Whether you love them or hate them, the Miami Heat are back in the NBA Finals. Unlike last year, however, the path here was no easy task. The Heat endured a physical second-round series against the Indiana Pacers that saw Chris Bosh go down with an abdomen injury in Game 1. The Heat would pull away without Bosh and beat Indiana in six games, setting up an Eastern Conference Finals showdown with the Boston Celtics.
After winning the first two games of the series, Miami dropped three straight and were on the brink of elimination. However, a huge 45-point effort by LeBron James in Game 6 and a furious fourth-quarter run in Game 7 saved the Heat’s season.
Now, Miami finds itself back in position to silence all its critics and doubters. They are four wins away from the second NBA Championship in franchise history, but in their way is a team that is equally as talented and every bit as determined to walk away with an NBA title.
Here are five reasons the Oklahoma City Thunder will break the hearts of the Miami Heat and win the NBA title.
If there is one area the Heat will struggle in offensively, it is inside the paint. That’s where the Thunder’s most important defensive player lives. Serge Ibaka is a shot-blocking machine, a prolific defensive wizard who has made life hell for opposing teams all season long.
Dwayne Wade and LeBron James are two of the best at driving the ball inside and scoring. The opportunities for them to do so in this series will be there, but they will be limited. Even if Ibaka is not able to block the shot, he does a good job of altering them.
Making matters worse for the Heat is the fact that not only will they have to contend with Ibaka’s shot blocking ability, but should they get past him, the surly Kendrick Perkins won’t be too far away.
Expect the Thunder big men to make life in the paint too hot for the Heat to handle.
In what can only be considered a dumb move, the Boston Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City last year. Despite playing in two finals with the C’s, Perkins was let go and has found a new home in OKC.
Fast-forward a year and the Los Angeles Lakers made the same move with their aging yet still efficient point guard, Derek Fisher.
Now a young OKC team has found the inside presence it’s lacked in recent seasons and the on-court general it desperately needed.
No, Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher are not the two most important players in the series; in fact, they are far from it.
Still, the playoff experience and knowledge they bring will be vital in preparing their teammates for the biggest stage in professional basketball. Between the two, this will be their 11th NBA Finals appearance (eighth for Fisher and third for Perkins).
Both Perkins and Fisher handled their respective trades with dignity, but there has to be a ton of pent-up resentment in the two of them. These Finals give each of them a chance to stick it to their former franchise.
As good as Miami has been in these playoffs, they still struggle in the same area they’ve struggled in since last season: their late-game offensive execution.
In both the Indiana and Boston series, the Heat lost games in the closing seconds because of poor offensive setup.
Against the Thunder, this might be what tilts the series. While OKC seems to live for last-second shots and huge runs in the waning minutes of the game, it doesn’t seem to be a place Miami is fully comfortable in.
LeBron James has been brilliant in these playoffs. He’s been arguably better than he’s ever been in his career, but if put into a situation when the game’s on the line in these Finals, will he look to make the best play? Or will he fire away?
If you’ve watched the Oklahoma City Thunder in these playoffs, you noticed that they play without one very noticeable thing: a conscience.
While most teams seem to look for the slightest hint of disrespect to use as bulletin board material, the Thunder don’t seem to care about much. They didn’t seem particularly bothered when some picked the defending champion Mavericks to upset them in the first round. They just came out and blew Dallas away in four straight.
They didn’t allow themselves to get involved in an emotional battle with the Los Angeles Lakers, despite the concussion Metta World Peace gave to James Harden. They simply went out and outdueled the best franchise of the last decade and decimated them in five games.
Then against San Antonio, after being edged in Game 1 and embarrassed in Game 2, they didn’t worry or read the headlines: They regrouped and beat San Antonio four straight times.
In these playoffs, OKC has defeated the three Western Conference franchises that have won a combined 10 championships between them in the last 13 years.
OKC is not concerned with any other big three.
For all the talk about a “Big Three,” someone forgot to inform Pat Riley and the Heat’s management that it takes five to win a title.
From a talent standpoint, there are no better top three players on one team. But after that, the Heat don’t have much. They’ve been forced to start Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf at center, Mario Chalmers still hasn’t developed into the point guard the team had hoped for and Shane Battier has been inconsistent all year.
If the Heat fails to win a title, it won’t be because of James, Bosh or Wade. It will be because they lack the depth and consistent role players necessary to win a championship.
Oklahoma City is younger, bigger, faster and deeper than Miami. The Heat’s only hope, it seems, is that their experience carries them through, but even that may not be enough.
The Heat finds itself in the same situation it was in last year. The “Big Three” is without a doubt talented enough to get the team to the championship, but the question remains: Are they capable of winning a title by themselves? No, not seven, not six, not five, not four or three, or even two. The question is: Can they even win one?