The most entertaining Finals of probably the last fifteen years begins Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. With that here are 50 thoughts, observations, and predictions as the Oklahoma City Thunder face the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals.
1. This is going to be fun.
2. I’m not talking like “oh, hey, we’re going to go to the cabin and play board games with some other couples” fun. I’m talking “seven-day bender in Vegas” fun.
3. These finals feature the best individual talents in the league, at the same position, head-to-head. It’s two dominant players in their primes (or approaching their primes in Durant’s case, how terrifying is that?) going toe-to-toe for the NBA championship. You will not find two better basketball players on the planet than the two leading their teams onto the floor Tuesday night.
4. The “second fiddle” players on each team have a combined 44.5 PER in the playoffs, averaging a combined 44.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game in the postseason. So that’s pretty good.
5. Speaking of, that’s going to be an incredible matchup when they run into one another. Dwyane Wade is still a tremendous defender and yet is wholly outmatched by Russell Westbrook’s speed and athleticism. Westbrook is a tenacious defender but not very skilled and with Wade going to the post more and more, that could get downright nasty for stretches.
6. You’re dealing with two of the best players in attacking in transition, with Westbrook’s top-end speed arguably the best in the league and Wade a master of getting his man out of position for the Euro-step.
7. This cannot be emphasized enough. Transition defense is the most important part of this series outside of turnovers.
8. There’s going to be a 1-to-1 ration on “team that wins turnover battle” and “team that wins the game” in this series. You let either one out with numbers, and you might as well call yourself a cab to get back home or to the hotel. It’s over.
9. But on long rebounds, which there will be a lot of in this series, due to the number of mid-range jumpers the Thunder take and the number of threes the Heat take, that’s where transition defense matters. Ibaka and James on chasedowns (don’t discount Wade’s ability to block shots). Getting out on trailer shooters, something both teams struggle with. It’s going to be a suspense movie every time there’s a break.
10. Trying to establish Harden’s impact is difficult. He’s going to make plays, but how will he react against the help defense for Miami, the best he’s going to have faced? Can he handle that much ball pressure and make the right pass? But on the other end of it, Wade or Battier may go for some of his fakes and once he gets space, the whole offense hits another gear. Big matchup.
11. That sound you just heard was Serge Ibaka swatting a Wade baseline pivot floater into Muskogee.
12. And the sound after that was Ibaka biting harder on a Chris Bosh pumpfake than a squirrel on a nut.
13. Ibaka has to shoot that mid-range jumper. It’s not a matter of hitting it, he’s good enough to hit it i he doesn’t get the yips. But Bosh’s length is going to give im pause. Can’t hesitate. Has to fire.
14. Kendrick Perkins and Udonis Haslem are going to get in a fight. This is not a prediction, it is a fact.
15. Perkins is going to average 4 fouls per game in this series, and most nights I’d take the over.
16. The control for the glass is going to be interesting because you have a series of good rebounders none of whom are dominant physically. Allowing extra possessions to these offenses is a bad plan.
17. The Heat have faced no offense that even comes close to Oklahoma City.
18. The Thunder have faced no defense that resides in the same universe as Miami.
19. The best weapon for Miami might be the trap on Westbrook. If they run the 1-3 pick and roll, clearly you can’t leave Durant open, but if he’s moving right to left towards the wing and Durant’s at top of the key, a help defender can close on Durant and force Westbrook into making either a jump-pass or cross-court pass under durress. That’s where you want him, but if he’s routinely breaking it you have to abandon it.
20. The objective needs to be taking the Thunder out of their comfort zone and trusting the defensive pressure to force mistakes. There’s nothing super complicated about the Thunder’s offense and as a result, there are fewer outlets if the first two options are pressured. Create cross-court passes, entry passes in traffic, dribbles through multiple defenders and the Heat can force their bread and butter, turnovers.
21. The Thunder do not want a physical, half-court series. Perkins said that yesterday in practice. I responded on Twitter with “So you want to die.” Because the Thunder don’t want that Heat defense locked in in front of them. They want them scrambling. You take your chances with the chasedown block.
22. Foul trouble is going to be massive in this series. You have two teams whose players are superstars, who draw a lot of fouls and don’t take many. So what gives? James Harden’s flops are legendary. Dwyane Wade’s even more so. Kevin Durant draws constant calls with the rip through (though new rules adjust it from being a shooting foul, it’s still a foul). LeBron James draws constant calls by being a freak of nature. Udonis Haslem gets caught out of position because of diminished athleticism. Serge Ibaka gets caught out of position because he’s always chasing weakside blocks.
23. So basically, something’s gotta give with the whistles in this series.
24. Derek Fisher is going to do about five things that make you marvel how many times he can make big plays in the Finals.
25. Derek Fisher is also going to do about five things that make you wonder how he can possibly be on the floor at this point.
26. Mike Miller’s played through enough pain to have earned being a Finals hero, right? Right? I wince watching that guy play. Not because he’s bad, but because it physically hurts to watch him play through that much pain.
27. Daequan Cook has “unlikely Finals hero” written all over him. That’s a wing shooter who can nail huge shots and isn’t a nightmare defensively.
28. Joel Anthony was DNP-CD’d several times against the smaller lineups of Boston. He could face the same issue if the Thunder go small with KD at the 4.
29. The Heat aren’t necessarily opposed to that idea, however, since James can play the 4 pretty easily and that eases one of their biggest liabilities, the lack of size.
30. I’m going to miss Boston for one reason only. Hearing Doc Rivers scream “Play together!” over and over again in Mic’d Up segments.
31. Average margin of victory for both teams might be under 6 in this series.
32. A plea: no white outs. Both teams have pulled them in the playoffs. White outs are the Worst. It looks like a tennis match.
33. By contrast, going with the blue-out would be great for OKC. They took grief over using it against the Mavericks with the similar color, but it creates a great visual.
34. Miami needs to go whole hog in this series for Game 4. Break out the black uniforms and give out black t-shirts. Blackout will be more intimidating, as intimidating as a Miami crowd can be.
35. Speaking of, that crowd showed UP vs. Boston in Game 7. So they’ve earned a tiny sliver of credit.
36. Naturally it’s nothing compared to OKC’s. They’re going to need to reinforce the building before Game 1 in Oklahoma.
37. This may break the record for most lobs in the Finals.
38. We’ll have the LeBron 4th quarter narrative break out a least once.
39. We’ll also have the “Russell Westbrook is a 4th quarter ball hog” at least once.
40. Neither will have much to do with what actually happened in the game.
41. Winning Game 1 for Miami would be massive. The Thunder are going to be ballistic in front of that crowd. It could be too much emotion, but honestly, that hasn’t yet in these playoffs.
42. Neither team is “evil.” Neither team is “good.” It’s two teams of professional athletes playing basketball. That’s it.
43. There will be complaints from someone about the lack of defense in this series because they don’t understand pace or offensive efficiency. You can book that.
44. The Thunder would do well to double Chris Bosh on the catch. It’s less about keeping the ball out of his hands and more about the potential force of turnovers from that situation. It’s not that Bosh doesn’t handle it well and more that the angles for the Heat offense get tougher.
45. Shane Battier has had to face Carmelo Anthony, David West, Brandon Bass, and Paul Pierce. So now all he has to do is guard Kevin Durant. Easy. /sends bottle of whiskey to Battier’s hotel room
46. Thabo Sefolosha has had to face Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker in the playoffs. So now all he has to do is guard Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. /sends bottle of gin to Sefolosha’s hotel room
47. You know who no one’s talking about in this series? Norris Cole. You know why? Because he doesn’t matter.
48. Mario Chalmers is probably going to surprise some folks. Chalmers is in the opposite position of LeBron. He has no expectations, and everyone thinks he’s kind of terrible, and yet there are three teams in his wake that are going “man, that guy was annoyingly good this year.”
49. If Brooks throws out that “Westbrook-Harden-Fisher” nonsense lineup he toyed with against San Antonio, the Thunder will get outscored by infinity to the power of everything.
50. LeBron. Durant. Let’s begin.