As predicted, Game 4 provided the first 40-point performance of this year’s NBA Finals by an Oklahoma City Thunder player. However, it did not come from the most likely culprit, and my prediction.
Russell Westbrook finally decided to show up in South Beach, scoring 43 points on 20-32 shooting, adding seven rebounds and five assists. Westbrook had one of the best NBA Finals performances in history. In the last 25 seasons, there have only been two players who have scored more than 43 points while shooting above 60% in an NBA Finals game (Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan).
Unfortunately for the Thunder, Westbrook’s remarkable game was not enough to lead them to a victory, as the Heat put them on the brink of elimination with a 104-98 win.
It has taken nine seasons, but it finally looks like LeBron James will get his first NBA championship. After the show he put on Tuesday night, King James deserves it. He was one rebound shy of a triple-double, ending the game with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds. For the second game in a row, it was not his stat line that made his performance so amazing. Rather, it was his Willis Reed limp/ Michael Jordan flu-game moment at the end of the fourth quarter that truly showed how much James wants this title.
After suffering from leg cramps to the point where he had be carried off of the court, LeBron came back into the game with a little over four minutes left and the Heat went on a 7-0 run. It was clear that he was in a world of pain, as he could be seen limping and wincing running up and down the court. However, King James did not let that slow him down drilling a three with Thabo Sefolosha draped all over him, giving the Heat a three-point lead, one they would not relinquish. LeBron manned up on Tuesday night and showed the world that he deserves his first NBA championship.
In Games 2 and 3, Heat guard Mario Chalmers combined for a mere five points. So, in an effort to keep his superstar player out of foul trouble, Thunder Coach Scott Brooks moved Kevin Durant off of James and over to the underachieving Chalmers. That decision seemed to spark some life in the point guard as he contributed 25 points in Game 4.
Chalmers proved to be a true deciding factor on Tuesday night, something that cannot be said about Thunder guard James Harden. Harden had another anemic performance, shooting 2-10 for only eight points. In the 11 minutes Harden sat on the bench, the Thunder shot 57% from the field and did not commit a turnover. In 37 minutes that he did play, the Thunder shot only 46% and committed 11 turnovers.
Stephen A. Smith said it best on Wednesday morning’s ESPN First Take when talking about Harden’s Game Four performance: “I mean that was embarrassing, I don’t even know why he was wearing a uniform!”
Game 4 Heroes: LeBron James and Russell Westbrook
Both players deserve to be the heroes of Game 4. While LeBron came up one rebound shy of a triple-double, Westbrook’s 43-point outburst cannot be ignored. Both of them brought their “A” game Tuesday night, and had their best outings of the series.
Game 4 Goat: James Harden
Again, the Sixth Man of the Year came up short for the Thunder when they needed him most. Eight points on 2 of 10 shooting is not going to get it done. Harden is now 13 of 37 for the series.
Game 4 Surprise Player: Mario Chalmers
Wade and James are pretty much guaranteed to score at least 20 points a game. When Mario Chalmers also drops 25 points, the opposing team is in big trouble. Chalmers had 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting Tuesday night, providing the Heat offense a much-needed spark.
Game 5 Prediction: Thunder will bring the series back to Oklahoma
While no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, this Thunder team is not one to give up. Look for Durant and Westbrook to come out firing on Thursday night, determined to give their home fans at least one more game. After a tough and gritty battle, the Thunder will win on Thursday, forcing a Game 6 in Oklahoma City.
Game 4 of these NBA Finals was arguably the best NBA playoff game we have seen in the last decade with great energy from tip off to the clock hit triple zeros. LeBron James had another stellar performance last night, finishing one rebound shy of a triple-double, but it was an unlikely hero who stole headlines this morning.
Mario “Mr. Clutch” Chalmers. “Mr. Clutch” as his tattoo says, got the nickname as a member of the Kansas Jayhawks after nailing a huge three-pointer to help Kansas win the NCAA title in 2008. Tuesday night, history repeated itself as his driving-layup, over shot-blocker Serge Ibaka, gave the Heat a 101-96 cushion they needed to seal the deal. It was a moment Chalmers wanted.
With LeBron sat on the bench nursing a leg cramp, and the Heat holding on to a minuscule 99-96 lead, Chalmers knew he should take the shot.
"Coming out of that timeout I told Wade, 'find me. Let's get this win,'" Chalmers said in the postgame interview. "He found me and I was able to get to the hole."
This was the loudest anyone has ever heard American Airlines Arena, as they erupted with every play their team made down the stretch. To the dismay of the Thunder who made a cluster of mental mistakes in the last seconds, including a gaffe by Russell Westbrook, who mistakenly fouled Chalmers after a jump ball with 5 seconds left on the shot clock.
Westbrook was sensational with 43 points, 17 of those coming in the final period which kept the Thunder in striking distance, but it was this foul that left Thunder fans thunderstruck. Yet I would not blame Westbrook for this loss.
The rest of the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to be MIA for this crucial game. Westbrook took 13 more shots than Kevin Durant, not shocking, yet outrageous at the same time because Durant should’ve been more aggressive. James Harden had great looks but nothing seemed to be falling for Sixth Man of the Year, who shot 2-10 for the second consecutive game, and seemed to go into hibernation the second half.
Surprise and Player of the Game (all-in-one): Mario Chalmers
It seems like Chalmers has finally found his rhythm after struggling the entire series against the Thunder. "Mario has that thing, that thing called heart," Wade said. Chalmers came up with huge plays all night long as the Heat got everything they could out of their forgotten man. This was the game that Miami Heat fans and basketball analysts have been clamoring for from the Heat point guard.
Game 5 Prediction: Heat close-out Thunder
King James will be crowned Thursday night and all of his detractors will bow in his presence. If Miami continues to keep their composure, even when falling early, taking it one possession at a time, they will win Game 5 and capture their second NBA title. I see a more mature, trusting and unified Miami Heat unit, as well as a completely different LeBron James, hitting a big 3 in the final minutes of the game as he limped his way to victory, ending with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 12 assists. His presence on the court alone, gives the rest of his teammates the confidence they need to beat OKC.
Building Through the Draft vs. Building Through Free Agency
There are various ways a general manager can build his roster. Miami Heat Team President Pat Riley went the flashy route, wooing all-star free agents to South Beach in the infamous 2010 off-season. Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti built his team the more conventional way, building through the draft with smart selections over the years. Is one technique better than the other?
First, let’s look at the Miami Heat. It seems like just yesterday that Pat Riley worked his magic winning the 2010 NBA off-season, getting Dwyane Wade to resign with the Heat, while simultaneously convincing fellow stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh to bring their talents to South Beach, forming Miami’s Big Three. At first glance, this would seem to be the preferred method of forming an immediate championship contender.
With the James and Bosh acquisitions, the Heat garnered three of the top five selections from the 2003 NBA Draft. Before the season even began, experts and analysts were crowning the Heat as champions. However, as we all know, the Heat’s quest for an NBA championship fell short against the Dallas Mavericks and questions began to arise as to whether is conglomeration would prove wise.
It should not have come as such a big surprise to people that the Heat were unable to win. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh took up almost all of the team’s salary, while the rest of their roster was an odd mixture of young, inexperienced players and washed-up veterans. Unfortunately, Riley has essentially no room to make any moves this upcoming off-season. Miami already has $77 million tied into the salary cap for next season; a number does not even represent a full roster.
Now let us look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. GM Sam Presti took over in the summer of 2007. Since then, he has drafted Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden, along with former Thunder players Carl Landry, Glen Davis, Rodrigue Beaubois, and Eric Bledsoe. While the last four players are no longer apart of the Thunder organization, they were all traded in deals that brought in future draft picks or young, promising players. There’s no doubt that this Thunder team is a very young team. Their starting lineup has an average age of 24.6 years of age. Yet even with this inexperienced roster, the Thunder have found themselves in the NBA Finals.
Presti has never been a proponent of playing the free agency lottery games. Instead, he has carefully assembled a well-rounded roster built on the foundation of back-to-back-to-back first round draft picks. Of the 8 Thunder players who received more than 20 minutes of playing time in Game 1 of the Finals, five were drafted by the Thunder compared to Miami, who have two players on their entire roster that were drafted by the Heat, and only one that actually plays (Wade).
It seems pretty clear that the smarter way to construct a well-rounded, championship-caliber team is through the draft. By building through the draft, a team gets young talent playing on inexpensive, rookie contracts. This season, Miami’s Big Three combined for a total salary of about $48 million, while the Thunder’s Three (Durant, Westbrook, and Harden) combined for a total salary of about $25 million. Sam Presti has manufactured a roster filled with talented, young players that will compete for an NBA title for years to come, while also keeping enough cap space to make moves for players in the future. Heading into the 2012-2013 season, Oklahoma City has 12 players under contract for about $64 million, while the Heat have 11 players under contract for close to $77 million.
There is no doubting the genius of Sam Presti. In each year since he became GM of the Thunder, he has either drafted a player that is now a key contributor to this Oklahoma City team in the Finals, or traded his drafted players for future draft picks or other young assets. Presti has created a roster that will compete for the title for years, even with the expected departure of James Harden after the 2012-2013 campaign. If OKC success over the last 3 years has taught us anything, it is that being patient is a vital aspect in building a championship-caliber team, and no one has been more enduring than Sam Presti.
LeBron James lived up to his title as league MVP with his Game 3 performance. The three-time winner of the award continued his stellar Finals play with 29 points and 14 rebounds. However, the most valuable part of his game in Miami’s win did not come on offense. It was his lockdown defense that led the Heat to the win, putting them up 2-1 in the series. This is a different version Lebron James compared to the one we witnessed collapse in every fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s Finals.
That LeBron James never scored more than 25 points in a Finals game. He also scored 18 combined fourth quarter points in those six games. This LeBron James has reached the 25-points plateau in all three games, and has combined for 21 fourth quarter points so far. If Oklahoma City cannot come up with a solution to stop King James, they are in big trouble heading into Game Four.
The turning point in this game occurred with 5:41 left in the third quarter. At this time, Kevin Durant picked up his fourth foul, forcing Thunder coach Scott Brooks to sit him for the rest of the period. Brooks’ decision to give Russell Westbrook a rest too simultaneously has come under some scrutiny. With their two best players on the bench for more than five minutes, the Thunder could not hold their ten point lead. Sixth Man of the Year James Harden had another abysmal outing, shooting 2-10 from the floor and missed on all four of his attempts from the three-point line. OKC desperately need some consistency from Harden if they want a chance to even this series on Tuesday night.
Heading into the Finals, everyone expected an exciting match-up between LeBron and Durant, the three-time league MVP and the three-time NBA scoring champion. However, no one could have expected such an epic battle between the two superstars in the first three games of the series. Each has scored at least 25 points in the first three contests, and both show no signs of slowing down. In fact, LeBron is averaging over 30 points and 10 rebounds in the first three games of this Finals series, a feat that has not been accomplished by a non-center since John Havlicek in 1969. The play so far of two of the league’s best players promises an dramatic ending to the series.
Game 3 Hero: LeBron James
This one is obvious. For the third straight game, James scored more than 25 points, finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists. The league MVP had an abundance of big plays throughout the game, it was his defense however that truly gave the Heat the advantage in Game Three.
Game 3 Goat: James Harden
Heading into the NBA Finals, the Thunder’s biggest advantage was their bench, led by Sixth Man of the Year James Harden. In Game 3, Harden was a non-factor, shooting a paltry 2-10 from the field. At the end of the third quarter, the Thunder relied on Harden to keep the lead while Durant and Westbrook sat on the bench, something the NBA’s top reserve was unable to do.
Game 3 Surprise Player: Shane Battier
There was no true surprise performance in Game Three, so the award again goes to aging Heat veteran Shane Battier. Battier continued his remarkable defense, while adding a touch of offense as well, making both of his attempts from the three-point line. Battier is now 14 of 19 from the field in the first three games of this series, including 11 of 15 from behind the arc.
Game 4 Prediction: Thunder Rally to Take Game Four
For the most part, this entire series has been very even. All three games have come down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Thunder cannot afford to fall behind three games to one, especially with Game 5 in Miami. Sometimes desperation forces a team to play their best. With an elimination game on the horizon with another loss, Durant must have his best game of the series. Game 5 could very well be the first 40-point outing of the series.
It wasn’t the prettiest, but a win is a win. The Oklahoma City Thunder seemed to be in control of Game 3 of the 2012 Finals. They were on a roll in the 3rd quarter until Kevin Durant picked up his fourth foul for the remainder of the period. Although Derek Fisher was a great contributor off the bench, even completing a 4-point play, not having Durant on the floor was an advantage for the Heat, as they were able to come back from a ten point deficit. Not to mention after those 4 fouls, Durant’s defensive intensity labored as he played very passively down the stretch.
The Miami Heat pulled off the win and it came down to the last seconds. The Heat shot a lousy 38 percent (28 for 74) from the floor. Dwyane Wade was forceful, attacking the rim and at all costs. His 25 point, 7 rebound and 7 assist performance, was his best game by far, energy-wise in this series. Rebounds, second-chance and fast break points gave the crowd and the team more energy. LeBron James’ 14 rebounds led the energy surge for the Heat throughout. Chris Bosh was also active on the floor with 11 boards. OKC could not stop the Miami Heat in the paint.
Surprise of the Game: The Entire Miami Heat Team. Instead of the usual break down of the Miami Heat in the 4th quarter, they managed to keep their composure enough to hold OKC late in the fourth quarter.
Player of the Game: LeBron James Last night he had 29 points and 14 rebounds. Yet this series, and virtually the entire playoffs he has been phenomenal, averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds. Last night he hit a clutch free throw to give the Heat a 4-point lead with less than a minute left in the game.
What Miami needs to do to win Game 4: Get mad and get over it. The Miami Heat are doing a better job at keeping their cool. As Bosh said in the post-game interview, "I think before we used to just freak out about what happened and really just staying with the past. You have to have a quick memory in this business. They're a very good team. They're going to make some runs sometimes. It's all about how you respond. And I think we responded very well, and we just have to continue to do that because sometimes you're going to be behind ... it's not going to be easy. We keep that in mind, and we were fortunate enough to go on those runs to kind of give ourselves a little bit of a cushion."
Game 4 prediction: Battier said post-game that the guys on the team feed off of LeBron’s energy. If this is true, Miami Heat will win game 4. LeBron James wants this ring and is doing everything within his power to see it come to fruition. However, Miami was up 2-1, against the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s Finals, so Heat fans don’t get too excited.