With Game 2 won and done by the Miami Heat, let's look at some key points from Friday's epic.
This Series Will Not Be Won by the 7 FootersThe thinking over the last decade has been that in order to win a championship you need at least one skilled 7 foot monster protecting/scoring in the paint (two if you can afford it). The Lakers (Shaq, Bynum and Gasol), Spurs (Duncan) and Dallas (Nowitski) showed that in order to survive the regular season and triumph in the post season you needed tall timber. After starting 51 of a possible 64 games for Miami in the regular season, Joel Anthony has been completely left out of the rotation. In a possible copycat move Eric Spolstra has moved Chris Bosh to the Centre postion (a la Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett) meaning the sub par rotation of Anthony and Turiaf were kept on the pine. OKC on the hand have greater options at the position but aren't using them in crunch time. Kendrick Perkins, once seen as the ticket to the Finals, has become a liability and is fouling too much. Serge Ibaka has been alright defensively but Nick Collison is the go to man for the Thunder with good reason. This series will be decided by the superstars at the SF (Durant/James) and PG/SG (Wade/Westbrook) positions, not the big men in the middle.
This is Not the Same LeBron James of OldIn what was a funny and fairly accurate running joke in seasons past, the talk about LeBron fading in the spotlight has not been warranted this playoff run. His numbers have been off the chart in the post season and another solid game of 32-8-5 (including 12-12 FTs) solidified his postion as the rock of this team. When others around him have been inconsistent (Wade/Chalmers) or injured (Bosh) LeBron has been putting up big numbers and leading the team in every major category excepted blocks.
Westbrook Will Continue to Take More Shots Than DurantAfter seeing the shot attempts from Game 1 and 2 (Westbrook 10-24 & 10-26, Durant 12-20 & 12-22) one would think that Durant should take more shots. Westbrook thrives on being a hyperactive speed demon in the open court and the bad shots that he kept taking in seasons past are now occuring less and less. Something tells me Durant is happy to share the load with his max contract buddy after all the rumours about a falling out between the two superstars. Scoring points is now secondary to getting the W in Durant's mind and knowing he is still the main crunch time option is enough. Letting Westbrook take his shots (hit or miss) is the best thing for the team and Durant knows this. There is nothing worse than a player playing against his instincts and remember that Westbrook was a SG for UCLA before being drafted by the Thunder.
Miami Still Have ProblemsThe past offseason was a chance to address Miami's front court and PG issues and their move was to sign Shane Battier, who plays the same position as their best player. While Norris Cole was a valuable pick up in the draft, he hasn't really shown the consistency needed to make an impact and subsequently Coach Spo isn't playing him much in the Finals. Battier has been a bright spark in the Finals after a forgettable season shooting wise (38.7% FG & 33.9% 3P Regular Season, 36.5% FG & 37.1% 3P Playoffs). His shooting so far against the Thunder reads 70.6% FG (12-17), 69.2% 3P (9-13) but those numbers will have to regress to the mean at some point and I'm not sure if Miami can find those extra points. Although the Thunder front court has struggled I don't think Scott Brooks will give up on them just yet given the level of play we have seen them produce all season. If Ibaka or Perkins get going then there will be much more space for Durant, Westbrook and Harden to operate with on the perimeter. Miami simply don't have the size or strength to deal with an Ibaka or Perkins in beast mode.
This Will Be an Epic SeriesWhen the 2012 Playoffs started (rather abruptly) there was a sense that any team could win it (except maybe Utah) and that every game would be fought hard. Unfortunately the effects of the shortnened season had taken their toll and as the injuries piled up the play became rougher and the games had a little less meaning. The Conference Finals somewhat made up for the poor play in previous rounds and now we have reached the Finals I am excited that this will be one for the ages. Durant and Westbrook vs James and Wade. Heat vs Thunder in the must see rivalry for this season and beyond for the NBA.
Will Battier keep his shooting up in Game 3 and will OKC Surprise the Heat on their home court? Let us know what you think.