Friday, June 15, 2012

NBA Finals Game 2 Wrap

Greetings all! Due to an apparent miscommunication on the other site that I write for (it happens), I am copy/pasting a pretty detailed look at Game 2 in this space. Enjoy!

The Miami Heat went on the road and gave Oklahoma City their first home loss in the 2012 playoffs with a 100-96 decision. In a wildly entertaining game that saw a big-time OKC comeback, the play that will likely be discussed the most in the blogosphere was the Lebron no-call on the final possession by Kevin Durant.

Trailing 98-96 after a settling jump shot by Lebron grazed the rim, the Thunder called a 20-second timeout, and came out with a quick hitter to Durant on the left block. The play developed more quickly than anyone could've expected, but Durant had a great position on the catch, and got off a 7-8 foot jump shot, but not before Lebron committed an apparent foul on the rip-through that went uncalled. The end of the game after that saw LBJ knock down 2 free throws, and an uninspiring heave by Westbrook that went begging. That was that.

For Miami, Lebron was tremendous as usual, as he finished with 32 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists on 10-22 shooting, and an impressive 12-of-12 from the free throw line. The wrap on his night will be around the fact that he settled for a contested three on a late Heat possession, but despite that being correct analysis, it's tough to overlook the overall contribution that he put out on Thursday night. Dwyane Wade put up a semi-efficient 24 points on 10-20 shooting, while taking care of the ball at a reasonable rate, and showing a bit more spring in his step defensively. I was focally critical of Wade during and after Game 1, but he played a much better all-court game on Thursday. Oh, I do have to mention the turnover on the steal that turned into the huge Durant three late when discussing Wade's game. Oops. Outside of the big two, Shane Battier's play sparkled as he played his usual solid defense, but also converted on 5-7 from three-point distance and finished with 17 points. It's crucial for Miami to have their role players knock down jumpers, and Battier has come up big for them.

On the OKC side, the slow start ended up doing them in. The Thunder fell behind 18-2 to start the game, and while they played much, much better after the first few minutes, a 16-point deficit against a game Miami team is a tall order. Kevin Durant had a huge second half and finished with 32 points (on 12-22 FG) despite playing only 39 minutes due to foul trouble. Russell Westbrook put up another crazy line, with 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists, but the story was the same as usual for him. "Bad Russ" emerged with 26 field goal attempts including various trips where he failed to get OKC into sets, but "good Russ" created big-time scoring opportunites with Durant off of the floor, and showed that now-vintage explosiveness. The other big reason that OKC was able to virtually erase the early deficit was the play of James Harden. Scott Brooks was forced to slip Harden into the game early (at the 6:00 mark of the 1st quarter), and the move paid off as Harden hit a big 3 to get them going, and scored 21 points on the night in his usual, efficient manner (11 field goal attempts).

There is a major storyline brewing with the role players on Oklahoma City. Kendrick Perkins was virtually worthless for the second straight game, and the fact that his main asset (post defense) is totally negated in this series makes for a difficult decision for Brooks. On a night where Ibaka was pretty ineffective, there was nowhere for Brooks to turn, and the result was the entire OKC supporting cast netting just 16 points total. Sefolosha took a step back in this game, as expected, but his defensive impact is still huge in this series, and I'd expect his minutes to stay quite high.

There were a couple of auxiliary notes that stood out, as well. Miami's big three converted 20 of 23 free throws (including the aforementioned 12-12 from Lebron) while OKC's historically better threesome made just 14-20 among them. This seems like a small thing on paper, but when Lebron knocks down 12-12 out of a place where he is prone to struggle and Durant/Westbrook/Harden each miss 2 free throws, it's big. In addition, I think it's important to point out in the midst of the "did he foul?!" conversation about the Durant/Lebron play late, that there was a questionable block/charge call that went in Durant's favor a few minutes earlier. This was big because it would've been Durant's 6th foul, and the OKC late run likely never happens without him. Context!

Where do we go from here? Miami stole a game in OKC, and with the 2-3-2 format, I think it was a virtual must-win. It's certainly a tall order for the Heat to win 3 consecutive games (even at home), but Lebron and company want no part of returning to OKC and their best chance would certainly be to sweep the next 3 in Miami. On the OKC side, they were the better team for the final 42 minutes on Thursday night, and they did so with positive contributions from exactly three players. My pick of OKC in 7 is one that I'd stick by as of this moment, but some adjustments will likely need to be made, and chiefly among them would be Brooks giving up on the "big" lineup and only playing one big at a time. This is going to be an insanely compelling series for 4-5 more games. Enjoy it.

Series Tied 1-1

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