The moment basketball fans have been waiting for. The NBA Finals are set to begin Tuesday night with a matchup fans are craving for. The Miami Heat, led by their big three take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, led by their young superstar Kevin Durant.
The Heat didn’t have an easy road to get to the Finals. After defeating New York in 5 games, they defeated Indiana in a tough 6 games series, before being pushed to the limit in the Eastern Conference Finals, before finally eliminating Boston in 7 games.
The Thunder started their impressive playoff run, with a 4 game sweep over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks. They followed that by defeating the LA Lakers in 5 games. The most impressive performance for the Thunder was in the Western Conference Final against San Antonio. After losing the first two games, many experts thought the young Thunder team was finished. But Durant and company thought otherwise, as they roared back to defeat the Spurs in 6 games.
The matchup everyone will be talking about is LeBron James vs Kevin Durant. Everyone knows LeBron’s story. King James is still looking for his first world championship, and many think this year might be his best chance. LeBron has received heavy criticism, especially from the likes of ESPN loudmouth Skip Bayless for not coming through in the clutch. He silenced some of those critics in the Boston series, putting up 45 points and 15 rebounds in Game 6, then followed up with a 31 point 12 rebound effort in Game 7 including 11 points in the decisive 4th quarter. LeBron stepped up when the Heat desperately needed him, and he came through with flying colours.
Durant has been simply brilliant for the Thunder this postseason, averaging 27.8 points 7.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game in the playoffs. His field goal percentage is just a shade over 50% which is incredible, given how many shots he takes, and knowing that opposing defences are focused to containing him. Durant has been clutch when the game is on the line as well. His three pointer late in Game 4 against the Lakers, sealed that game, and he did that in a hostile environment. His 36 points in Game 6 against San Antonio was an enormous factor in the Thunder coming back from a 15 point halftime deficit.
LeBron has more bulk than Durant, but Durant has a longer reach so this will be a fascinating matchup. Both can post up and work the inside game. Both are strong at the perimeter as well. Both have quick first steps in driving to the lane. Both are extremely athletic. It will be incredible to watch.
Another key matchup will be Dwyane Wade vs James Harden. Wade has struggled at times in the playoffs, but has started to play better towards the end of the Boston series. Wade did put up 23 points in Game 7 against the Celtics, relieving some of the offensive pressure from LeBron. Despite only shooting 27% from the three-point arc, Wade did hit a couple of big threes in the fourth quarter of Game 7. But Wade knows he will have to be more consistent from the outside if Miami are to win the series.
Harden will come off the bench as always, but he will be on the court, when the game is on the line. A very good outside shooter, Harden is 44% from downtown and is not afraid to take that shot. His defence was terrific in the San Antonio series, and he will put pressure on Wade. This is a difficult matchup for Wade, as Harden can play physical, and won’t be easy to push around.
Chris Bosh came back in Game 5 of the Boston series, after missing 9 games due to injury, and it took him till Game 7 to shake off the rust. Bosh was solid in the deciding game against the Celtics, putting up 19 points, while grabbing 8 rebounds. Bosh will need to establish an inside game so he can free up the perimeter game for LeBron and Wade.
Expect Serge Ibaka to guard Bosh in the Finals. Ibaka was outstanding in the San Antonio series, especially in Game 4, where he went 11/11 from the field, finishing the game with 26 points. His defence on Tim Duncan was excellent, frustrating the Spurs big man on numerous occasions. Ibaka is more physical than Bosh, and Bosh does have a decent outside game. Expect Ibaka to really make Bosh work at both ends of the floor to wear him down.
The one advantage I have for the Thunder is at point guard. There were questions surrounding Russell Westbrook coming into the playoffs, but he has answered his detractors with authority. The UCLA grad has averaged 21 points and 5 assists in the postseason, and has been intelligent enough to know that the offence should revolve around Durant.
The Heat will use Mario Chalmers at the point, but he’s not in Westbrook’s class. Chalmers struggle guarding Rajon Rondo in the Boston series and will face issues in guarding Westbrook. Chalmers isn’t as quick nor as big as Westbrook. He will have to be patient, and hope for some help from his teammates. If Westbrook gains the upper hand early, the Heat are in trouble.
Prediction: This should be an outstanding final. LeBron vs Durant should have every basketball fan salivating. However, Westbrook is better at the point than Chalmers and Oklahoma City have home court advantage. The Chesapeake Energy Centre is a crazy building and the Thunder are perfect at home in these playoffs. It will be close, and LeBron is motivated, but I’m picking the Thunder in 7.
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