By: Shawn Davis
LeBron James is getting killed because he lost the head-to-head matchup in the fourth quarter of last night’s opening game of the NBA Finals to Kevin Durant. He was outscored 17-7 as the Thunder pulled forward and closed out the contest. That isn’t the total story because labels floating around on his final quarter say he: settled for too many jumpers, was timid, pulled a disappearing act and still isn’t clutch. Nope, not here – I’m not saying any of that because he put together a great line (30 pts, 9 rebs, 4 asts, 4 stls) and was aggressive. Could he have played better in the last frame? Could we all be more productive in the last hour of our work day? Nod.
Durant “settled” for jumpers as well…they just went through the hoop. He’s a better shooter than James will probably ever be, but had all of James’ field-goal attempts swished the net he would have had 15 points in the quarter to Durant’s 17. What would the tagline be today if that happened? The witch-hunt would still be on. The Decision was done in bad taste – and I rooted against the Heat last year because of it – but let him off the damn hook already. I’d love to have James’ wealth but the nonstop nitpicking makes me happy that I’m not the guy; people need to change the narrative already, seriously. One more point: Winning that third MVP trophy could be a tremendous dead-weight on his resume if he doesn’t win the title this year. A three-time MVP with three losses in three Finals appearances…he may need to go to a different planet to escape the critics. It’s the Heat versus the Thunder, not James against them, alone.
The third quarter was the difference – that’s where the game was blown wide open. Miami came out of the half with a seven point lead that evaporated as quickly as Russell Westbrook blowing past Dwyane Wade. Westbrook stamped the third quarter with 12 points and set the table for the fourth where we know who took over. In the second half, West and KD combined for 41 points while the entire Heat team notched 40.Miami’s defense forced eight turnovers in the first half but the Thunder took better care of the ball and only gave it up twice in the second half.
Miami doesn’t have enough depth, Bosh needs to operate in the paint – not as a decoy – as a threat, and someone needs to attempt to guard Westbrook. No seriously, someone needs to try to guard him (emphasis on TRY). The Heat became too perimeter oriented, those long rebounds turned into layups and they were outscored 24-4 on transition plays with a lot of highlight reel finishes that energized the home crowd. Sound familiar? They’re playing a younger, more refined version of themselves and I’m sure they’re making as may adjustments as they can. I expect them to attack the basket more in Game 2 – or at least they should.
Why is Wade getting a free pass? Doesn’t he always get one? Maybe because he won a title already; is that it? Yup. He scored 19 points (shooting 7/19) and handed out 8 assists but his uninspiring play has continued. It was only one game but if he’s going to fail so miserably at defending Westbrook the way he attempted last night, this series will end quickly. He needs to find his Flash persona because he has to match Westbrook in order to make this compelling. It’s imperative for the Heat that he do so, the series depends on it.
EVERYONE CALM THE HELL DOWN though! Miami won’t get swept and Oklahoma City isn’t indestructible. Remember how invincible everyone thought the Spurs were during that 20-game win streak? How they were going to dispose the Thunder when they took a 2-0 lead and would sweep the Finals no matter who emerged from the East? Yeah, the Spurs are watching the Finals just like the rest of the country.
First round to the Thunder; get ready for the second round tomorrow night.