Fortunately for NBA fans, they have the NBA Finals match-up that they have been craving since the playoffs began.
In previous years the NBA has missed out on the LeBron vs Kobe battle. For three years, between 2008-2011, Bryant held up his end of the bargain. Several factors, not the least of them being the Boston Celtics, kept James’ title hopes at bay.
This year the NBA players cooperated with the juiciest story line.
However, Celtics vs Spurs would have been the worst possible outcome.
Somewhere the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs are rocking backwards and forward, dusting the cobwebs off their proverbial rocking chair. A Spurs versus Celtics NBA Finals would have included a third competitor: Father Time and, frankly speaking, Time would have been the betting favorite.
But I digress.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals begins on Tuesday. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat feature a compelling collection of talent. Both teams are hungry for a title. Both team’s leading men are aware of how the impending series will affect their place in the annals of history.
Youth is a factor.
For Oklahoma City, that talent is young. Kevin Durant is 23 and just nearing his prime. Russell Westbrook is also the same age. Both will only get better over the next five years. The rest of the core are also young pups.
Charles Barkley says that young guys don’t win anything in the NBA. Well, OKC is breaking down those barriers and pushing to win before their time.
There are a myriad of outcomes that can arise though. The Dallas Cowboys won their first championship before they were supposed to. They went on to become a dynasty, winning three titles in four years. Many teams have never fulfilled their potential. Think Portland Trail Blazers of the 90s, who ran into Michael Jordan.
Game 1 is a big test for the young guns. OKC has never been in the Finals. Are they ready for the requisite pressure? Will the ancillary players tighten up?
It’s certainly possible.
Game 1 will be a huge factor towards determining the eventual series winner. Game 1 is Miami’s best chance to steal a win in the Sooner State.
A sense of urgency
The Miami Heat have reached their athletic peak. James is 27. Dwyane Wade is already slowing down. So in his third NBA Finals appearance it is winning time for the Miami Heat and legacy time for LeBron James.
And as a student of the game, he knows this.
If not now…….when?
The key stats to watch
Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers. And in case you didn’t read me correctly, turnovers. Miami turns a turnover into a dunk quicker than any other team on the planet. Their athleticism is unmatched. OKC doesn’t want James and Wade to open up an And 1 Mix Tape with cross court alley oops and breakaway lay-ups.
OKC is no slouch in that regard. Westbrook and Durant have great chemistry in the open court. Harden is great at getting to the cup before the defense is set. He’s deadly in that regard, just ask the Los Angeles Lakers.
Miami needs the transition game more than OKC does. It is imperative that they turn OKC over. If not, they can’t score enough to win.
Westbrook was a turnover machine in the regular season but in the playoffs has taken care of the rock. The Heat need a return of regular season Westbrook.
Battle of the Big 3
As always is the case, most of the attention will go to the stars. In OKC’s case Durant and Westbrook are stars. James Harden is an all-star and a top five player at his position (this sounds ridiculous until you try to find five shooting guards who are better).
The exact same tags could be applied to Miami’s big three. James and Wade are elite players while Bosh is a top five power forward.
For my money, I’ll take Miami’s Big three.
LeBron James is the best player in the NBA.Wade was once the best player in the league and is currently the second best shooting guard in the league. Bosh is just unique. He is the second best shooting big man in the NBA.
Though very talented, OKC has not seen a defense as good as Miami. Miami hasn’t seen an offense as proficient as the Thunder.
For the Heat, who checks Durant? Will it be James or Battier?
When Harden enters the game, what will be Spolestra’s strategy?
I would place Battier on Durant and use James to take Harden out of the game. His night is over at that point. He may as well hit the showers. That is a big deal because Harden is their best playmaker. He gets others involved in a way that Westbrook doesn’t naturally.
For OKC, do they allow Westbrook to check Wade?
Will Durant go mano a mano with James. If so, he will gain the respect of the league for slowing down a great player on the biggest stage.
What we know is that this will be a very close, highly contested series. With the talent this close, it figures to be a six or seven game series.
I think the sense of urgency is the biggest factor. For Miami, they need to win. If not, OKC is only getting better.
Miami is in danger of becoming the Buffalo Bills if they lose.
The threat of becoming the Bills is a huge mitigating factor. James doesn’t want to be in the Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, George Gervin category and his teammates don’t want him there either.
If OKC wins, they are truly headed towards a great run of multiple championships. Even a loss this year does not eliminate that possibility.
Miami is just more experienced and their window is closer to being closed.
They’ll close out OKC in a highly contested 6 games.