2012 NBA Finals: Two Games In, Storylines Between The Heat And Thunder
LeBron James has been, well, LeBron. And Kevin Durant has certainly elevated his game to the level many wish he could, filling up the bucket with ease. But there is already much more to this series than Durant’s stone-cold demeanor in the fourth quarter and LeBron’s all-around brilliance.
In the first quarter, the Thunder is a small storm
In each of the opening periods in thus series, the Heat assumed large leads. In Game 1, it was a manageable ten points that was cut to seven by the second quarter’s start. In the second match, Miami started the game on a 20-5 run. Yup. OKC’s shooting was a “That’s My Boy” level of terribleness, starting 1-for-12 as Miami ran and attacked the basket at will, with everything seeming to drop for James and Dwyane Wade. The Thunder fought back in the first game but fell short in the second. Can they kick this bad habit by Sunday’s Game 3?
In both fourth quarters, the only word to describe Durant’s play would be sublime. The dude couldn’t miss. When the 23-year-old forward (he’s still 23) spotted up for some big-time three-pointers in Thursday’s game, there was no doubt that the shots would drop -- the shock would have been if it went long, clanking off the back part of the rim. But even then, possessions passed when Durant wouldn’t even touch the ball. It’s unreasonable to expect him to score on every possession. But to not even put his hand on leather? That’s a problem of the Thunder’s ball movement, which has been stagnant at times. More on this later. There was a great clip from Game 1 where Thunder coach Scott Brooks tells Durant during a timeout something to the effect, “This is your game. Ask for the ball. Demand the ball.” It’s hard to knock his hustle thus far, particularly Game 1. But at some point, Durant just needs to listen to Keyshawn Johnson’s advice and say “just give me the damn ball.”
Oklahoma City and Miami’s laziness on O
At the second half’s inception, the Heat ran a few good plays that resulted in points. But after that, the other Miami players decided it would be cool to let James go one-on-five. Piggybacking on Durant’s inability to touch the ball more frequently, sometimes Russell Westbrook sometimes ran away from Durant’s side of the floor and dribbled up. But it wasn’t just Westbrook. Harden, too. In fact, the ball just stopped moving altogether. During dull moments of Game 2, each team could be seen standing along the perimeter, waiting for the ball handler to make magic happen. This resulted in the other team starting a run. For either team to seize the series, one will need to stay focused and keep moving, making the extra pass and not settle on poor shots.
Shane Battier is a MAN
Battier’s addition to Miami has been received like a rollercoaster. In the briefest of pre-seasons, Miami’s signing of Battier was considered theft. In mid-season, the reception was lukewarm, even negative. But he has arrived the last two series, proving his viability to the Miami squad. All Battier needs to do on offense is to sit on the wing, await a LeBron or Wade kick-and-drive and make up open threes, which is exactly what the veteran forward from Duke has done. Last night, he shot 5-for-7 behind the arc. Yikes. Sparks of his defensive prowess have seeped through in the form of drawing charges, particularly on Durant.
Two games in -- and even through the entire postseason -- James has proved every bit why he was named association MVP. But, clearly, he can’t do it by himself. Wade and Chris Bosh broke out of slumps and injury aftereffects, respectively, and played roughly in the first game; however, Game 2, both All-Stars dominated with 24-point and 15-and-15 games, respectively. Role players will be critical, obviously. But if each team’s second and third wheels don’t produce up to their ability, it will be rough for either squad to perform up to their optimum ability.
Get Perkins off the floor
Most of the time, Kendrick Perkins is a great defensive anchor on the floor. Against top-notch centers, he can guard them one-on-one. The issue is that Miami doesn’t have any centers of any consequence. They play small; Bosh is more power forward than center. And since his offensive ability is limited, Perkins' addition to the team is limited. Serge Ibaka has locked it down inside, and he can shoot the 15-footer, too. Nick Collison is a non-stop energy guy who can set screens like Perkins but hustles constantly. It would not be a surprise to see Collison and Ibaka play more than 15 and 29 minutes, respectively, in the next game.
Series will be decided by points in the paint, transition
The Heat seldom settled for jump shots. For example, of the eight shots James attempted in the first 12 minutes, two were outside the paint, with five of his 22 shots ultimately from longer range. In the first game of the series, Oklahoma City outgunned Miami 24-4 on the fast break. The second bout? Miami dominated points in the paint by 15. More so than any other series, the team which gains a significant advantage in one of these categories will likely win games and eventually the series. Thankfully “Mad Men” is off the air, because the unparalleled drama that Game 3 will present can’t arrive fast enough.