Pinpointing Areas of Concern for the Oklahoma City Thunder
The 2012 NBA Finals are tied at a single game apiece, which means that the sky is not falling. Neither the Heat nor the Thunder are unbeatable, and we're in for a long, wonderful series before a champion is crowned. But in light of Game 2's events, there are plenty of in-game elements worthy of consideration and analysis—and an unfortunate trend that pegs some potential weaknesses to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oklahoma City isn't doomed, but there's reason to think that their path from here on out might be difficult, to say the least.
Scott Brooks is stuck in his ways
Starting lineups aren't everything, but when your starting lineup drops you to minus-17 in a single stint, it might be worth considering an alternative. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins simply aren't an appropriate counter for Miami's small-ball emphasis, as Perkins' presence alone creates an offensive logjam (Miami is helping off of him liberally in order to contest the penetration of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) and shifts Ibaka into a difficult defensive assignment against Shane Battier.
When both Ibaka and Perkins have been on the floor together in the first two games of this series, the Thunder have been outscored by 25.1 points per 100 possessions. That's a horrendous mark regardless of standard, but particularly so in comparison to Oklahoma City's typical plus-3.6 net rating. If Brooks doesn't adjust to the dynamic of this series and begin using primarily small lineups with just a single big man on the court, the Heat could continue to manipulate Ibaka's potential to provide help defense by shifting Battier and creating problematic defensive scenarios for the Thunder.
This series will be determined by small-ball units, one way or another. The sooner that Brooks recognizes that fact (which he already has, to an extent, though the starting five remains his sole bastion of odd decision-making), the better for OKC.
LeBron James, feeling out his mismatches
James has averaged 31 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game in the finals thus far...and he has yet to really get a handle on his mismatches.
As a player with the potential to both get Durant in foul trouble and exploit whichever Thunder defender is subsequently put on him, James has thus far only managed to do the former. That in itself is helpful for LeBron and the Heat, but if James is able to overpower James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha (as he very well can, and considering the diligence of both James and Erik Spoelstra, as he very well should) that could spell trouble for the Thunder.
Again: this series is close enough so that even rather minute factors like this one can play a significant part in the outcome of a particular game. James getting the hang of attacking Harden and Sefolosha might not seem like a particularly big deal, but if it results in some easy baskets and makes OKC's defense sweat a bit, that could be enough to pad a Miami lead or put them ahead in a competitive contest.
Nowhere to go but up
No need to sugarcoat it: No Heat player aside from James, Battier Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, has given Miami much at all. Mario Chalmers has been particularly miserable to start the finals, but it's not as if Udonis Haslem has been particularly useful; the Thunder are often cheating off of Haslem on defense in the same way that the Heat are cheating off of Perkins, meaning that every minute Haslem has been only the floor only makes life more difficult for the likes of James and Wade.
Battier's tremendous level of performance could obviously drop a bit over the course of the series, but things can't really get much worse for Chalmers and Haslem—two useful players who are more than capable of giving the Heat a quality game or two at some point. A Miami team essentially running five-deep has been able to give Oklahoma City a run for its money. Adding some extra production from a sixth or seventh player would provide a huge boost, particularly as the Heat look to save the legs of James and Wade—who are doing much of the heavy lifting on both ends of the court—for the fourth quarter.
There's no reason to fear Chalmers or Haslem, but considering the circumstances, either one of those role players could be the piece that puts the Heat over the top.
Statistical support for this post courtesy of NBA.com.
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