Obviously full preview and other stuff to come, but five quick thoughts on the Thunder’s matchup with the Heat in the NBA Finals.
1. I’ll be honest: I wanted it to be Boston. Really bad. I was pretty sure that if the Thunder drew the Celtics for in The Finals, Oklahoma City was going to sweep. I think my official prediction would’ve been OKC in five, but that’s just because I was going to try and remain reasonable. The Thunder’s youth, athleticism, speed and ability to turn defense into offense was just going to overwhelm the Celtics. Boston could’ve taken a game or two just by pure heart and determination, but I couldn’t see any way the Celtics were going to win four against OKC.
The Heat? They come with a bit more fear. LeBron is stunning, Dwyane Wade can go off, Chris Bosh is really good and they’ve had the taste of a Finals defeat on their lips the last year. That kind of motivation can be a powerful thing sometimes. In terms of talent, the Heat are top heavy, but very top heavy. Which makes them dangerous. Game to game, the Heat could get a monster performance from one of three guys, making them a bit worrisome.
(Although, this is the part where I note that this was my preseason Finals matchup. EXPERT.)
2. The LeBron versus KD matchup is the biggest superstar head-to-head in The Finals since…? Since when? Can you think of a bigger one? I went all the way back to Clyde Drexler versus Michael Jordan in 1992. Am I missing one in there? Some mentioned on Twitter to me Patrick Ewing against Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaq against Olajuwon. Definitely good calls, but I can’t remember. Hard to quantify the size of LeBron vs. KD against those. Maybe it’s as big as MJ vs. Magic in 1991?
We’re talking probably the top player in the league against the second best player in the league. MVP vs. runner-up MVP. (Via @ThunderStats, Drexler-MJ was the last time an MVP faced off with an MVP runner-up.) LeBron and the anti-LeBron. In terms of an individual head-to-head, I’m not sure I can think of a bigger one. Durant against LeBron is going to be a massively massive matchup to watch.
One becomes an NBA champion. One is left searching. Wow.
3. The regular season matchups don’t feel like they tell us much. The Thunder whipped the Heat in Oklahoma City, playing harder, faster and stronger than Miami. Durant smoked LeBron, OKC’s defense caused the Heat major problems and the game was over early in the third quarter. The matchup in Miami seems to me to be more like we’ll see in The Finals. Hard, tough, physical and possession by possession late.
Obviously past history means something because the two teams were playing and there was a winner, but at the same time, this is the NBA Finals. The first trip for the Thunder, a return for the Heat. Things change when the pressure and intensity ramps up.
4. Chris Bosh’s health is the early X-factor. Throughout the Celtics series, it seemed like people forgot rather quickly that the Heat are a really, really good team. With a healthy Bosh, that is. He proved it in Game 7 knocking down some big time shots and with a few more days to rest, Bosh likely will be back in his starting spot and playing closer to 30 minutes.
Bosh spaces the floor, adds a much-needed weapon to Miami’s offensive attack and provides them length and versatility. He makes Miami better. Much better.
5. When this ends, it will either be the sweetest result possible, or the most bitter taste ever. There’s no in between. If the Thunder win the NBA title, not only will THE THUNDER HAVE WON AN NBA TITLE, but they will have also denied LeBron again while KD takes the crown as the league’s best player. Durant will have the trump card on LeBron, able to flash a ring around while LeBron carries his MVP trophies around his ankles like a ball and chain of shame.
If the Thunder lose… well, you can figure that one out. LeBron wins, KD loses and the Heat’s dynasty starter kit tops the meticulously constructed Thunder process.
In short: This is going to be one hell of an NBA Finals.