The narrative is a scribe's dream. The NBA Finals serve as a battleground for basketball's soul, as a detachment of hired hardwood assassins encounter a band of brothers from America's heartland. The mercenaries from Miami, valuing star power over synergy, against a squad of homegrown hoopsters embracing the tenets of teamwork. A chronicle of good versus evil that pens itself.
Alas, such broad, and somewhat erroneous characterizations fail to properly paint the picture of this clash of behemoth ballers. And nowhere have inaccurate epithets been applied more than in the case of LeBron James.
Despite securing his third MVP hardware in four years, the already-amplified microscope King James functions under was magnified after losing three straight games to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Never mind James' averages of 31.8 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals through the series' first five games.
In the mentalities of the media and Miami detractors, James' less-than-powerful presence in the latter stages of contests correlated to cries of "choker" for the eight-time All-Star. And to some extent, there's validity to these arguments, but most accusations lacked any semblance of rationale and bordered on hyperbole.
However, these assertions were silenced by a playoff performance for the ages, dropping 45 points, 15 boards and five dimes in hostile Beantown territory in Game 6, tying the series at three apiece and forcing a return to South Beach.
As icing on the cake, James displayed a steady and surgical procedure on the aging Celtics in the finale, as his 31 points and 12 rebounds vaulted Miami back into the Finals. Dwyane Wade remains one of the game's most dynamic drivers to the hole, and Chris Bosh's inside-out acumen, albeit slightly strained thanks to an abdomen issue, gives the Heat an almost-unparalleled advantage spreading the floor offensively.
But regardless of the dexterity displayed by the two stars, as well as respected role-players like Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier, the postseason has served as a platform for LeBron to affirm his authority as the alpha male in Miami.
James is not the only entity raising his game to new heights this spring. Fresh off his third straight scoring title, Kevin Durant entered the playoffs looking to avenge last season's fall in the conference finals.
Though Durant and the Thunder took care of business against the Mavericks and Lakers in quick fashion in the first two rounds, Oklahoma City arrived in the Western Conference Finals with an unresolved underlying issue, one extraordinarily rare for a lineup of this pedigree to possess: What, exactly, was the team's identity?
The matter concerning the dichotomy between Durant and guard Russell Westbrook was certainly not new (although, it should be noted, a theme that was not quite settled), but the ongoing emergence of James Harden brought the roster's interaction and involvement to new light.
Mainly, was the evolvement of individual games hurting the collaboration of the club? This theme was brought to the forefront after the Thunder found themselves down 0-2 to the Spurs. With Westbrook's trigger-happy parade (17-for-45) he was leading roundball pundits to deduce the OKC squad claiming they would never reach their potential with their current construction.
Yet, from this disorder Durant put any apprehension to rest, taking over offensive control despite the in-your-face ambience of Spurs' defender Stephen Jackson. Thus, averaging over 32 points over the last three games of the series to send the Thunder to the Finals for the franchise's first time since changing zip codes.
Better yet, Westbrook finally seemed to grasp his responsibility as facilitator, dishing out almost eight assists in OKC's four victories and renouncing the primary scoring duty to Durant. Harden's instant offense off the bench and deftness from downtown cannot be overlooked, nor can Westbrook's battery of jumpers, speed and defense. However, whatever debate lingered on the Thunder's hierarchy was alleviated this past week, with Durant standing firm, holding the proverbial conch.
So who will be the last man standing to earn the Association's coronation as champions of the world? According to the award-winning WhatIfSports.com simulation engine, a seven-game series is the most likely outcome, with the Oklahoma City Thunder coming out on top 56 percent of the time.
He's got the scoring awards, the All-Star accolades and a gold medal from international competition. Add "NBA Champion" to the Durantula's resume.
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