Sunday, June 17, 2012
What? Did you really think things would be different by now?
The two best teams in the League.
The two best players in the world.
At this point, it may be too close to call.
With a small sample size, we have seen the Heat come out of the gates strong while the Thunder finish strong. Would it be too much to say that for a team to take control of this series, they will have to do the opposite of what they have done thus far?
As the scene shifts to south beach for game three, here are some of the positives for each team, as well as perhaps some adjustments to be made and things to consider.
The good news for the Thunder:
1) Kevin Durant is absolutley having his way in the 4th quarter this series. He is averaging 16.5 points in that quarter through the first two games. You have to feel confident if the game is close down the stretch and/or don't have to overcome a huge first half deficit.
2) Despite everyone chastising him, Russell WestBrook's numbers are amazing: 27 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebonds per game. You know, he may actually have soemthing to do with the fact that Durant is sometimes being left open for three - as incredulous as that is.
3) James Harden looked Durant-esque in the first half of game two. If he consistently gets it going, that's three players the Heat may not have an answer for.
4) Despite trailing by 17 points in game 2, the Thunder nearly came out of OKC up 2--0
5) Shane Battier won't have more performances like he did in games 1 & 2......will he?
The good news for the Heat.
1) Despite looking incredibly shaky during most of the 4th quarter of game 2, LeBron had huge plays with less than two minutes to go - hitting a jumper to push the lead to 5, stopping/fouling Durant with under 10 seconds to go, and hitting two free throws with 7 seconds to go to seal the deal. Heck - I would even say the three pointer he took (and missed) with 13 seconds to go was great. It showed a willingness to go for the kill and take big shots.
2) Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh brought their A- and A games, respectively. Wade didn't necessarily dominate, but he had a bounce in his game and made big plays at the rim. 16 points for Bosh was big, but 14 rebounds was huge.
3) Is it me, or has LeBron not played his best basketball yet? Sure, 31 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 2.5 steals a game is out of this world. But he is shooting under 50% from the floor and is only 3-16 from outside the paint. My goodness, what happens when he starts making his jump shot???
4) Ibaka and Perkins have not been difference makers thus far. In fact, playing small ball with Battier at the 4 has worked overwhelmingly in the Heat's favor.
5) The Thunder star trio out scored that of the Heat's in game two (80-72). They are averaging more in this series (76-65.5). Yet the Heat still won game two and the series is tied.
For the Thunder:
Kevin Durant is shooting 57% for the series. He is averaging 34 points a game......on 21 shots. Maybe it would be a good idea to get him some more shots, especially early on. That might actually help with the Thunder's slow starts. Open and close with Durant.
On that same note, how about moving Westbrook to the two, at least in half court offense? James Harden is more than capable of running the one. But of course, still let Westbrook do his thing on the break and in transition.
What about playing small to match Miami? How about Ibaka/Collison at the 5, Durant at the 4, Sefolosha guarding LeBron, and Wesbtrook and Harden up top? Put Durant on Battier. His length will bother Battier's shots and keep him out of foul trouble from guarding LeBron.
For the Heat:
Under no circumstances should you leave Kevin Durant to help on someone else. You would think this is intuitive, but there were actually times, even in the 4th, where Durant was left open.
Don't set on the ball screens for LeBron, especially in the 4th. The Thunder will just double him and force him to pass the ball. If you think anything like me, having the ball out of LeBron's hands is NOT a good thing. Instead, keep him in the post or on the mid-range wing. If anything, set off the ball screens for him.
Actually, run more on the ball screens for Wade. As seen in game 2, he is still quite adept and weaving through defenders to get to the basket, either for a score or assist. And, when LeBron made that critical shot in the fourth, it was off a play in which Wade initially drove and then passed it back out. Wade seems to be more effective this way and there is nothing wrong with him having more assists that LeBron.
Things to consider:
1) As mentioned above, the Thunder star trio is Outscoring that of the Heat's. But there are some interesting trends developing here.
The first is the emergence of Shane Battier, who is averaging 17 points a game in his first ever Finals. If you throw him into the equation - to make a big 4 if you will - the Heat then combined for 89 in game two and are at 82.5 for the series. That puts them over the top. Who would have thought the Finals might come down to the ability of the Thunder to contain Shane Battier?
Additionally, the Thunder's offense is clearly situated around perimeter play. The Heat on the other hand have Bosh as a post player and LeBron geared towards playing out of the post as well. Usually, over the course of a game and series, layups tend to beat jump shots - no matter how good of a shooter you are (57% for Durant).
2) What is your definition of clutch?
Someone who has 16 points in the 4th quarter, but misses a 10 foot jump shot to tie the game?
Or, someone who was 1-3 for 2 points in the 4th quarter, 2-14 in the series on jump shots, but makes a contested jumper late in the 4th to push the lead back to 5? And that same someone was around 70% from the foul line for the playoffs but makes 12-12 on the road, including 2 with 7 seconds to go.
I'm just saying.