Had a fun conversation on the air with the Out of Bounds crew in Tampa Bay on WTMY 1280 AM, followed by great running dialogue throughout game 4. Tonight during and after the game, my die-hard basketball family and I spit pure gold.
So let’s dive into game 4 of the NBA Finals. This series is European style basketball, meaning it’s all perimeter. The bigs aren’t involved, and that includes Chris Bosh. Bosh may need to assert himself but I put that blame on Dwyane Wade. Sure, Wade played better in game 4 when you reflect on the rest of the series, but in reality, isolate this game and he turned in another mediocre performance. He continues to isolate himself into forced situations and play “hero ball.” Miami can afford to be off and on individually and still win games, and they’re one away from accomplishing their mission.
On that note, let’s get this out of the way. This series is over, OKC will not beat Miami three games in a row. They could win the next game, or even the next two for that matter, but I’m not buying them to comeback in the finals. They could force a game 7 and I’ll still tell you the Heat will get their ring. My original prediction was Miami in 6 games. They simply have that luxury and my issue with that is they take full advantage. No, this isn’t the most complete and balance team in the NBA, but they are the best and one game away from proving so. When you have a trio of the league’s top players, they have to show up routinely and the role players do what they can. That’s why you pay them the big bucks and play them the heavy minutes, and that’s why other teams need to have a stronger bench. Back to the series as a whole, the coaches are mixing the matchups up defensively, but the offensive side of the ball has nothing to do with coaching and is solely based on talent.
Let’s give credit when it’s due, and I’m tipping my hat to Erik Spoelstra. I’ve been critical of the young coach, but you know what, his team is in the finals for the second year in a row and his defensive gameplan is genius. Shout out to my brother for this one because this is under the radar and on the back burner. It’s understandable with all the stars so it gets lost in the fold, but he’s got Miami focused on stopping James Harden. The Sixth Man of the Year is OKC’s best playmaker and creator. He can score, but his ability to distribute has been taken away. Miami is trapping Harden on every screen he gets, forcing him to get rid of the ball. Harden is most effective with the ball in his hands, and the Heat have dictated him to either be a spot-up shooter, or fade into the background.
It’s quite simple. You’re not going to shut down the three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant, he’s going to get his no matter what. So defensively Shane Battier covers Durant and LeBron James switches onto him in spurts, mainly in the 4th quarter. But on the other end, they attack Durant, hence his foul troubles in this series. Now Russell Westbrook was the 5th leading scorer in basketball, making him and Durant the highest scoring duo. Whether he’s on or it’s ugly, Westbrook is going to get his numbers. Since he forces shots and throws turnovers, you live with whatever he does as a defense. I will tell you one thing, Miami is not allowing both Durant and Westbrook to go off in the same quarter. Combine that with the fact that Harden has been shut down, it’s impressive that they’ve found a way to take two of the Thunder big three away.
As far as the Thunder offense is concerned, Durant needs to get the ball with Harden setting a screen. This will switch defenders and get Harden involved, perhaps on a mismatch against Battier. Battier’s specialty is against shooter, not so much scorers and ball-handlers. Durant would then have an advantage against either Wade or Chalmers. In fact, you can even have Westbrook setting the pick to get matchups in their favor. But no, I do not trust either coach to make an offensive adjustment in this series.
Westbrook is explosive, and he plays efficient when under control. The other night he was patient and playing within the flow of the game. Tonight, he was feeling it and carrying the team. He did force some bad shots, but that happens when you get hot, you start shooting heat checks and tryiong to do too much. I love his game when he attacks the basket and that’s when his pull-up catches on. Great game for him tonight.
I feel like this is stating the obvious, but if Scott Brooks doesn’t see it then I guess it isn’t as apparent as most fans and analysts think. Nick Collison needs to take Kendrick Perkins’ minutes. Perkins isn’t the same player he was Boston. I thought this trade would improve OKC, but he doesn’t have Doc Rivers, Rajon Rondo, or the big three. It’s a lot different when you don’t play alongside Kevin Garnett. Collison is just the better player and fit. He comes into the game and injects life into the Thunder by grabbing an offensive rebound, getting a tip in, or connecting on a mid-range jumper on a pick and pop. Not to mention his defensive effort, drawing chargers and able to switch off picks. He’s not an all-star, but every team needs that unsung hero that can be a game changer.
Rolling off that Thunder tidbit, he needs to play with Serge Ibaka, not replace him. And by the way, when previewing this series I said that he should be defending LeBron James. He led the league in blocks, but that ability has been mitigated by putting him on Bosh. He is forcing Bosh to shoot poorly so far, but the Heat are up 3-1 now. Ibaka is an elite defender, he has the footwork to stay within a foot of James and the length and leaping ability to make up ground when he gets beat off the dribble. He would certainly make the game tougher for James, the run away Finals MVP.
One last note on Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is a great player, he’s the scoring champion, a unique talent with a bright present and future. But man, people fall for nice personalities and the scoring hype. Remember, LeBron James was third in scoring and posted nearly a triple-double average and multiple all-defensive teams. Durant gets a pass for being low key. He’s not an all around player at this point in time, absolutely top 5 for what he brings to the table. In the finals he’s been in foul trouble, contained for quarters at a time, and hasn’t been creating for his teammates either.
I do want to get into the Miami offense, or rather, what they should be doing. Clearly, James needs to go down low more and play more of a point-forward role, especially with the latest injury but he’s made to do this on the regular. Put him closer to the basket, he will either score or pick up a foul for even more free throws. Plus, he has the vision to hit the open man. So you have the big three run a triangle formation, with Wade at the wing and Bosh at the free throw/elbow area. Those three can run pick and rolls, cut off each other, James could set a back screen for Wade to score off a Bosh pass, the options are infinite. You put Battier in the opposite corner spotting up and Chalmers on the opposite wing to spot up or penetrate the gaps on the late Thunder defensive rotations. Same thing with Mike Miller, James Jones, and Norris Cole when they’re in, and Haslem would lurk on the weakside baseline/short corner.
Shane Battier’s consistency form behind the arc has open up this series. OKC is playing him tighter and that leaves one less help defender. Today, Chalmers stepped his game up and Westbrook was on fire. James doesn’t get injured much and he’s a warrior, you bet the Heat want to close out on their home floor in game 5.
All in all, Miami has played better even though OKC is the better “team.” The Thunder hasn’t played a good game yet. They’re still alive, but again I don’t see them winning 3 straight against the Heat.