Here we are, right we many expected us to be.
Miami and Oklahoma City were the preseason favorites, by most, to reach the NBA Finals, and after 66 regular season games, 33 combined playoff games, elimination and statement games, we’re here. Where amazing happens, right?
The Thunder are the sensible (and popular) pick. They have the best shooter in the league in Kevin Durant. They have a gritty, angry point guard in Russell Westbrook. They have one of the most lethal sixth men in the league (who is going to get grossly overpaid in free agency) in James Harden. They have the Defensive Player of the Year in Serge Ibaka. They have a defensive stalwart in Thabo Sefolosha. They have homecourt advantage. They have rest. They’re doing it the ‘right’ way.
The Heat are the villains. They have a trio of guys that, by public perception, have fallen incredibly short of expectations. Depending on who you listen to, they have legacies on the line. They have the pressure. They have an inept coach in crunch time (actually, both teams do). They’ve been here before, but faded when it mattered. They don’t have nearly the quality of depth that their opponents possess. They’re doing it the ‘wrong’ way.
So who ya got? Well, let’s lay a few things out.
1) You hate, no, loathe, LeBron. He’s not clutch. He’s a jerk. He’ll never be Jordan. Hell, he might never be Kobe. He’s made poor decisions and one really bad Decision. He’s worried about what you think about him. He travels every time. OK, everyone travels, but you get the point.
2) You love Kevin Durant. He’s a team player. He’s doesn’t make a spectacle in the media. He quietly announces on Twitter that he’s re-signing with the franchise that drafted him and staying in the city that idolizes him. He’s ‘just trying to get better’ and hits as many clutch shots as anyone in the league.
4) And this.
But it can’t be that simple, can it? Not completely. But the fact is your heart is leading your head based on how you feel about the polarizing front men for the league’s two best teams. You either want LeBron to finally get his first ring or you don’t want him to ever get one. Ever.
Now that we’ve dealt with your heart, let’s look at your head. Again, what do we know?
1) The 2-3-2 format could alter the outcome. If Miami steals one in OKC and takes two of three at home (where the Heat were 28-5 during the regular season and are 8-2 in the playoffs), that means Miami goes back to OKC for Game 6, up 3-2 with two chances to clinch. Then again, the Thunder were 26-7 at home during the regular season haven’t dropped a game on their court all postseason.
2) Russell Westbrook very well could shoot the Thunder out of a win. While it’s Durant’s team, Westbrook has no problem taking five shots in six possessions, make or miss.
3) Russell Westbrook very well could win a game for the Thunder singlehandedly. Westbrook is among the fastest point guards in the league, and while his stubbornness can often be hindering, it can also create havoc on fast breaks and when the Thunder offense goes stagnant.
4) The Thunder and the Heat were elite scoring teams in terms of field goal percentage. In fact, OKC and Miami were 3-4 in the league during the regular season and 2-3 during the postseason. The only difference really being that the Thunder can settle for jumpers during long stretches and, as a Duke fan, I’ve seen what can go wrong when shots aren’t falling.
5) Sadly, the way this series is called is going to affect the outcome. Miami is a more physical team and is at its best when LeBron and Wade are aggressive and taking it to the rack. If Miami is ‘getting’ calls, Kendrick Perkins will foul out at least twice.
6) Nobody can effectively guard Durant, except for Russell Westbrook. (see above)
7) Nobody can effectively guard LeBron James, except for LeBron James. LeBron has a tendency to disappear for long stretches during games that aren’t Game 6 or 7 of the ECF. And we all know how he likes to settle for jumpers rather than drive at times.
Who should you hitch your wagon to? Whoever you want. Just try to enjoy this series for what it is – a gift. We could have been subjected to another volume of Lakers-Celtics. We could have gotten Spurs-Pacers. Theoretically, we could be watching a Derrick Rose-less Bulls and the Clippers. None of the above were likely, but I’m just saying it could be worse. We have arguably the top two players in the league going head-to-head for the title. You can even make it a good vs. evil showdown if that makes you feel better.
Me? I think whoever wins Game 6 wins it all. That leads to three scenarios: 1) Miami wins in 6; 2) OKC wins in 6; or 3) the Thunder come back to OKC down 3-2, win Game 6 and ride the momentum to win Game 7.
I’ll be going with my heart.
LeBron, er, Miami in 6.