By John Schmeelk
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Going into this series, I was sure the Oklahoma City Thunder would beat the Miami Heat rather handily in the NBA Finals. My explanation was simple: The Oklahoma City Thunder were the better team. They had more depth and played better team ball than the Miami Heat ever could. I was wrong on all counts. So far in this series, the Heat have proven they are the better group in this series, and that’s why they are only one game away from the franchise’s second NBA Championship.
The Miami Heat are simply playing better than the Thunder right now. There were several examples at the end of Game 4 that summarizes the different ways the Heat are proving just that. Miami was quicker to loose balls and rebounds, they got open shots off of passing on pick and rolls, and Mario Chalmers hit a big three and a driving layup. Even when LeBron James went out, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh picked up the slack with a number of plays that turned into open looks for the Heat.
The Thunder did just the opposite, committing a number of big mistakes. What was Derek Fisher thinking trying to go coast to coast on a lay-up? Durant’s bounce pass to Nick Collison through traffic twenty feet from the rim was mind boggling. Neither James Harden nor the rest of the Thunder supporting cast did anything to help their two stars. Despite LeBron’s leg injury rendering him immobile, Thabo Sefolosha still played off of him and gave up an open three. Kevin Durant couldn’t get the ball in his hands. Their defense failed to defend simply pick and rolls between Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Somehow, Serge Ibaka couldn’t summon the energy to reject Mario Chalmers’ driving layup. And as the coup de gras, Russell Westbrook committed one of the dumbest foul you will ever see with the Heat up three and the shot clock running down.
The Thunder made similar, even if less egregious mistakes, all series long. The Heat haven’t. Oklahoma City is making the same kind of mistakes the Heat made last year when they lost to the Mavericks in the Finals. I thought the Thunder were championship ready the way they came back against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. They aren’t. The players are still a little too young. The Coach is still figuring things out. I usually think experience is a lot of nonsense when it comes to the playoffs, but it really has been important in this series. In many ways, the moment seems too big for the Thunder.
This is not to take anything away from the Heat, either. They are playing their best basketball of the playoffs in the Finals, and their stars are leading the way. We’ve seen much better energy from Dwyane Wade, especially on little plays like blocked shots and rebounds that were missing in earlier rounds. LeBron James has brought his A game and looks unstoppable. He has gotten away form a lot of his forced contested jumpers and has been a weapon in the post. He dominated James Harden down there. I’d love to stop hearing about how LeBron James is a choke artist if the Heat hold on and win. Despite everything he has done to deserve it, fans must realize he is bar none the best player in basketball.
Is this series over? No, not yet. The Thunder are fully capable of winning three straight games if they can get back to playing like they did against the Spurs. James Harden needs to be a factor, and more important they need to figure out a way to get stops at the end of games. Without those two things happening, Game 5 is foregone conclusion.
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