As much as fans, commentators, scouts and TV personalities want to talk about LeBron James vs Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade vs Russell Westbrook and Chris Bosh vs Serge Ibaka, the 2012 NBA Finals start and end with the battle of coaching staffs headed by the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Scott Brooks.
The Heat’s Spoelstra is beginning something young coaches usually only dream of — coaching in the NBA Finals for a second consecutive year.
Spoelstra, at 41-years-old, is one of the five youngest coaches in the league and has posted an impressive 194-118 record in his four seasons as the Miami Heat’s head coach. Four playoff appearances including two NBA Finals in four seasons isn’t bad at all. Of course we know who is on the team — three of the NBA’s top 20 players: Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh — but it still takes coaching talent to reach one of the biggest stages in all of sports in consecutive seasons.
Miami’s game planner won a ring with the Heat in 2006 as an assistant coach behind now team president Pat Riley. Now it is time for him to prove he can bring a championship banner to the American Airlines Arena as the main man, not an aide.
On the other side of the finals sideline is 46-year-old Scott Brooks. He is one of the leagues ten youngest coaches and has been praised for his tutelage over a very young Oklahoma City Thunder team. Brooks won an NBA ring with the Houston Rockets in 1994 as a player, but hasn’t been to the finals as a coach, assistant or head. In his four seasons with OKC he has posted a 174-125 record and has been to the playoffs the last three years.
While Brooks has been praised, it is a well known fact Spoelstra has been questioned of his knowledge of the game and his ability, or lack there of, to take his superstars to the promised land and walk away victorious.
If Spoelstra wants his job and the satisfaction of silencing the haters who think he can’t win a ring even if he has three extremely talented players on his squad, he has to win this time around.
Last season was different. Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion — all aging veterans who are in the twilight of their career or approaching it quickly — were hungry and wanted to prove to the world they were championship material. Timely shooting, bad decisions by Miami, a struggling James, a high impact low post defense anchored by Chandler and a well passing offense made their dreams come true.
This time around, the Heat are the veterans and the guys who should be hungry after losing in six games to the Dallas Mavericks.
It’s Spoelstra’s job to fuel the fire in these guys and make them play their A-game. I’m not talking about James, Wade and Bosh. It is routine for them to bring it, except for the above mentioned 2011 finals performance from James. I think the fourth quarter jokes about James are going to be replaced with other critiques of how he only scored 45 points instead of 63 like Michael Jordan.
James will always be crucified for everything he does whether it is positive or negative.
Back to my point, Spoelstra needs to install a short fuse under the guys who have to be productive in order to secure victories: Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller and Shane Battier. I call this group, the four best players on the Heat not named James, Wade or Bosh.
Let’s face it, the Heat’s big three are not going to win a seven game series with a deep, complete team such as the Thunder. They have scorers at every position, and more importantly, superb defenders.
Thabo Sefolosha is going to give fits to Wade and Miller when he is on them. Ibaka is a force in the paint such as Chandler was last year for the Mavericks, except the Thunder’s guy is more athletic and gets to spaces faster to block or disrupt shots.
Instead of one man isolation plays for his superstars, Spoelstra has to draw up plays where the Heat actually have to pass the ball and find open looks. OKC has a strong defensive unit and can shut down the best of the best, ask the San Antonio Spurs’ Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Brooks is a technician when it comes to defensive sets and will make necessary changes whether they look good on paper or not.
In this case, Miami needs to come with more than just the three main options. Miller, broken knees and all, almost has to knock down some clutch three-pointers. We all know he can because he did it against the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Every other ECF game for Haslem had either solid or ineffective numbers in the box score. In Game 1, he didn’t score a single bucket and had few rebounds. Game 2, he went for 13 and was impressive on the glass. The Heat are going against the most athletic defense and the fastest team they’ve played in the postseason.
Spoelstra has to change match ups to help his team out such as putting Wade on Westbrook because Chalmers can not guard the Thunder’s point guard. Also, start Bosh as the center to take Kendrick Perkins out of the middle and put James at the four to battle with Ibaka. With Perkins out of the lane, the Heat have more mobility around the basket and Ibaka will be confused because James can pass the ball with the best of them. If Ibaka is on him, he is not around the guy who receives James’ pass.
The Heat have the talent to win, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they have a chance to win the championship.
The questions rely on whether or not Spoelstra will draw up a winning game plan and if he can motivate his role players enough to make a difference. James and Wades’ shoulders can only carry so much wait for so long.
Can Spoelstra balance the weight?
Tags: 2011 NBA Finals 2012 Eastern Conference Finals 2012 NBA Finals Boston Celtics Chris Bosh Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki Dwyane Wade Erik Spoelstra Jason Kidd Jason Terry Kendrick Perkins Kevin Durant Lebron James Manu Ginobili Mario Chalmers Miami Heat Mike Miller Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook San Antonio Spurs Scott Brooks Serge Ibaka Shane Battier Shawn Marion Tim Duncan Tony Parker Tyson Chandler Udonis Haslem