunder needed each and every point, rebound, assist and play to hang with Miami after the Heat survived the Thunder’s hot start. Westbrook was fearless, relentless, and deliberate. He got to the rim, he got the mid-range jumper going, he helped his team respond to every huge shot from Miami.

And then, right when it was right there for him to change the story, quiet the critics, this happened:

In no way should this loss be put on Westbrook’s shoulders. They would have been buried beneath the Heat’s offense without Westbrook. It was a mistake, one of several the Thunder made, but just one. James Harden’s inability to convert anything resembling a major play was worse. Derek Fisher’s layup attempt that was blocked, leading to a Lebron James conversion at the other end was worse. Serge Ibaka’s rotation defense was worse. They were there, with a chance to win, because of Westbrook. It drifted past because of Westbrook, and because Scott Brooks was unable to prepare the team to be ready for how the clock functions in that scenario.

That’s how things break in a Finals this close.

Call out the defense, call out the coaching, praise the Heat.

But don’t bring this on Westbrook’s shoulders. They carried too much in Game 4.

NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 3: The Triad have found the nexus

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In Miami’s 91-86 win over Oklahoma City Sunday night, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade scored 35 points on 34 shots. That’s a bad ratio. It would indicate that LeBron James (29 points on 23 shots) carried the team. But that’s off, you have to consider everything. The metrics, the plays, the context of the series, the matchups, everything. You have to see the whole board to identify what we saw in Game 3, and in this series.

And what we see is the Triad finding the nexus of their talents, playing together, playing well, and playing at the apex of their potential together, in terms of execution. The shots aren’t falling? That’s fine. The process matters more than the results in the course of a seven-game series ( as long as you win, right?).

What we saw in Game 3 was Dwyane Wade using the pick and roll and the Thunder’s adaptation to push the defense to the perimeter to find Chris Bosh inside for all three of his buckets. That forced the defense to adapt. That opened the perimeter for James to create inside. Their offensive rebounding forced adaptations. And James cutting inside, forcing the defense to slide to help, the doubles they forced, the intensity and execution created more and more opportunities.

But it was the defense that did it.

From the beginning, this Heat team was built on the concept that they had to play amazing defense to win. They had learned from losses to Boston and Orlando that the path to the title was through their defense, that their best use of their athleticism and talent was to extend and control the game defensively. This is a team that outshot the Knicks, outmuscled the Pacers, and outran the Celtics. Now they are grinding OKC down, behind the efforts of the Triad.

Chris Bosh had the best 3-12 game you’re going to find. 11 rebounds and 2 blocks. He posted a -7, but that stat doesn’t cover the late game impact he had. Bosh has also created a ton of possession for Miami by diving on the floor. He’s set the tone.

And that shouldn’t be overlooked, here. The Miami Heat are no longer “too good to try” in terms of these loose balls. They’re getting to the 50/50 balls and outworking the young guys. They look hungrier, more poised, and tougher. Those are nebulous things, but we see it with certain plays. Gone is the indecisiveness. When Wade works in isolation, LeBron’s no longer standing on the perimeter when Wade launches. He’s crashing the offensive glass. Wade’s no longer coasting possessions when LeBron works in the post. He’s cutting to the rim. They’re creating extra possessions and attacking early in the shot clock.

The uneasiness of how to make these players fit is gone, and much of it is seen in an approach that simply has stopped trying to out-think the opponent. The Heat aren’t waiting to make sure things are perfect. They’re using their talents, executing, and forcing things. Defensively, they’re attacking, attacking, attacking and the result in Game 3 was a Thunder team on its heels. There are times when it just seems too much, with Bosh making the smart play, Wade making the aggressive play, and James making the best play, often on one possession. It’s not dominant. It stalls at times. But they are close, so very close to that point where there’s just no way to beat them.

Still, the Thunder hang, hitting tough shot after tough shot, which is to their credit. And in Game 4, everything can be reversed, the Triad can go back into the mud, and it can end just like that. But in an ugly game, the Big 3 are creating what they need to, producing what they need to, building the team they want to.

They’re two games away from a championship.

Whether they stay here in the nexus may decide if those two wins are attainable.