From the very beginning, the world wanted to see these two juggernaut teams go head to head for the title and now the stage is set; after the Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics in a Game 7 thriller, LeBron James and co. will punch their tickets to the NBA Finals where they will face Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder dispatched the San Antonio Spurs that won 20 straight games. The Thunder sent the Spurs home early by forcing an unusual high number of turnovers from a disciplined offense. No team was able to shake the confidence of San Antonio before in the playoffs, but with their quick recovery defense, relentless energy, and active hands, the Thunder prevented the Spurs from executing plays that were routine and elementary. Turnovers led to countless fastbreak opportunities that the Spurs simply could not stop. The Thunder also made the Spurs’ nobodies look like nobodies. Danny Green, Gary Neal, and Tiago Splitter, to name a few, hardly made an impact in the series after playing well in the regular season and in the postseason prior to the WCF. The Thunder exposed the Spurs’ few weaknesses and proved they found the recipe for success.
While the Thunder finished off the Spurs in six games, the Heat had a more difficult time defeating their opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston saw Kevin Garnett turn back the clock in a few games when he scored 20+ points and grab double digit rebounds. Rajon Rondo finished the series recording his 10th playoff triple double in Game 7 and also had a historic 44 point, 10 rebound, 8 assist performance in Game 2. In a nutshell, the sheer talent of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and key baskets by the Heat’s role players were enough to overcome the inconsistent energy of the aging Celtics’ big three. And with a healthy Chris Bosh, the Heat found a viable third option to help Wade and James offensively in Game 7. Highlight plays like alley-oops and barrage of three pointers spark runs and positive momentum that lead to suffocating defense and video game-like transition baskets. When the Heat feed off the energy of their home crowd, they play on a level that cannot be emulated.
Since the Heat and the Thunder are from different conferences, they only faced each other twice the entire regular season. Both teams have plenty to prepare. The Heat will have to plan schemes to disrupt the Thunder’s offense – and defense. With Kendrick Perkins and shot blocking machine Serge Ibaka guarding the paint area, dribble penetration will not be easy. The Heat must shoot efficiently from the perimeter to pose a threat against the Thunder defense. Aside from Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili, the Thunder kept the Spurs’ perimeter shooting in check. The Spurs’ bench production was poor as well. These two low points were arguably the biggest reasons to why the Spurs were unable to defeat the Thunder. If the Heat bench does not come up big and perimeter shooting suffers, the team may fall as the Spurs did.
On the other side, the Thunder will have to address some issues as well. While their defense has been stellar for most games, their offense has not always looked pretty. Critics have complained that the Thunder offense consists of too many jumpshots which can lead to trouble heading into the fourth quarter. Often times Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will settle for shots from the perimeter. The Thunder lowered their turnover rate from their regular season average against the Spurs, but an inefficient offense sometimes kept the Spurs close enough in a few games to come back. The Heat, a team much quicker to the ball than the Spurs, will certainly take advantage of a stagnant offense. Over dribbling and limited ball movement can quickly lower team confidence and fluidity, but for the most part, the Thunder have been able to overcome this recurring problem enough to pose a great threat to the Heat. The Thunder’s big three must move the ball across the court and have everyone involved and accountable for them to have a chance at defeating the Heat.
The 2012 NBA Finals begins this Tuesday. Which team will have the honor to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy? Discuss!