If you haven’t noticed, I took a mini hiatus after my beloved Boston Celtics broke down in the biggest Game 7 of them all**. I needed time to digest. Time to recover. Time to find my own closure. More on that later.
**Fan’s perspective. Any Game 7, involving a team you are invested in, automatically becomes “the biggest Game 7 of all”. It’s chronological too—this most recent NBA Game 7 is somehow bigger than that Yankees-Red Sox Game 7 of a few years ago.
This piece… it’s all about the NBA Finals. The “other” matchup.
Don’t get me wrong: OKC-Miami? Huge. It represents a new phase of basketball. One that us fans (hopefully) get to enjoy for the next 5+ years. We’re talking about annual contention from OKC. Miami. Los Angeles-B (Clippers, not Lakers)**. Philadelphia. Minnesota? Milwaukee?
**By the end of this proposed era, I think the Clippers become recognized as LA-A. As in Los Angeles-Alpha. As in Blake’s city—not Kobe’s.
It’s a real shift. I’m not saying the old favorites won’t be in the picture. But they need to make a lot of changes and transitions to keep up. This game is getting faster and fancier. This isn’t going to be a world ruled by your Spurs. Or your Celtics. Or your Lakers. And it begins tonight.
I want to take a few moments and try to break down both teams and compare. Then I’ll make my prediction. I hope my thoughts come across well—I give a slight cold shoulder to OKC for being the team my Celtics used to be; I absolutely hate the Heat.
OFFENSE: These are high-octane offenses. It’s completely justifiable to think that this may be the highest-scoring NBA Finals ever. Both teams have a pure star that can swing a game at will—yet neither is considered that team’s #1 guy. Both teams have a third option, if Plan A and Plan B just aren’t clicking. That’s where things separate a little. I want to discuss the roles of the benches in their own category, but there’s no denying that bench-play is the deciding factor here. Miami has a Big 3—but that’s about it. If James can’t get it started, Wade has to get going. And if Wade can’t do it, then Bosh has to step up. But if somehow all three are sputtering, who does Miami go to? Mario Chalmers? Mike Miller? No thanks. The Thunder have Durant, Westbrook, and Harden to carry the scoring load. But they also get reliable, timely contributions from Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher, and Daequan Cook. ADVANTAGE: OKC
DEFENSE: As fair and even as I see the two offenses, I think the defenses are just as fair. I don’t believe either team has a real lockdown D that suffocates opponents (sorry, Miami… you never truly snuffed out Boston as much as Father Time did). But they do have some nice pieces. I will give LeBron James credit in one area and one area only—his chasedown D. He is definitely the master of chasing a guy down and blocking the shot from behind. He doesn’t make enough contact to call a foul; he simply makes the great defensive play. But that’s not enough to give the advantage to Miami. Ever heard of Serge Ibaka? Yeah, the guy averaged more than 3 blocks a game for the season. And he had double-digit block numbers three times this season. Double-digit blocks! Even if you take out Ibaka, you still have to worry about Durant and Perkins swatting you out of the air. But the thing about OKC is, again, that potent offense. They just worry about outscoring their opponents. Miami gets the nod because they do play traps and zones well. When they want to. ADVANTAGE: Miami
BENCH: One name is all I need to say here. James Harden. The Beard alone is more valuable than the D-League sitting on Miami’s bench. Oh… and there’s that old guy with tons of playoffs/NBA Finals experience… that I would definitely trust with the last shot. No, not Juwan Howard… something Fisher… I think he might have played with the Lakers for a season or two. ADVANTAGE: OKC
HYPE: This debate could go on forever. The hype surrounding these teams is unbelievable. OKC has that young, fresh innocence. Miami is just in-your-face, full of swag. Between jersey sales and other merch… celebrities and personal guests… this NBA Finals is the social media event of the year. Twitter is about to blow-the-eff-up. Rap stars… glasses with no lenses… backpacks… crazy sweaters… Kate Upton… This is going to be bigger than the Super Bowl in many ways. ADVANTAGE: Push
DRIVE: This is where the Thunder are lacking the most. I’ve mentioned it to people before while watching OKC games. They just look like they’re having too much fun. It’s too lackadaisical. Too much “time is on my side”/”there’s always next year” going on. The Heat… well, they’re feeling the heat. They lost to Dirk and the Mavs last year; they nearly blew it against rival Boston this year. If they don’t bring home the ring, their window is pretty much closed. They don’t have the massive edge in talent and success that they were thought to have when they started the South Beach party. Dwayne Wade already has a ring—he’s tasted success. If LeBron fails again, that becomes his label. Probably forever. ADVANTAGE: Miami
COACHING: I don’t know much about Scott Brooks. I rarely see him quoted in interviews and recaps. I don’t see him getting T’ed out there. He’s like a quiet guide. And he’s surrounded by success. Spoelstra, on the other hand, is like an abused puppy. He keeps smiling and pretending like everything is ok, but you can tell that he realizes he doesn’t mean anything. He’s the coach because somewhere there exists a rule that says all teams need a coach. He seems like a likable guy. But he’s more damaged than Rihanna. ADVANTAGE: OKC
THE LAST SHOT: How many players is each team comfortable with taking the last shot? OKC has a few. Durant is quickly becoming one of the best closers ever. He’s stone-cold. Westbrook can deliver. Harden has already picked up a reputation for dropping the hammer. Derek Fisher is still in the league, mostly for his ability to be clutch. That’s 4 on OKC. Call it 4.5 because I honestly think I would trust a hot-handed Ibaka. Miami has LeBron (kinda). They have Wade. For some reason they like to try to give it to Haslem sometimes. And a sorta-injured Bosh. So they have 2.5. Even if LeBron WANTED the last shot, there’s no way I’d give it to him. Maybe he makes it… but more than likely, he doesn’t. ADVANTAGE: OKC
Final tally—OKC 4, Miami 2. With one push.
I feel like I was pretty subjective with my analysis. Took a shot at James, but I gave him credit too.
I wanted Boston-OKC. I wanted Perkins back in Boston. I wanted Garnett, Pierce, and Allen to go out with a ring. I wanted Rondo to show, again, that he is ready to lead Boston to the next era.
I got OKC-Miami. As a basketball fan, I know that I’m glad.
Prediction? OKC in 6. And an entire summer of doubts for LeBitch.