The Little Things That Will Swing the Balance in the NBA Finals
Every basketball game and series boils down to the smallest possible elements. A decision here. A substitution there. We don't sweat the small stuff without reason, as a series as close as this one can often be decided by the slimmest margins. With that in mind, here's a look at a few of the smaller factors that could end up playing a major role in the NBA Finals:
Dwyane Wade's shot selection
I anxiously await the playoff day where Wade's shot selection isn't an issue, with full acknowledgement that injury is likely coming into play here. Wade is one of the best players in the game, an effective mid-range shooter and an incredible driver. Why he feels that gives him license to take however many off-balanced pull-ups he likes is beyond me, especially if we begin to look at the opportunity cost. A wasted shot for Wade is more painful than a wasted shot for most other players, if only because of what could have been.
The Heat are clearly a good enough team to compete even when Wade's shot selection isn't perfect, but with every game in this series likely to be a toss-up, Miami would be put at a disadvantage if Wade's decision-making isn't wholly sound. The Thunder defense already deserves a lot of credit for forcing Wade into difficult looks, but it's the burden of a superstar to find ways to circumvent defensive pressure.
Nick Collison's minutes
Kendrick Perkins wasn't altogether useless in Game 1, but the difference in Oklahoma City's performance with Perkins on the floor relative to when Nick Collison was on the floor was palpable. There are no back-to-the-basket threats for Perkins to cover, and little chance of him exploiting his size on the offensive end; four points and two offensive rebounds isn't enough to justify Perkins' presence, considering the circumstances, for 25 minutes.
Especially when Collison played just 21 minutes in the same game. Collison may not be much of an offensive threat himself, but he's infinitely more versatile as a defender, and thus, is far more useful in this particular matchup. Some choose not to criticize teams following a win, but the "if it ain't broke" doctrine is a recipe for failure in an NBA playoff series. Scott Brooks needs to be proactive, and in order to give his team the best chance to win this series, he needs to increase Collison's playing time, or at least opt for more small lineups.
(The subtext here: Rotation speed will be crucial for the Thunder bigs, and as entertaining as it was to watch Perkins attempt to guard Shane Battier, I'm not sure that matchup is in the Thunder's best interests.)
LeBron James and the quick transition turnaround
As Jordan Kahn illustrated in a post at Hickory High, LeBron James' ability to quickly turn a defensive rebound into a potential fast break opportunity is found gold for Miami's offense. The only problem: In Game 1, James didn't push the ball when he could have in certain spots and was cut off by the Thunder's transition defense in others. That said, if James continues to look at every rebound as a chance to quickly initiate the offense, it should prevent the Heat offense from getting bogged down mid-play; the payoffs in terms of transitions switches and secondary break opportunities alone make that kind of effort worthwhile.
Derek Fisher's new-found utility
Scott Brooks is clearly committed to playing Fisher for long minutes of every game, which means that his playing time consists of maximizing minutes rather than justifying them. His mistakes will be overlooked, his weaknesses are apparently acceptable and even James Harden will apparently see his minutes drop in order to accommodate Fisher. I don't understand it any more than you do, but with Brooks' mind apparently made up, the only relevant point of discussion is what Fisher is and is not capable of offering the Thunder in the substantial minutes he will apparently be on the floor.
Hitting threes from the weak side against Miami's defense would go a long way, but in Game 1, we caught a glimpse of another area where Fisher can potentially contribute: in mitigating the impact of Mario Chalmers. Fisher was able to body Chalmers off of many of his routes and even prevent him from screening effectively on some occasions. Considering Fisher's lack of lateral movement—and problems in trying to stick a player like Chalmers when he's attacking off the dribble—this kind of off-ball defensive work is a bit of a saving grace. It still doesn't make Fisher's role all that defensible, but it does help Brooks' case and the Thunder's cause.
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