Doyle Rader: With the Miami Heat one win away from their second ever NBA title, now is as good a time as any for us to talk about the Finals. Last night, the Thunder, namely Russell Westbrook, threw everything they had at the Heat in an attempt to tie the series but came up just short as they have in every game since Game 1. Plenty of people are singling out Westbrook for the foul he committed on Mario Chalmers with 15 seconds left in the game as the moment the Thunder lost the game. (They were down three points at that time.) Yet, this is a complete overreaction to the play in my opinion. If it wasn’t for Westbrook in the first place the Thunder would have likely not even been in this game. He poured in 43 points on 20 made field goals. Everything was falling for him last night. It was a performance on par with what Rajon Rondo did against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. During the presser LeBron James even likened those two performances to each other. It seems to me that a new narrative (it isn’t that new actually) is forming around Westbrook, scapegoating him, doubting him, much in the same ilk that James has dealt with throughout his career. However, James is on the cusp of shattering his previous narrative and the baggage that came with it.
Travis Huse: If we’re looking at problems here, it’s not Westy. Harden went
2-10 last night and finished with 8 points, and here’s the part where I tell
you that he was still third in the Thunder’s point totals. They managed to
beat the Spurs with an effective team play atmosphere, and they’ve lost the
contributions from Harden and Serge Ibaka. Smart team play can defeat Miami, but pitting a “Big 2” against a “Big 3” is suicide.
Casual basketball fans tend to place much more emphasis on offense than
defense, and that’s the population most affected by Anti-Westbrook Fever.
But you can’t overlook how the Heat have been able to control the tempo of
the game, and Harden looks thrown off. He was 2-10 on Sunday, as well, held
to only 9 points. If he wants the label of next-generation Manu Ginobili, he
needs to step up better now, where it really matters.
DR: You’re right, Harden has been bad, but it isn’t just his shooting. For
some reason, and there has been much to talk about concerning Scott Brooks’
rotations, Brooks insists on having Harden defend James for extended periods
of time. I know that James is a player that is difficult to defend on every
level but this simply is not where Harden should be utilized on the
defensive end. Time and again, James will just post him up since he is
bigger and stronger and the results have been devastating.
Zach Lowe over at SI.com touched on that today. By his tally, Miami scored 24 point on James post-ups. The points did not all come from LeBron as he was able to hit open teammates when double teams came his way. He finished the game with 12 assists. How can anyone stop him at this point, let alone an undersized player known more for his offense?
It’s not just Harden, though, you are correct in pointing out Ibaka’s
dramatic fall-off but Kendrick Perkins has been equally awful. He is the
wrench in the gears. Nick Collison showed flashes of brilliance against the
Heat in Game 4 but then vanished. Poof! Scott Brooks is showing us his
inexperience with these stubborn, and at times haphazard, lineups that he
has been throwing out there.
Last year Rick Carlisle showed his flexibility by inserting J.J. Barea into
the starting lineup to wondrous results for Dallas as they went on to win
the championship. Erik Spoelstra was left in the dust scratching his head as
he stuck with Mike Bibby in the starting lineup for too long. Now, Spoelstra
is in command and his small center-less lineups are rendering OKC’s bigs
TH: To be very honest, one of the biggest hindrances in Lebron’s career has
been his unwillingness to post up. He used to be very prone to jacking Josh
Smith-type 3s, so much so that every time I play against him (Miami or
Cleveland) on the 2K games, I will sag off him and make him shoot it. I
might have to change my approach with the next one. And it makes sense that
their success has revolved around his post play, because the dude is the
biggest, strongest, most athletic person that might have ever existed. The
Thunder don’t have anyone who’s going to be able to defend him without
leaving a glaring mismatch. I’m not sure anyone in the league does, and
that’s why the Heat are one win away from the championship.
They’re a stronger team than last year, and they’ve found a way for both
Lebron and Dwyane Wade to play together. Right now their bench is outplaying the Thunder bench. I don’t see any way the Thunder make it as champs, and you’re right, Spo is out-coaching Brooks. Unless something drastic changes, the Heat seem to be poised to close this one out sooner rather than later.
DR: After the body language that Durant showed last night in the post game
presser this series could wrap up Thursday night. During that presser we
witnessed the return of Durant’s backpack, which had been MIA all
postseason. It too was just as sad an dejected as Durant as he let it fall
to the floor, shoulders slumped. It reminded me of the Western Conference
Finals last year. There were many a sad backpacks to be found in that
Here’s the thing though, as I am not a true fan of either of the teams in the Finals, just a fan of the game, I have slowly come to view the post game presser as must-see throughout these playoffs. Sure, the questions are generally fluff, verging on inane at times, but I find them to be truly interesting.
Chris Bosh, who has been great this series, gives one of the best presser
interviews there are. Honestly, if more people heard him speak, instead of
instantly buying into the “Like a Bosh” or “Bosh Face” trope, they would see
just how smart, composed, and well spoken he is.
But of course the presser is all about the clothes. Man, these players
(Westbrook) wear some silly expensive shit. That said, Wade won the presser
clothes game last night when he came out wearing glasses that were straight
off the face of Dwayne Wayne from Different World.
TH: I’ve never really understood why Bosh gets so much shit. He’s a consistent 20-10 player, a perennial all star, who stretches the floor very well. His outside touch does wonders for the sometimes-anemic Heat offense, exposing the rim for the slashing of the other two stars.
It has become so commonplace to make fun of the Heat, that the worst thing I could think of has happened. I have moved past resenting them, past feeling sorry for them, into rooting for them as an underdog. Obviously, they are not the underdog, but I now feel that I have to throw stats in the faces of anyone who harps in on how much they hate the Heat.
DR: I found myself in the same place as the Finals started this year. For various and extremely biased reasons I cannot bring myself to root for the Thunder organization so that left me with only one choice. I have James many times on this blog, taking both a negative and positive view of him and his game. Seeing all the backlash towards one of the greatest players the league has ever seen has continually shocked me, though. Sure he, and the Heat have made some questionable choices in the past but does that really outweigh what goes on in a game? Miami is the most scrutinized team in sports and it is simply ludicrous to hear some of the things said about them.
The Heat deserve to win the championship this year, if for no other reason that silence the doubters who continually lob volley after volley of asinine rhetoric interspersed with buzz words at them all the while refusing to make sound judgments and arguments. At this point, if winning a championship is the only way to get it through the thick skull of some people that James is good and so are the Heat then so be it. They shall be vindicated.