With Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals tipping off today at 9 p.m. ET, the talk about which players will ultimately decide this series has dominated popular culture.
The Miami Heat have taken a 2-1 advantage over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but this series is a long way from being through. I expect the finals to go seven games.
All of the following players must step up if their team wants a chance to win this series and cash their ticket to immortality.
While the Thunder expected to get the sixth-man-of-the-year in the finals, all they have gotten was a bearded chump. James Harden must play his best in Game 4 or OKC will lose.
Harden hasn’t been a total zero in this series, adding his usual mix of assists, steals and rebounds. But the Oklahoma City needs more from him, especially at the offensive end of the court.
The Thunder need Harden to step up and bring the kind of offensive contribution that can allow Westbrook and Durant time to rest on the bench. If the shooting guard can put up 20 points and run the offense effectively, OKC will win.
Which star must shine the brightest?
There will never be a playoff game—let alone an NBA finals game—where LeBron James is not under the most scrutiny. Not as long as it says Chosen 1 across his back.
With the Heat taking the series lead and having both Game 4 and 5 in Miami, LeBron has the ball in his court to take advantage of this series.
For as tough as OKC has been, the Heat have been better.
James needs to continue to drive the lane and force Kevin Durant into foul trouble. When Durant starts thinking about how many fouls he has, his shot suffers and the Heat win games.
Despite the fact that every member of the media is telling Russell Westbrook to slow it down and control his pace, that’s just not his style. The Thunder are playing at their best when Westbrook is charging down the floor.
One key he has to not forget is finding Durant, though.
For as great as Westbrook has been, five of his shots need to become Durant’s in a hurry—as in starting in Game 4. Westbrook needs to continue to drive the lane, but when he is dishing the ball, he needs to find No. 35.
Remaining NBA Finals Schedule
Game 4 - Oklahoma City vs. Miami - Tuesday, June 19, 9:00 PM ET, ABC
Game 5 - Oklahoma City vs. Miami - Thursday, June 21, 9:00 PM ET, ABC
*Game 6 - Miami vs. Oklahoma City - Sunday, June 24, 8:00 PM ET, ABC
*Game 7 - Miami vs. Oklahoma City - Tuesday, June 26, 9:00 PM ET, ABC
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