Now it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder’s turn to step up. For Scott Brooks to show he’s learned from the rights and wrongs of the first two games. For Russell Westbrook to play past all the criticism and demands to change his ways. For LeBron James and the Miami Heat to protect their home.
When there are suddenly three days between each game in the only NBA series going on, there’s plenty of time to talk over every little bit of information that has been picked up from Game 2. The Miami Heat won 100-96, changing the opinion on them, the Thunder, James’ clutch ability, his helping staff including the ‘over-the-hill’ Dwyane and it goes the same way for the Thunder as well.
Kevin Durant isn’t a great defender; The great lineup for the Thunder doesn’t have that many uses against the small Miami Heat lineup, with Chris Bosh and LeBron James as the bigs, while Serge Ibaka is forced to defend Shane Battier, who keeps knocking down three pointers. Oh, and Russell Westbrook, who’s back in front of the firing line for ‘selfish’ basketball.
The thing Scott Brooks needs to realize is this, beyond all the adjustment calls – The Oklahoma City Thunder, even with the amazing offensive talents of Kevin Durant, haven’t got an infinite amounts of comebacks left in them. It worked perfectly in Game 1, coming back with Durant and Westbrook combining for 41 points in the second half to win 105-94.
They nearly came back in Game 2, despite a 16-2 start from the Miami Heat. This time it was more about Durant doing it on his own, and missing the final shot despite a decent look at the basket. Durant himself admitted that making another huge comeback was too much. The Miami Heat made enough stops, enough shots, to keep the Thunder at bay.
And it’s about making a decision to start James Harden instead of Kendrick Perkins, and stop using Ibaka and Perkins in the same lineup. Because as of now, Perkins simply has no use, on both ends of the floor. He’s averaging 4.6 points per game in the playoffs, but Perkins isn’t supposed to be the source for points. He’s supposed to be the low post defender that stops big men. The Heat don’t have any big men who get most of their points from post moves. Perkins has to chase Chris Bosh, while Ibaka is torn between staying in the paint, guarding the rim and going out to stop Battier.
And so James Harden needs to play more minutes, like he did in Game 2. Again, it was almost enough to get the Thunder back. But he needs to be 35 or more minutes on the floor. Nick Collison needs to be more on the floor because he’s more suited defensively to what the Heat are doing. There’s enough offense from Durant and Westbrook anyways to worry about how the rest score points.
For Miami, it’s keeping this energy level high. Because eventually, they don’t have enough to keep up with the Thunder, going at the same pace every night. It’s about killing the game early, and forcing the Thunder to try and rally back. Again, it’ll be up to LeBron James, who usually comes out big and aggressive in the early going, and for Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to follow suit. Shane Battier, hopefully still not watched too closely, would be a wonderful bonus again.
It feels like the Miami Heat have more than just the Thunder to battle. The ghosts from the 2011 NBA finals come creeping in to try and strike fear in those that remember, that even a Game 3 win wasn’t enough to seal the deal. But the Heat, and most of all LeBron James, seem much more assured that there’s no problem. It’s just about the moment, and outplaying the Thunder, not whatever happened in the past.
Prediction – Very similar to Games 1&2, although the Thunder won’t be as soft in the opening minutes. The game comes down to a few finals shots. Miami Heat take the lead.