Instead of typing three separate posts, I decided to wrap all three into one big one. First, let’s play the Blame Game. Be sure to answer the question :).
I believe the answer is Scott Brooks. Why? Well, simply because he didn’t make the necessary adjustments to limit LeBron James from picking them apart in the mid-post, especially in Game 5. If you remember all the way back to last year’s Finals, Rick Carlisle deployed a number of defenses against the Miami Heat and ended up stifling LeBron and Dwyane Wade. They played tough man-to-man in the beginning, then they would switch to a zone coming out of a timeout, then back to man-to-man, then back to zone. If in football you ran a basic 4-3 or 3-4 defense, giving the offense the same look almost every single time, your team would get blasted because the offense would adjust, shift their play-makers around by putting them in places where they can be successful. Dallas did that last year. Oklahoma City failed to do that this year. Last night, LeBron sat in the mid-post and played “Pick Me” with his teammates. He ended up with 13 assists for a reason and I will give about 40% of those assists to his teammates making shots, especially Mike Miller. I would have liked to see Oklahoma City play some zone against Miami because they are longer and their bigs are more athletic than Dallas’ were last season. What goes into playing a series is the players buying into what the coaches are telling them and making adjustments along the way. Shane Battier killed the Thunder the entire series and Mario Chalmers was doing them in by the end of the series. It was clear that Oklahoma City didn’t make any defensive adjustments, nor did they make any offensive adjustments. The Thunder was lucky that this wasn’t a four-game sweep.
It’s typical that on the first day of classes everyone shows up. It’s usually the shortest class of the semester where all the professor does is hand out the syllabus and lightly read it over to you. Twenty minutes later, he or she asks “Are there any questions?” Of course there isn’t and he or she dismisses you. From there, it’s everyone for themselves. Some days you might have 60%, 20%, 85%, or 10% (10% on a Friday for sure) show up. But when there is an exam, you see people you have never seen or didn’t even know they were in the class before. Well, last night was Miami’s exam. And everybody showed up: Chalmers, Battier, Miller, Norris Cole, Chris Bosh, LeBron, and Wade. Miami put on a shooting clinic that I totally didn’t expect. LeBron was diming teammates like he was giving out answers on a test. Chris Bosh was yelling at people, getting the crowd fired up the only way he can: having the weirdest “tough-guy” look on his face. Wade and co. were efficient, answering one question every forty-five seconds (not really), making it seem like they were draining every shot they took (Wade, Miller, Battier, and Chalmers combined for 21-37 FG and totaled 64 points). Even head coach Erik Spoelstra cracked a smile. He still doesn’t know that he is getting fired though.
I am just kidding.
And finally, I would like to bring you back to my NBA Finals Christmas List of 10 things I wanted to see happen during the Finals.
10. Add Steve Kerr to the duo of Mike Breen and Jeff Van Gundy: This is something I have begged for since the start of the playoffs. I could listen to Kerr talk all day because I really think he knows the ins and outs of the game, even better than Van Gundy. I think he would bring a new perspective, a perspective that has lacked since Mark Jackson left for Golden State. This is like asking for a new car. Sadly, I didn’t get this.
9. Better basketball from Dwyane Wade: I feel like Wade has gotten worse as a basketball player this season. To be honest, I don’t think he is a top 10 player in the league anymore: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose (when healthy), Tony Parker, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony (despite his pathetic playoff performance), Chris Paul (despite playing like a noob against San Antonio), Dwight Howard, and Andrew Bynum. I just named 13 players, for some reason, who I think are better than Wade. I would love to see him come out every game and play like we know he is capable of playing. Quit whining to the refs and play basketball, dude. Wade played well, averaging 22.6 ppg in the Finals.
8. White-Blue-White-Blue in OKC: I think you guys know what I am talking about here. Every home playoff game that the Thunder hosts, they put t-shirts on every seat and the fans wear them with great pride. One game it might be a “blue-out” and the next game it might be the traditional “white-out”. I am hoping that they do it by sections. One section is blue; the section next to it is white and so on. They have done it before and I hope they continue it again. It would be sweet if Miami did red-black or white-black. But I don’t know if you can expect anything from Miami fans. I got white-blue-white-blue in Oklahoma City during Game 2. Cross it off.
7. I don’t want to anybody to get hurt: This series has enough star-power to go around. But losing one of the six main stars would be devastating to one of the two teams. Look what happened when Miami lost Chris Bosh! They struggled against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. When he came back, he was hitting three-pointers. Now I am starting to wonder whether he was really injured, because he came back a different and better player. Mike Miller was hurt and LeBron James had cramps. Overall, everyone was OK.
6. Russell Westbrook realizing his “moments” during this series: Westbrook needs to realize when he should shoot and pass. He needs to “feel” to the flow of the game more than ever now. This is the biggest stage and I don’t want to watch Westbrook attempt shot after shot only to see it clang-off the rim time after time. Realize the times when you need to score and when you need to pass. If he does that, I think the Thunder is in a good position to win their first title in Oklahoma City. He realized his moment in Game 4, but Game 5 was dreadful. I would say I got half of what I wanted. It’s like wanting a bike, but you get a Razor scooter instead.
5. Time to earn your next contract, Mr. James Harden: I have talked about Harden for well over a year now. I keep telling people that this guy is the real deal. Well, now he has a chance to prove it. He has played extremely well in the playoffs, so far, and is already on his way to a big-time contract when he rookie contract is up. But if he wants the “real” $$$, he will need to play like a franchise player for the Thunder. His play-making ability is something special and now the world will be watching. Harden didn’t earn his next contract with his performance. The Thunder might want to keep Serge Ibaka.
4. Fearlessness of Kevin Durant in big spots: We all know that Durant is a gym-rat, works hard, and wants to ball when the game is on the line. The NBA Finals can sometimes prohibit players from taking the big shots, because of the repercussions it might on their psyche if they miss a game-winning shot. Durant shouldn’t be worried about his psyche being broken. It’s time for this kid to realize that he is the “real deal” and has what it takes to either succeed or fail in the Finals. All of his previous clutch performances don’t matter now. These next two weeks are all that matter. Durant was fearless, but he was never really in a big spot. He played well in the series, though.
3. The refs not trying to control the game: Let these boys play, please! It’s the NBA Finals and people are not paying hundreds of dollars to watch the refs blow their whistle 40-50 times a game. I don’t want to see unnecessary technical or flagrant fouls called. I want these boys to be allowed to go at each other, commit hard, clean fouls, and chatter back-and-forth to one another. After all, this is the biggest stage and it’s about the athletes, not the officials. I think for the most part, the officials did a good job, except for the blown call at the end of Game 2. They didn’t control the game, which was nice to see.
2. LeBron James v. Kevin Durant: It’s well-documented that James is a three-time NBA MVP and Durant a three-time NBA scoring champion. These two will be guarding each other most of the time and I can’t wait to find out who is the better player between the two. Personally, I thought Durant should have won the MVP this season, but James’ contributions can’t go unnoticed. He is the reason the Heat beat the Celtics in the Conference Finals. James is physically bigger and stronger than Durant, but Durant possesses amazing shot-making ability and is longer than James. James is the better defender and Durant is the better offensive threat. It will be amazing to see these two go at it until the series is decided. It was fun to see them go at-it. But it’s clear that James has the edge over Durant.
1. The greatest NBA Finals in the last 20 years: I have a feeling this series might go down as one of the greatest of all-time if we get big performances from big players. There will be plenty of opportunities to be the hero in this series and I hope players on both teams take advantage when those opportunities present themselves. We have six players who are either in or entering the prime of their career. When was the last time you could say that about an NBA Final? I wouldn’t say this was the greatest Finals in the last 20 years, because it only last five games. Grant it, most of the games were close but this was not the best Finals in the last 20 years.