Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Advantage LeBron (Miami)
Wouldn't you know. Both Miami and OKC were able to do in game 3 exactly what they hadn't done the pervious two games. OKC game out of the gates strong and didn't dig themselves a double digit hole. With only a one point Miami lead at the half and a two point Miami lead at the end of the 3rd, you had to like the young bucks chances.
But amazingly enough, the Heat countered by actually finishing the game stronger and in the process even over came their own double digit deficit (10) in the 3rd quarter. And dig this - LeBron outscored Durant in the 4th quarter, 8-4. Who would have thunk it?
And so here we are now, Miami with a 2-1 series lead. Can't say that we haven't seen this before. This series now truly becomes a battle of wills. OKC, having lost two in a row to trail the Spurs in the Conference Finals, will have to duplicate that come from behind effort. The Heat, having been up 2-1 in the Finals last year - only to lose the next three games - will have to do everything in their power to handle things differently this time.
So, without further delay, here are some of the things each team may want to do to achieve their respective goals.
For the Thunder:
1) Have Sefolosha guard LeBron for a majority of the game. He has been by far their best defender this series - most notably defending Wade. Who knows if he can prevent LeBron from bullying his way to the rim, but he has length and is probably stronger than Durant. It's not that Durant can't guard LeBron, but do you really want him getting into foul trouble......again? If anything, let Durant guard LeBron the last five minutes of the game.
2) Somehow, get James Harden back into the series. Yes, he kept OKC in game 2 with 21 points, but 5 points in game 1 and 9 points in game 3 just won't get it done. OKC needs this dude to be a difference maker.
3) In game 3 Miami was 4-12 on three pointers and an incomprehensible 1-19 on mid-range jumpers......but 23-35 in the paint and 31-34 from the foul line for a total of 91 points. Can it be any more blatant what the strength of the Heat is? Maybe try a zone defense?
4) Get more production out of your bigs on both sides of the ball. In game 3, Ibaka/Perkins/Collison combined for 17 points and 19 rebounds. In game 2, they combined for 11 points and 15 rebounds. In their game 1 win - 22 points and 23 rebounds. Seems like a correlation: points and rebounds in the teens = loss, points and rebounds in the 20's = win.
5) Speed up the game and put pressure on the Heat ball handlers - all of them. At this point LeBron might be the Heat's best dribbler. Wade has made some costly turnovers when the defensive intensity was turned up on him. Who knows how Chalmers would do, but I'm sure OKC can get some TOs (and buckets) off of Battier, Miller, Cole, and Jones.
For the Heat:
1) It is "essential" that LeBron continues to shoot the ball and be aggressive. Forget the assists - Wade should have more. Keep him operating out of the post and mid-range wing. And for goodness sake, have him shoot throughout the entire 4th quarter. Is this not the perfect game to go for the kill and take a strangle hold of the series? No time to get cute and play conservative. Go all out - and go for 40!
2) Take better care of the ball down the stretch. Two games in a row, Wade has had costly turnovers late in the 4th. Luckily for Miami, neither cost them the game - but don't push it. And this is part of the reason why you want LeBron with the ball in his hands - he is the best scorer, rebounder, and ball handler for the Heat. But it's a thin line - you don't want LeBron running the point.
3) Continue to double team and deny Durant the ball in the 4th. My, this certainly worked wonders in game 3. After averaging 16.5 points in the 4th quarter for the first two games, Durant was held to 4 points in the 4th of game three. Every time Durant managed to get by LeBron in the 4th - he was confronted by Chris Bosh in the paint - once for a block, and another time to force a high degree of difficulty shot that wasn't close. Furthermore there were two particularly telling Possessions in the 4th. One where KD was doubled on the wing and the Heat deliberately left Derek Fisher open for three - the same Derek Fisher who has 5 rings and has made a living of making big shot (even in this series). But you know what? The Heat will live with Fisher beating them instead of Durant (Fisher missed the shot anyway). And on one of the last possessions, when Westbrook took the three in attempt to tie the game. Westbrook was wide open - and LeBron denied Durant. Great defense.
4) Keep having Chris Bosh do whatever it takes to help his team win. Sure he's only averaging 12 points a game. But he is also averaging 10 rebounds a game. And as noted above, his help defense was spectacular in the 4th quarter of game 3. He even is being a vocal leader out there - yelling at Chamlers a few times to get him to make the right passes. His game doesn't have to be pretty or prolific - just sufficient for the win.
5) Don't believe the hype. This is a great Thunder team who may actually be in a comfortable position. Make no mistake about it, Miami is still the underdog - and should continue to play like it. Continue to attack the rim, continue to hit the boards, continue to initiate the physical play, and continue to scrap for every lose ball. That's the only way to get this done.
Things to consider:
1) The only stats that will matter are those a week from tomorrow.
But half way through the Finals:
Kevin Durant - 31 points (57% shooting), 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers per game.
LeBron James - 30 points (46% shooting), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers per game.
Points per 4th quarter
Kevin Durant - 38 points total, ~13 per game.
LeBron James - 21 points total, 7 per game.
For Miami's games 2 & 3 wins (with LeBron mostly guarding Durant in the 4th):
Durant: 10.5 per game
LeBron: 7 per game
How will these numbers change over the course of the next 2-4 games? And how will it affect the outcome of this series???
2) With all the talk of LeBron vs. Durant, maybe there is something to this being a team game.
The Heat trio in game 3 combined for 63 points and are averaging 65 for the series.
The Thunder trio in game 3 combined for 53 points and are averaging 67 for the series.
So much for that magic number 68.
But interestingly, even with the Thunder trio outscoring that of the Heat - they are still behind in the series. As mentioned before, Shane battier may be the difference in this series right now. He is averaging 14 points a game. No one outside of the big three on OKC is averaging double figures. Confounding things for the Thunder, although Harden is averaging about 12 points a game - he has only scored in double figures once in the series.
Ironically, even though the Thunder came into the Finals looking like the more balanced and deeper team, their stars haven't gotten the necessary support while the Heat's star have.