(This is part two of our NBA Finals series. Game 1 can be found here)
HATH: So Wes and I have a running joke about the dark side of Westbrook’s game, something I once referred to as “the three deadly moves of Russ!”. You know, the side of him that throws his body wildly at the hoop and crashes to the ground somewhere in the neighborhood of 26 times a game. The part that goes into crazy-eyed freakout mode and hoists up jumpers while Kevin Durant stands in the corner shaking his head, thinking, “I knew this chump see, he tried to play me. He was my right hand man but he betrayed me”. The part that makes him look as if he just might physically rip one of your limbs off and beat you with it if you tried anything on him.
And most importantly, the guy who stands a better chances of beating OKC in the finals than the Heat do, if you know what I mean.
Sad to say, this little inside joke of ours isn’t fit for public consumption. Just trust me when I tell you that it’s both funny and wildly inappropriate and if you really must know, I’ll tell you in a private moment or whatever.
For the sake of decency, I have thus christened his devious alter-go “Russell B. Free”, in honor of Basketball’s notorious free-spirit and almighty ballhog of yesteryear, the one and only World B. Free.
Listen, even when he stinks up the joint as he did last night, it gets pretty tricky to calibrate exactly how negative his effect on the game actually is. 27 points on 10-26 shooting isn’t terrible per se, but in light of the fact that Kevin Durant is on his team, the numbers take on a different context. The very aggressive, ruthless, terrifyingly athletic game that Russell possesses is what makes him among the greatest players in the game. Those same attributes in the hands of Russell B. Free makes him an all out chemistry menace and seriously threatens this teams’ run to the title. Those kind of wild, empty forays the basket that have become his calling card are precisely the kind of plays you cannot, must not have in the NBA Finals. You’ll live with it in a January road game vs the Nets, but it will kill you dead in game 2 of the NBA finals, where every single possession is valuable.
That said, Oklahoma still had a chance to steal that game back after being outplayed for the duration, and this series would be all but over if they could just get out of their own way even a little bit. Still, these first two games are really the essence of what this Thunder team is: mercurial, dynamic, talented…and incredibly young. To expect them to play with the detached, robotic brilliance of the Spurs is simply unrealistic. When OKC is on, they don’t beat you so much as overwhelm you. It’s not precision, it’s demolition. With no more than five games left in this season, I still consider them a good bet to win three of them and so long as Russell B. Free doesnt show up more than twice, I fully expect they will.
In the end, this is probably all that really matters in terms of who becomes champions of 2012. Either Westbrook will hoist the trophy or Russell B. will hand it over to the Heat.
WES: Russell B. has the amazing ability to cause me to exclaim, “… what in the FUCK?!” at least 10 times per game. That’s not hyperbole in the slightest. I marvel at his overall athleticism and the way that he and Derrick Rose are ushering in this breed of point guard that possesses a terrifying combination of speed, agility, and explosiveness. Additionally, Westbrook’s lunacy quotient fluctuates in such a drastic manner, and that makes him even more captivating to watch. I have gone on record with my prediction that both will be dead by the age of 26 (Rose by way of a jarring jump stop that sends his entire spinal column exploding through his neck and into his brain, and Westbrook being the victim of an unrestrained, fast-break dunk attempt that results in him flying into the crowd and culminates in impalement upon the outstretched broom handle of a janitor who just happens to be standing in the visitor’s tunnel).
As noted, Game 2 was basically the worst of Westbrook. Unable to get into a rhythm, Russell B. took ill-advised shots, played risky, matador-esque defense, and only served to disrupt the Thunder’s chances by forcing the issue instead of letting a little of the game develop. OKC wasn’t exactly clicking anyhow, so they needed all the help they could get. That seemed to come when James Harden was controlling things, or when Durant was able to get into a bit of a groove (when not hindered by foul trouble). Regardless, Russell B. was always lurking. He even appeared to yell at least partially in Durant’s direction on the much-discussed, no-call miss at the end of the game. You know… the play that happened after Durant had drilled a massive three and gotten the team within striking distance. It’s always interesting to watch KD when that happens. He has this look on his face, like, “Russell, what about the things we discussed? About having trust? What’s all this attitude stuff?” The delicate task of being teammates with Russell B. Free.
OKC’s missteps were partly the result of their nature, but also the product of a much more focused effort from the Heat. Miami managed to outplay (and then survive) the Thunder by simply doing what they are best at, collectively and individually. With the exception of the last few minutes, they moved well and kept the ball moving, as well. Lebron was assertive and assaulted OKC’s interior schemes with an underdeveloped yet disruptive post attack. The guy can basically get position on almost whoever he wants, and it’s just a matter of whether he can finish or not. Even if he misses, it goes down as a possession where an OKC player took and pounding, and it’s something that has to be honored by the defense. Couple that with his perfect night from the line and great, focused effort on both sides of the ball, and you’ve got what amounts to a big-time game from James.
Furthermore, Wade and Bosh were much more effective than their previous, respective efforts. Wade took what was given and didn’t get frustrated by the younger Thunder. To my eye, it was less about a difference in effort (he played hard in that first game, too) and more about a certain patience. He may not be faster or quicker than Westbrook but, even though it’s in OKC’s best interest to turn things into a track meet, it isn’t actually a track event. It’s basketball. There were a number of instances in which Wade took his time, waited for Westbrook to gamble on something, and then used a screen or just slid right by him for a high-percentage shot. Bosh also played more of an effective game, establishing himself as an interior presence by virtue of much more activity. He was aggressive on the glass and kept the likes of Serge Ibaka off-balance with pump-fakes and misdirection.
And, of course, there’s Shane Battier. I almost feel like I owe him an apology for insinuating that all he did in Game 1 was knock down open shots. He did more than that, and he did MUCH more than that in Game 2. He was massive.
Most of all, Miami’s team defense was excellent. They fought through screens and weren’t caught out of position nearly as much. They played off guys and made them shoot, which is the best strategy against OKC. Harden and Westbrook can both kill you with their perimeter shooting, but I’d much rather take my chances with that than allowing them to drive to the basket. If you can get guys like Sefolosha, Ibaka, and Perkins shooting jumpers, do it. The only guy who that strategy doesn’t apply to is Durant, but hell, it’s Kevin Durant. The only thing you can hope to do with him is pound his 6’11”, 125-pound frame and either wear him down or get him in foul trouble.
We now have ourselves a series.
Like the SONS on Facebook here.