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Friday, June 15, 2012

It's On!

On Monday, we discussed how the stage was set for the 2012 NBA Finals. We discussed keys to victory for both teams. Some of those keys, for both teams, have been either partially or completely met after two games. As it stands, the series is tied at 1-1.


If you read this blog regularly, you probably think I am like a broken record when I say that a best-of-seven series doesn't really begin until a team loses at home or until Game 7, whichever comes first. The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped a close one at home to the Miami Heat in Game 2. Now we have a series.

Miami and Oklahoma City are two of the toughest places in the NBA to visit and come away with a victory. Oklahoma City had been unbeaten in the 2012 NBA Playoffs prior to last night. Miami has won 80% of its home games in this year's playoffs.

This means that the Oklahoma City Thunder absolutely, positively must buck the trend of Miami's home court success or last night will have been the Thunder's final game of the season in OKC and the Heat will raise the Larry O'Brien trophy in South Beach on Thursday night.

Because of the NBA's 2-3-2 travel format for the Finals, the Thunder would have to lose three consecutive games to suffer the aforementioned fate. The Thunder have lost three consecutive games on only two occasions in the past two NBA seasons. They have not lost three consecutive road games in nearly 16 months. So while the odds of the Heat winning three straight home games are favorable on paper in a vacuum, the fact that they will be playing the same opponent and who that opponent will be make the prospect of Miami shutting the series down at American Airlines Arena a bleak one.

Could LeBron and K.D. be the modern Magic and Bird? 2


The Hat Trick lay out three keys to victory for each team on Monday. For Miami, the keys were to take one in Oklahoma City, limit Kevin Durant's scoring output, and force Russell Westbook into making costly mistakes. The Heat can check two of those off of the list. While The Durantula has gotten his, the Heat, nonetheless, took back the precious home court advantage from the Thunder and not gotten in Westbrook's way as he shot his foot off.

Originally, I said that forcing Westbrook to commit turnovers was a key. While Westbrook has only committed four turnovers in the traditional sense during this series, he has missed 30 shots, many of which were ill-advised, in this series. While he did not make an errant pass or have the ball stolen from him with detrimental frequency, Westbrook's itchy and inaccurate trigger finger has resulted in the opposing team getting the ball without his team scoring (the same effect of a turnover) far too often.

The Thunder, on the other hand, had the three keys of going up two games to none, bottling up LeBron James in the 4th quarter, and forcing Dwyane Wade into making mistakes. The Thunder can perhaps chalk up 1-1/2 out of 3, possibly less. They did not sweep their homestand and they only kept LeBron in check in the 4th quarter of Game 1, not Game 2. Wade has committed six turnovers in the series and shot horrendously in Game 1, but was central to the Heat's revival in Game 2.

James, left, and Durant, right. 3


The Heat are in the driver's seat, for the moment. They have taken home court advantage from the Thunder and their total performance over the first two games appears to be ever so slightly better than that of OKC. More to the point, the Thunder, Westbrook in particular, are making a greater number of more costly mistakes in the series than the Heat. If you are in a matchup of two elite teams, it only takes a few mistakes to kill you.

While the Heat are in the driver's seat, the Thunder are in the passenger seat, eagerly waiting for Miami to fall asleep at the wheel. This series is tied. It only takes one Thunder victory to send the series back to Oklahoma City for good. It only takes one comedy of errors by the Heat before the media piles on and turns up the pressure cooker on the Heat. The scale of this series is far from tipping conspicuously in one direction or the other.

The next pivot in this series will take place before a national television audience on the biggest night for prime time programming, Sunday night. Both teams have an opportunity to make a big statement before the biggest possible audience. Only one of those statements can include "we won". Regardless, the chess match is on and this series, by any standard, is underway.

There's nothing like a drive in South Beach. 1

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