By John Schmeelk
» More Columns
If someone would have told me before the Finals started that the Miami Heat would score 94, 100 and 91 points in the first three games of the series, I would have guaranteed that the Thunder would be up, at worst, two games to one. Before the Finals, the Thunder scored 100 points or more in ten of their fifteen games. They only scored fewer than 91 points once. It has been the Heat’s ability to slow down the Thunder offense, something that I thought was impossible, that has been the difference so far in the series.
The Heat might be the best defensive team the Thunder have faced so far in the postseason, and the they haven’t found any answers. In the fourth quarter of Game 3, they looked out of sync and out of whack. Despite finishing with a low turnover total for the game, Oklahoma City mishandled the ball and threw a number of foolish passes in the fourth quarter. It looked like the young group’s first road game in the finals actually got to them a little bit.
Give the Heat credit. While guys like Durant, Westbrook and Harden hurt them from time to time, Miami has successfully shut down their teammates and limited the Thunder to under 45% shooting in the last two games. In those wins, the Heat have made the series come down to which set of stars play better, a formula that gives them a real chance to win this series. Few would argue the Heat have a better team than the Thunder, but no one can match their tandem of stars: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Heat’s success starts with their good work in transition. Miami, one of the best fast break teams in the league, has found a way to shut down one of the few teams that might be better in the open floor than they are. Part of it comes down to the Heat limiting their own turnovers, but it also has to do with a game plan emphasis of floor balance and getting back on defense. For all the heat Erik Spoelstra takes, he should get credit for that. No one, including Gregg Popovich, has been able to slow down the Thunder.
Scott Brooks needs to take some heat for this substitution patterns. In the last minute, when the Thunder needed baskets, Kendrick Perkins was on the floor. Both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were off the floor for the final five minutes of the second quarter. That was when the Thunder lost their ten point lead. The Thunder starting five, with Perkins, Ibaka and Sefolosha on the floor together has struggled to score the entire series.
As this series goes along, the Thunder are looking more and more like the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter. They are running way too much one on one and isolation based offense. As great as Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are, they are making it way too hard on themselves. The Heat have done their homework on the strengths of the Thunder. It’s clear that they are trying to turn Kevin Durant into a penetrator, while they are turning Harden and Westbrook into jump shooters. The Thunder, meanwhile, especially early in games, are struggling to keep Miami on the perimeter.
Dwyane Wade has looked far more active in recent games and has done well defensively on Russell Westbrook. LeBron James, meanwhile, is able to guard anyone the Heat ask him too. The momentum is swinging Miami’s way and they are looking better as this series goes on. The Thunder, on the other hand, have looked progressively worse. It’s a trend the Heat should recognize from last year’s finals, as they witnessed the Mavericks look more and more superior as the series went on.
If the Thunder want to turn this series around, it has to come in Game 4. If the Heat go up three games to one, the Thunder will be hard pressed to win three straight. Their defense has been good enough, but their offense has lost its groove. They need to get it back if they want to be NBA Champions.
You can follow me on twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York Sports at: https://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.
Will LeBron win his first championship this year? Be heard in the comments below…