(Welcome to part 1 of our Finals review series, where we give you our view of the games and squeeze in as many twenty and thirty year old pop culture references as we possibly can.~JH)
Wes: The first game of what could very well be a short series went just about as I expected it would. In all honesty, the only thing remotely close to the unexpected was Shane Battier’s first-half rampage, but even that wasn’t especially noteworthy (it’s the NBA – you leave a decent shooter open, and he can knock ’em down regularly). I thought the Thunder would be too much for Miami, particularly in front of the rabid Oklahoma City crowd in what is their first taste of championship basketball.
Durant’s monster game was really just what everyone has come to expect from the 23-year old phenom. I can recall exactly one shot that left his hands which I considered “bad.” Everything is was in the flow of the game and appropriate. Offensively, he dominates the game in a unique way. It never comes across as forced, “hero ball,” or anything like that. Instead, he takes the game as it comes to him, imposes his will when necessary, and drives his team without ever putting himself before them. “Kevin Durant shot his team out of this game…” is a phrase I doubt we’ll ever hear.
Conversely, Lebron played what I thought was a reasonable game. Everyone is always yearning for him to completely destroy teams like he did to Detroit in 2007, but that isn’t usually realistic, and it sure as hell isn’t likely against a team like the Thunder. While he looked a little out of rhythm early on, I actually thought he played decent basketball for the duration. Yes, that includes the 4th quarter. I know the stats won’t back me, but he stayed aggressive and attacked the basket at a time when the rest of the Heat looked like they were shellshocked and increasingly aware of the fact that they’re facing a severe challenge.
Speaking of the rest, it wasn’t the best night for almost everyone else. Wade was clearly playing hard, but simply couldn’t physically match the opposition and was noticeably frustrated with everything. His body isn’t what it used to be, permanently or otherwise. The aura of a “killer” is nowhere to be found right now. He’ll have to dig down deep to try and find something that will translate into noteworthy basketball, because all of his moves just don’t cut it when he’s a few steps slow and facing guys who aren’t intimidated in the least. Bosh looked uncomfortable and was chucking up questionable, deep-shots all night long. With the exception of the aforementioned Battier performance (and some decent minutes from Mario Chalmers), the overall results were essentially vacant.
If Game 2 is to look any different from the first, Miami has to find a way to disrupt the Thunder’s formidable offense. Easier said than done, I know, but nothing is impossible. For starters, I want to see Lebron on Durant as much as possible. Will it make a difference? Maybe. It’s probably asking too much of the guy to really focus his defense on his competition for the top player in the league, and then turn around and lead his team offensively, as well. James already works hard and, although he’s in great physical condition, only so much sheer endurance can be expected out of a guy who is 6’8″, 255 lbs. Regardless, get that matchup going, and then hope to hell that you can find some sort of Battier-Wade-Other combination that can contain Westbrook and Harden. As good as they are, I’d still rather take my chances with those two over KD.
The Heat also need to stay away from the stagnation. Part of the problem is that the offense isn’t built on intricate schemes or a lot of fundamental execution. Nevertheless, they’ve got to avoid the long stretches where it seems like the ball ends up in the hands of one guy, and everyone else just sort of floats around on the perimeter. Get a little more activity going inside with Bosh and Haslem. I know they’re not ideal post players, but a different look can go a long way. The first look wasn’t exactly a good one…
… and, for the love of God, they need to get up by at least 35 points before the 1st half ends, because that OKC, 3rd-quarter barrage is hotter than sex and candle wax.
HATH: How far must you go to gain respect? …Um, that’s a fair question where this series is concerned. If you are Kevin Durant, his performance in game one was more than enough, especially in the 4th quarter. 17 of your 36 points in the final period is enough to make believers out of almost anybody. If Durant can sustain something close to that output, the Thunder aren’t losing this series, period.
For LeBron, well there might not be answer. For all the talk of what he didn’t do in that game he still did plenty, and as I mentioned a few days ago, he is simply not going to be able to beat the Thunder all by his lonesome. Lebron’s gonna do his best in this series, but (as James Ingram will tell you) sometimes that ain’t good enough.
Anyway, game 1 looked like the first chapter in the Thunder coronation, and I fully expect it to get worse for miami. Oklahoma City came out lethargic in the first half, looking unsure on offense and pathetically slow on defense, yet they were still only down 7 at the break. Watching them assert themselves in the second half had all the familiar sigsn of a team that is outright superior and can basically assert that fact whenever the mood hits them. I mean, Westbrook and Durant outscored the entire Heat team in the second half. That kind of thing does not bode well for the Miami’s chances.
If you are rooting for the Heat you can likely convince yourself of all sorts of abstract reasons to remain optimistic, but if you are viewing this series objectively I’m not sure how you can arrive at any conclusion other than “this is a mismatch”. Plainly spoken, the Thunder are better, deeper, more versatile, younger and quite honestly, on a fucking roll right now.
I’d be all for the maximum amount of drama from this series, but I don’t see it. Basketball, more so than all other sport besides Boxing, is a game of truths.
Truth is, Oklahoma is just too good.
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