My intentions were to have a post submitted the day of Game 1 for your reading pleasure. I was going to give you my perspective on what I felt was going to happen in this series. I was going to dissect the strategies of both the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. I was going to make my bold prediction on the outcome of this series. I was really looking forward to writing this. So what happened? It wasn’t laziness or scared of being wrong. No my ambitions to submit my first ever NBA Finals preview was stymied by the 2012 version of the Swine flu. Imagine the worst Las Vegas style bachelor party hangover mixed with the feeling that somebody has beat every joint in your body with hammer. That feeling is exactly how I felt these past 48 hours. I am not sure where I contacted the 2012 Swine Flu but I know I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemies. Well, except for whoever decided to invent the Rollo McFlurry at McDonald’s. That evil bastard is going to single-handedly crush any aspiration I ever had to squeeze my luscious buns into my college jeans.
As I lay bedridden and too weak to even type on a laptop, I thought to myself, “How can I make this up to my NBA junkie readers (at the same time wondering if they even exist)?” Tuesday rolls around, I drudge my feeble body into work to grind one out and then make it home to muster up the strength to get my “honey do” chores done early enough to sit down and watch every second of the NBA Finals. Right before the game I finally decide on how my next Cosby Sweaters submission was going to play out. I knew I wanted to give you the best possible insight that I could provide of what happened in Game 1. I wanted to be original and without influence. So I shut down all forms of instant social media, Twitter and Facebook, and fired up the iPad notes app. From start to finish I dissected what was happening as it happened. I went straight from the game to my laptop before the Swine flu sapped the last amount of energy I had. So here’s how Game 1 played out from my vantage point.
The energy, as usual, at home for the Thunder is undeniable. The fans there are some of the best in the league and a NBA Finals couldn’t be in a better place this year…Except maybe Seattle. Sorry Sonics fans. Early on the Miami Heat are showing the most poise. They are moving the ball fluidly and effectively. This is providing wide open looks for guys like Battier and Chalmers who are taking and making. This is not a typical start for the Heat. The odd matchups they have created with not starting Bosh is clearly the first adjustment that the Thunder are going to have to make. The Heat better not get comfortable with living by the three pointer. This is “fools gold” and I am certain these won’t be falling in crunch time. It is extremely early but OKC is definitely going to have to accept the fact that small ball is how they are going to beat Miami. There is also no doubt that the Thunder have a case of the butterflies. This was to be expected from such a young team.
Although LeBron isn’t playing awful he isn’t playing aggressive. He doesn’t seem to have that much interest in probing Durant and the help defense from the OKC bigs. This is not going to work the entire game unless he starts getting into the paint. Heat played better than the Thunder in the first quarter but it was a mirage if you ask me. If I am pulling for the Heat I need the bulldozing LeBron James. The first quarter ends with a ridiculous step back three from Harden that sends a message, “We are here and we aren’t backing down.”
The Heat start the second frame the same way they played the first. The ball movement by the entire Heat team is eliminating the shot blockers for OKC. Guys like Battier, Bosh, and Chalmers keep bagging the open jumpers. Can they actually keep this up? My money is on the fact that they won’t and you have to think Scott Brooks is feeling the same way. LeBron provides us with a small segment of plays that epitomize his epic Game 6 performance against the Celtics. When he gets to the most effective place on the floor for him, the paint, he shows why he is the most dominant player in the NBA. The problem I see brewing is that LeBron isn’t doing it enough. OKC is getting a nice 2nd quarter contribution from Derek Fisher. Hell he just made a contested layup with D-Wade in his face. Something tells me that Fisher has one more of those “No he didn’t” late game jumpers in him. Maybe I am wrong but isn’t that why the Thunder signed him?
I am expecting a surge from the Thunder midway through the 2nd quarter. They seem to whether their opponent’s best shot early on and then find their groove about now and begin the methodical annihilation of their opponent for the remainder of the game. However there is roughly four minutes left in the 2nd quarter and the Thunder have yet to settle down. They are turning the ball over too much. Mario Chalmers is playing with confidence. He has 10 first half points.
Durant’s monster dunk may be the start of solution to the Thunder’s deficit. Ibaka follows Durant’s lead and finishes strong in the paint. Spoelstra is refusing to play Anthony who is there only true low post defender. The Thunder will win if they exploit this. The Thunder close the final three minutes of the quarter with the best stretch of basketball on both ends of the quarter to close the gap to a seven point Heat lead at the half. The Thunder should bottle up how they finished that quarter and make that the blueprint for the second half. If Westbrook settles down and plays within himself he can get into the paint at really influence the outcome of this game. The Heat need LeBron to take over in the second half, I just can’t see Battier and Chalmers continuing this hot shooting.
The Heat have started the 3rd quarter as sloppy as the Thunder started the 1st quarter. OKC has come out with every intention of ramping up their defensive pressure. Sefalosha is wreaking havoc on the defensive side, Westbrook and Durant are finding ways to score in the paint, and just like that the Thunder have cut the lead to one point with almost eight minutes to play in the 3rd. Momentum has officially swung. Spoelstra calls the timeout to stop the bleeding. If his plan does not include telling LeBron to “freight train” himself into the paint then they will never recover from this Thunder run. Out of the timeout both teams are trading baskets. While the Heat can’t seem to get a stop, neither can the Thunder keep from preventing LeBron into the paint. I am serious when I ask this, how hard can Spoelstra’s job really be? The offense should flow through LeBron at all times. He has a skill set that nobody else in the league has. LeBron can attack from all parts of the floor. Yet he has never had anyone tell him to do that every chance that he has. Why doesn’t anyone challenge him to do that every game?
For some reason both teams have a stretch through the 3rd quarter where they are just chucking jumpers. The problem is nobody is hitting them. The first team that figures out that the paint is free for the taking will win this game. Russell Westbrook appears to have figured this out. He is currently abusing the Heat with relentless attacks to the hoop. When he plays within himself he looks unstoppable. When he starts forcing things that aren’t there is when his detractors feel their point is being made. Right now his detractors are not saying anything. He is setting up the Thunder for the big push. The Heat’s interior defense is…um…well…nonexistent. Is it me or does Dwyane Wade look like he has lost a step? Fatigue is definitely starting to set in for the Heat. Look out this might get ugly in the fourth. The Thunder now lead after three quarters.
Surprise, surprise! The Heat start the 4th quarter stale and lifeless. The Thunder onslaught has begun. The Thunder are getting the second chance points. Any minute now is when Durant tells his teammates, “Scooch over, it’s Durantula time!” Right on cue, Durant is bagging jumpers from all over and abusing whichever Heat player is catching him on the switch. Somehow the Heat are still keeping it close while showing no signs of an offensive strategy and poor shot selection from Wade and James. It takes roughly half the quarter for LeBron to score his first two points of the quarter. How did he get it? From posting up on the block…What a novel idea!!! There are five minutes to play and Durant has 13pts to LeBron’s 2pts. We all know that this means LeBron is back on choke alert with the sports media. You know what? If the Heat are going to win this title is going to have to be while riding on the shoulders of LeBron James.
With three minutes to play the game is still statistically within reach, but I am not getting any vibes from a single Heat player that they are going to make a run. Durant and Westbrook just keep taking turns poking holes in the Heat interior defense. As the final minutes tick down, you get the sense that if Spoelstra doesn’t find a way to address the fact that the Thunder can get into the interior of the Heat’s defense at will, then we can expect an extremely short series.
I know by now that all of these playoffs have been about team’s making adjustments. The good news for the Heat is that they get two days of rest and that they know what they did wrong in Game 1. Defensively the Heat must force the Thunder to beat them from the perimeter. Offensively, their offense should consist of touches for LeBron and Wade in the paint. Most importantly, LeBron needs to have his DNA on every Heat possession. Now this is easier said than done. The Thunder are clicking on all cylinders and seem to have an answer for any type of strategy you throw at them. Their ability to make adjustments, more importantly, successful adjustments is the reason they appear to be unbeatable at the moment. However, they are still young and can be forced into playing a brand of basketball that is full of bad decisions. It can be done. The problem is I haven’t seen anyone be able to do that since the Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Durant, Westbrook, and Harden are in assassin mode and the role players are doing their jobs exceptionally well.
Spoelstra has a big decision to make. It may take one more game (and a potential Game 2 loss) to realize this, but he has to play Joel Anthony more. If the Thunder get to the paint it shouldn’t be that easy for them to score. If they can’t prevent the Thunder from dominating the lane then LeBron, Wade, and crew will have a very intriguing offseason that will come sooner rather than later. Let’s just hope that the Heat are willing to provide us with some intrigue to the end of this current NBA season. That’s all I am rooting for…well…That and a speedy recovery from the Swine flu.
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