Thursday, June 21, 2012
On the Cusp
The Miami Heat are on the verge of winning the NBA championship.
This shouldn't come as a shock.
But, it may be a little surprising as to how they actually got to this position.
As they have done all series long, the Thunder big three out scored the Heat's big three in game 4. The Durant/Westbrook/Harden trio combed for 79 points while the LeBron/Wade/Bosh trio combined for 66 points. For the series, the Thunder trio is averaging 70 points per game, compared the Heat trio's average of just over 65 points per game.
You would think since 3/4 of the games in this series have been decided by 6 points or less, having a -5 point deferential from their stars wouldn't bode well for the Heat.
Not when the Heat's supporting players are decisively outplaying that of the Thunder's. Not when Mario Chalmers goes off for 25 points in game 4, including the last 5 points for the Heat to close it out. Who cares about only three players? With those 25 points, the Heat's big three + 1 combined for 91 points - clearly pushing them over the top.
Truth be told, having that extra help hasn't been aberration for the Heat in the Finals. Okay, maybe Chalmers' performance was a little bit of an aberration, I mean after all with 26 for LeBron, 25 for Wade, and 25 for Chalmers the Heat became the first team in the NBA Finals to have three players score at least 25 points since the Lakers did it in 1984 with Magic, Worthy, and Abdul-Jabar. But still, the notion of a 4th player making significant contributions has been a consistent theme for the Heat thus far in the Finals.
Dig this: the Heat have had a 4th player score in double figures 3/4 games this series (Battier twice and Chalmers once). The Thunder, on the other hand, have yet to have a 4th player score in double figures.
Of course, the Thunder have also only had one game in which every member of their big three score in double figures, but that's another issue.
As stated last time, the emergence of the Heat supporting players has surely been the biggest irony - and thus far defining factor - of this series. Coming in, the Heat was the team supposed to be top heavy and lacking depth. While the Thunder was supposed to be the team more balanced with numbers and chemistry. This couldn't have been anymore opposite from the truth in game 4. Beyond Chalmers' 25 points, you had Norris Cole off the bench with 8 points, and even without scoring as much, the Heat still had Battier making winning plays by tipping a loose ball out to Chalmers with under 20 seconds to go in the game.
And then you had the Thunder, who are suddenly top heavy and without any support for their stars. In game 4 Westbrook was absolutely brilliant with 43 points and Durant - as always - was impressive with 28. But as eluded to earlier, no one else on OKC scored in double figures.
Did anyone see this turn of events coming???
I know someone that might have.
I would like to bring up something I asked LeBron a couple of weeks ago, after his 45 point, 15 rebound, and 5 assist performance in game 6 of the Eastern conference finals. After almost single handedly staving of elimination, I asked LeBron if "it was ever anymore apparent how essential it was....that he continues to shoot the ball......even if it's over 2-3 defenders?" With a laugh, he responded "This is a team game. Without my teammates we don't win this game. I am very good at math, if 2-3 defenders are on me that means someone is open. I will continue to pass the ball to my teammates when they are open. I have confidence in them that they will make the shot. That's they way I was raised and learned how to play the game. And that's the way I will continue to play the game."
After the best game of his NBA career, from an individual stand point, here you had LeBron James talking about his teammates first and how essential they are to winning. How he will willingly pass the ball, even though it's quite obvious he can score at will.
It's one thing to just say those things.
It's another thing to actually believe them.
Now go back to game 4 the other night.
LeBron had only 10 points in the first half, yet the Heat still managed to erase a 17 point first quarter deficit. Of course, LeBron also had 8 assists in the first half. He finished with 12 assists for the game.
The Heat won.
Obviously his trust and confidence in his teammates was prescient.
More importantly, it has also been rewarded.
That's why he is the best player in the world and I am just a biomedical scientist.
Let's not lose sight of the fact that LeBron, thankfully, still knows how "essential" it is for him to shoot. For the first 33 minutes of game 4, LeBron had 12 points and 12 assists on 6-11 shooting, without going to the foul line. Over the last 15 minutes of the game, LeBron had 14 points and 0 assists on 4-9 shooting and 5-8 from the line. And he knows how important it is for him to shoot - thankfully - even when barely able to walk. With under three minutes to go in the game, with the score tied, and with leg cramps, LeBron took and made a three to give Miami the lead for good.
Yes, that's trusting in/making your teammates better and dominating the game by being aggressive and scoring - even if it's mostly through shear will. Thank goodness.
And now here we are, game 5 tonight.
Keys to winning the game?
At this point, it's quite simple.
For the Thunder:
Don't let the moment get the best of you.
For the Heat:
Get the best of the moment.
Things to consider:
1) The difference between LeBron and Durant.
Has it ever been more apparent?
Durant, perhaps the most gifted offensive player in the game, is averaging 30.3 points in the Finals (on 55% shooting). LeBron, 29.3 points (on 47% shooting).
Durant is also averaging 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a little over 1 steal per game.
LeBron, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and almost 2 steals per game.
In other words, LeBron is averaging 1 point less than the most skilled offensive player in the league while being at least twice as good at doing everything else.This is no knock on KD. It's just a testament to how great LeBron is.
I think Greg anthony said it best the other night after the game:
"LeBron James may be the only player in the history of the NBA that averages 30 points a game......and that's not even what he does best."
Yes, it's been LeBron vs. Durant in the Finals.
But I just have to say something else:
Russel Westbrook is averaging 29 points (on 48% shooting), 7 assists, and 7 rebounds.
And dudes want to hate on this guy???
Westbrook's numbers are so good, Wade looks like the 4th best player in the series:
23 points (on 41% shooting), 6 assists, and 6 rebounds a game.
3) Finding ways to win
How many have the Heat discovered through their run thus far?
Down 2-1, on the road.
As a two-man show with LeBron and Wade.
Down 3-2, facing elimination on the road.
With LeBron literally doing everything.
In a game 7 - coming from behind.
With Bosh hitting three pointers.
Down 0-1, on the road.
With battier dropping 17.
With Bosh being a 12 & 10 "role player."
Down 17 in a game.
With an opponent going off for 43.
With Chalmers dropping 25.
With LeBron playing the whole game.
With LeBron not playing the last minute in a close game.
What more do you want?
Finding a way to win a 4th game in the Finals.