The Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA Finals fulfills David Stern's ratings dream match-up.
In addition to being the championship series, it's also the standoff that people want to see: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James, with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, James Harden and Russell Westbrook playing supporting roles. Big Three vs. Big Three.
LeBron is the best overall player in the NBA, but so far, that's done little to win him a championship. If the Heat show up in the way that everyone knows they are capable of, then the Thunder will have a bad time. If not, they are just delaying the Thunder's destiny.
The Thunder will have take advantage of every strength the team possesses to come out champions. In the end, it will come down to much more than LeBron, Durant and the other major players.
Players outside the majorly hyped Westbrook, Durant and Harden will have to make a difference against James, Bosh and Wade for the Thunder to win. The Heat are centred around their Big Three, but the Thunder's roster has a lot to offer outside its superstars.
Here are the four players that will make a difference for the Thunder outside of hyped stars.
Serge Ibaka is the Thunder's best defence against an obviously fully-recovered Chris Bosh. Ibaka probably isn't better than Bosh, but they might be even. If Bosh is better, he is only slightly better. Ibaka has faced bigger challenges than Bosh throughout the playoffs and has come out on top. He can certainly stop Bosh from reenacting what he did in Game 7.
There isn't really any point in fouling Ibaka, unless absolutely necessary because he can hit threes with the best of them. He put on his best ever performance against the Spurs in the Western Conference finals with a career-high 26 points, in addition to making all of his field-goal attempts, going 11 for 11.
His ability to block and defend will prevent an unreal performance by LeBron, like the one in Game 6 where he put 45 points on the board. He won't be able to shutdown or prevent LeBron from scoring, but he will be able to stop LeBron from executing to the height of his abilities and slow him down.
Although there has been some talk that Bosh will draw him out of the paint, a place that he never likes to go, there isn't much Bosh brings that Ibaka can't answer or nearly match. They can both hit threes and mid-range shots, they are both quick and they are both going to foul a ton trying to defend against the opposing teams' scorers.
It's going to be competitive.
Fisher brings 16 seasons of NBA experience and five championships to this series. The president of the Players Association offers leadership and experience to the squad. In addition, Fisher is clutch and he meshes perfectly into the young Thunder team.
Fisher has years of experience of playing with Kobe Bryant, and as a result, the guard understands how to best accommodate superstar players like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks commented that one of the biggest attributes of having Fisher on the team is that, "he's a winner."
Thabo Sefolosha can offer some assistance in shutting down Wade. The Thunder have a very strong offensive unit, so it is vital to defend top Heat scorers while Durant and Westbrook dominate the board.
The Boston Celtics would often double-team Wade throughout the Eastern Conference finals series, but the Thunder probably won't need to go to such extremes. If Sefolosha can guard Tony Parker and play like he did against the Spurs, then he is going to be a threat to Wade.
Sefolosha played career-best against the Spurs with 19 points and six steals, which shows that he is able to perform against excellent teams or he is improving extremely fast. Either way, he has unleashed his potential, and that is all that matters.
Scott Brooks solid coaching skills are also an important part of the Thunder's success.
Gregg Popovich told Robert Klemko of USA TODAY that under the leadership of Scott Brooks:
They’re disciplined. They’re unselfish. They have a great work ethic. They’re well prepared. He and his staff have done a great job.
When you watch a Thunder game, when Brooks talks to his team, they listen. There is mutual respect and trust. When Durant tells Brooks that he wants to play the whole game, then Durant is going to play the whole game. Remember watching Tony Parker have to explain to Gregg Popovich that he could play more minutes because he was only 29 years old? That doesn't have to happen in Oklahoma.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a certain legitimacy to the perspective that Miami is entitled to winning this series. They have struggled much more than they should have throughout the playoffs, and there is definitely something missing that is preventing them from completely releasing their full potential. If the Heat cannot win, they will probably go full out Dwight Howard on Erik Spoelstra.
You can expect that there will be some rough moments for both teams in this series. When those times are upon each team, Brooks will deal with them better than Spoelstra, who faces huge criticism and pressure when the Heat are underperforming.