We’re finally at the pinnacle of the NBA season. All chips are on the table and everyone is giving their all at this point. Coaches are pulling all of the stops in order to win four more games on the race to 16.
Each player is going to leave their heart on the floor for these games. This eclipses every moment in their lives; this is what the fruits of their labor have brought them too and they don’t want to leave the arena empty handed.
This is the match-up that people wanted to see. The Thunder and the Heat are two of the most polarizing teams in the NBA. You either love them or you hate them. Either way, you can’t deny the skill level of either side. This match-up had been the most popular of preseason Finals picks, including mine. Of course, I fluctuated from that when the Spurs caught fire, but now that its here I couldn’t be happier.
It should be a great match-up and one that we’ll see many more times to come possibly. Both teams are looking to start a dominant streak in the NBA and they’ll need to get each other out of the way in order to do so.
This time around its a very close match-up between these two teams. They split the season series 1-1 and neither team seemed really overpowering one way or the other.
They each have weaknesses that the other will attempt to exploit.
When watching the film, one thing I noticed is how often Oklahoma City ran Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefalosha off of curls and pin-downs. More often than not Miami would the screen receiver off of these curls and leave the big wide open on the baseline. In game one of the regular season this was a problem for the Heat as their rotations to the bigs off of the pocket passes were awful. Kevin Durant finished the game with 8 assists, most of which were from these pocket passes that we were seeing.
Miami also couldn’t stay in front of Oklahoma City from what I saw. They had a problem keeping up with them off of their dribble penetration. The Thunder are at their best when penetrating. It allows for easy jumpers and dunks for spot-up guys because of the way the defense collapses on their big three when driving. In the film, Miami had at least three guys focused on the drive after one got beat. The corner three and the 15 foot baseline jumper will surely be an option for the Thunder here.
I think we’ll see a lot more of Westbrook off of the ball just as we throughout the playoffs. He hasn’t dominated the ball as much as he did throughout the regular season and as a result there have been less turnovers and better assist numbers for Russell. He’s playing the best that he has in his life at the right moment and I think that’s because there is less on his plate. He’s been allowed to react more than think. Oklahoma City has really used Durant and Harden as facilitators more than ever.
On Miami’s side, they’ll need to use screening to get some open looks for their guys. Expect a lot of pick and roll throughout this series. I think we’ll see a lot more of the Wade-James PnR as well since we’re in the NBA Finals. They have to do everything in their power to win one right now and that’s an almost unstoppable combination.
We’ll see a lot of small ball throughout this series as well. In the season series both sides played multiple quarters with James and Durant at the four. That should be a great match-up for us to watch. The question is how early will each side go to their small ball line-ups. Since Bosh was out of the line-up for so long I think that this is something that Miami has grown more and more comfortable with. We’ll probably see LeBron James at the five just as we did a few times in the Celtics series.
The Thunder single covered LeBron James many times with multiple defenders during the regular season series. They used Sefalosha, Harden, Westbrook, and Durant on James. In the second match-up they decided to double James more often than in the first. I like James being single covered more because of his ability to see the floor so well. He makes across-the-court passes so well and that hurts your double team no matter where its coming from. He’s always looking for the open guy and when he sees the double he always finds him.
Wade was covered mostly by Sefalosha and Harden. The Thunder had Westbrook on him for a few short stints but not too often. I don’t think that the Thunder like the match-up of Westbrook on Wade. I’m not sure why but they didn’t use it as much as I thought they could’ve. He was usually with Chalmers instead of cross-matched.
One thing I noticed with Wade is that when he was covered by Durant for a few short stints that really bothered him. With Wade, length can sometimes get the best of him when he tries to drive to the rim. He’ll put up ridiculous shots and if you stay straight up you’ll get a good contest. Durant really bothered him at times and I think we could see that a lot more during this series.
Chris Bosh will be a huge factor in this one. Whether or not he comes of the bench is big because it can counter James Harden’s bench scoring and open up so many driving lanes with Miami and their second unit. They’ll need some points to counter the high-powered Oklahoma City offense so why not bring him off of the bench? That’s a huge decision that I think can be a series changer here.
I’d like to see Nick Collison on Bosh throughout the series. I think he has the foot speed and length to bother him defensively. Bosh will get his numbers but as long as you make him struggle to do so I think your mission is accoomplished. If I’m Miami, I’d keep Bosh on the perimeter as much as possible.
To free Bosh up during the season series Miami used free throw line brush screens two or three times. They used another big to set a screen for Bosh and he made the catch with the choice of shooting a jumper or driving the lane. That was something creative that I liked and we could see it more often during this series. Oklahoma City didn’t really have an answer for it because their bigs aren’t used to fighting through screens.
Overall, this series is pretty even. I think we all wanted this match-up at the end of the day. Its a battle of epic proportion that could decide who the most dominant team is in the NBA for the next three to five years. There are a lot of toss-ups in it and a lot of fun match-ups.
I know how you all are and you’ll want a prediction from me, so here it is: Give me Oklahoma City in seven games.
People have said that Oklahoma City has never seen a defense as good as Miami’s is. They forget one thing–Miami has never seen an offense this explosive either. And they’re an explosive offense on a consistent basis as well. The Oklahoma City defense isn’t a bad one either. They’ve got a great rim protector in Serge Ibaka and some good perimeter defenders. That’s what you need when playing an offense like Miami’s.
This should be a great series either way it goes. I hope you all are as excited for tonight as I am.