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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

NBA Finals Thoughts and Game 1 Thread

Every year, springtime brings fresh conspiracy theories about the NBA’s nefarious role in manufacturing popular postseason matchups.  Almost every year, the league ends up with a finals matchup that suggests one of two things:

1) The NBA is not fixing the playoffs

2) The NBA is very bad at fixing the playoffs

Looking at the list of finals matchups since the Bulls run of dominance ended, its hard to identify more than a couple (Lakers/Celtics I?  Heat/Mavs I?) that qualify as out-and-out crowd-pleasers.  Far more common on the list are teams like the Spurs (of whom many were pretty tired by the 2nd or 3rd go-round), Pistons (who lacked the star power to make a dent in the non-NBA national zeitgeist), and 2009 Magic (who, while plenty of fun to watch, got in the way of the Celtics/Lakers rematch and LeBron/Kobe showdown that the league and its fans would have preferred by far).

Come now the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder, employers of 6 of the NBA’s 30 best players.  The greatest among these rank as some of the league’s most explosive physical specimens and compelling character studies; even the perceived least among them are worthy of their own memes.  Surely there are those who feel regret that LeBron/Kobe may never come to pass, others who had hoped to watch Derrick Rose’s ascenion, some purists who would have seen the wily old Spurs and Celtics have at each other.  For the most part, though, this year is a rare case in which we got what we wanted.  And that is a Finals matchup with as much star power as any since Lakers-Celtics in 2008, as much explosiveness as any since Bulls-Sonics in 1996, as much ability to define the future of the league as any since Bulls-Lakers in 1991 (debate on all three points encouraged!).

We won’t be running a traditional preview here.  There’s been an insane amount of analysis on this Finals in the past couple of days, throughout the TrueHoop Network and elsewhere, and I would encourage everybody to go dive into it because a lot of it is fantastic (Sebastian Pruiti, Zach Lowe, and the gang at Hardwood Paroxysm deserve special mention).   I don’t have anything on that level, but I generally see a close series that will ultimately be decided by each team’s ability to protect the rim while playing their small lineups, each coach’s ability to cut off dominant stretches with on-the-fly adjustments, and, perhaps most of all, LeBron’s ability to carry the Heat on offense while also chasing around Durant, who is probably the most exhausting forward in the league to guard.  The more the Thunder can force the Heat to cross-match, the more they neutralize the biggest reason that LeBron is a better basketball player than Durant.   And the smaller the gap between the impact of those two players, the better the odds that the Thunder’s depth can carry the day.  That said, I just think LeBron is too good, and I think Bosh seriously complicates the way the Thunder would prefer to defend LeBron and Wade, and I think the Heat will steal one of these first two games and win the series in either 6 or 7.  But I’d be surprised if we didn’t have a lot of really close games ahead of us.

There is one more (maybe unpopular) opinion I wanted to put out there (first stated in a series of tweets earlier today) and then I’ll get out of the way and leave the discussion to the commenters.  I have hated the Heat since the days of Mourning and Hardaway and Brown and Majerle and Lenard.  God knows I still can’t stand Pat Riley.  However, the unyielding hypersensitivity and stagnant dialogue surrounding LeBron — which, in some cases, means the entire league by extension — has reached a point that I don’t think is worthy of the talent and charisma of the NBA’s players and the intelligence of its fans.  I would love to move past the point where “LeBron is a choker!  No he isn’t!” is the primary debate during a postseason that has had so many wonderful performances and compelling storylines.  Games are won and lost by teams, “Clutch” is a malleable concept, and counting titles is not the sole criterion in evaluating stars.  I totally get a lot of the negative feelings toward LeBron and I share some of them.  It’s fine to articulate these misgivings, fine to argue that he’s not the league’s best player.  But I look forward to a time when the default way to  make that argument is not to lazily invoke a tired trope that becomes more detached from reality with each passing historically great season and big-time postseason performance.  We should all want to have a more interesting conversation than that.

I like the Thunder. I hate the Heat.

Go Heat.

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Comments and discussion regarding Game 1 of the NBA Finals below.  Hopefully we will have a recap up later.  Enjoy!

30 comments on “NBA Finals Thoughts and Game 1 Thread

  1. johnlocke

    X-factors are Bosh and Westbrook. Whoever plays better btw those 2 will win Game 1 / the series

  2. ruruland

    Nice post Kevin, but I think this is pretty clearly the best Finals match-up since ’84 or ’86.

    The difference is that the top protoganists, each of whom have a chance to be as good or perhaps even surpass Magic Bird, are ringless.

    ’91 was pretty clearly a changing of the guard series.

    Also, I think Ibaka is among the 30 best players in the NBA. Not sure a league leader in blocks has ever been a super-strong power forward with an automatic 15 foot jumpshot.

  3. ruruland

    How did Durant get that transition basket? Harden’s speed and ballhandling ability. I don’t think he was even credited for an assist. I actually think the OKC has better overall floor speed than Miami.

  4. JK47

    I hope OKC can play some defense than this, or this series is gonna be short and depressing.

  5. Kevin McElroy Post author

    ruruland:
    Nice post Kevin, but I think this is pretty clearly the best Finals match-up since ’84 or ’86.

    The difference is that the top protoganists, each of whom have a chance to be as good or perhaps even surpass Magic Bird, are ringless.

    ’91 was pretty clearly a changing of the guard series.

    Also, I think Ibaka is among the 30 best players in the NBA. Not sure a league leader in blocks has ever been a super-strong power forward with an automatic 15 foot jumpshot.

    I certainly think there’s an argument for it. I think it’s a pretty fun argument. I didn’t want to overreach though and ’08, ’96, ’91 were all really cool in their own way.

  6. johnlocke

    Two of the most well spoken guys in the NBA….battling it out

    Kevin McElroy:
    Going to edit the crap out of this post to make it predict a Battier/Fisher duel.

  7. johnlocke

    Lebron is the best player in the NBA…but Durant just has to be the hardest player to guard in the world.

  8. Frank

    I know it’s only game 1 but OKC has now beaten San Antonio 4x in a row and then Miami- all in convincing fashion. Unreal. It’s like they just can’t be stopped when they have a lead late- seemed like they scored every time down.

  9. johnlocke

    Harden also had an off game…and Durant and Westbrooke outscored the Heat in the 2nd half I think.

    Frank:
    I know it’s only game 1 but OKC has now beaten San Antonio 4x in a row and then Miami- all in convincing fashion. Unreal. It’s like they just can’t be stopped when they have a lead late- seemed like they scored every time down.

  10. JC Knickfan

    Fun game to watch. Get bit depressing that I see no way, shape or form on how Knicks team can matchup against OKC.

    I hope the owner is reluctant to go into salary tax to resign Harden and Ibaka in 2013/14. I think both them will get big offers.

  11. BigBlueAL

    Pretty hilarious that the reason the Heat will probably lose this series is because of Wade continuing to play horrible yet nobody in the national media will talk about that much if at all.

  12. Brian Cronin

    Yeah, the way OKC just kicks it into a second gear during the second half is amazing. San Antonio looked like they were going to win Game 6 and suddenly they were being blown out. Same with the Heat tonight.

  13. StatsTeacher

    Iv seems if Westbrook has say 7 or more assists (tonight he had 11, twice his avg) they have about a 90% chance of winning. Lebron is a beast, but OKC has more weapons. Weird how Battier and Chalmers can look like world beaters for a few minutes and then sort of fade away. Same thing happened to San Antonio

  14. Frank

    again- it’s only one game but I’m feeling pretty good about my pre-series prediction of OKC winning in 5-6 games. I don’t really understand why the majority of the media seems to think Miami would win this series. They beat up on us because we were unprepared (due to changing roster, coach, no continuity etc.) and injured, then really struggled with a good but not great Indiana team, and then nearly lost to 80 year old Celtics. It seems that for Miami to win, they need Wade and Lebron to score 70+ points combined while shutting the other team down completely – which is very unlikely considering OKC is probably the best offense in the whole league. They nearly lost to Boston, and Boston has a bottom third of the league offense.

    Re: Wade – I totally agree with that CBS article. He looks old, slow, and out of control out there, which is probably partially due to injury + fatigue, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s not physically the same player as he was even last year. He knows it, and is asking to get bailed out on every questionable call. He’s very lucky that he didn’t get called for a charge on that Collison play.

    And meanwhile – LBJ plays another 46 minutes. I am almost starting to feel bad for that guy… but then I remember that there is no doubt he made this bed himself, and now he has to sleep in it. He tried to take the easy road, and found out it’s not so easy.

    Does anyone think this Miami team could have beaten his Cleveland teams? I’m not sure. Those were pretty well constructed teams, just missing a legit 2nd scorer.

  15. d-mar

    I think OKC will eventually win this series, but we have to be careful not to fall into the same trap the dumb media does on a regular basis, which is to overreact to the result of each game. Remember when the Spurs went up 2-0 and people were actually wondering if they would ever lose a playoff game? Things change so quickly in the playoffs, a team looks dead in the water one game, makes adjustments, and suddenly it’s a series.

    I think it’ll take 7 games for OKC to win it, and I expect the Heat to win game 2.

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