Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The NBA Finals Mea Culpa

"Nobody puts Shane Battier
in a corner." (Sorry but that
joke never gets old for me).
Like the late great Jerry Orbach, "when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong" and when it came to the Thunder- Heat series, I was LOUD wrong.* At least I wasn't alone lunging for the back of the Thunder bandwagon after they took LeBron and Co. to the woodshed in the second half of Game 1. All of the signs pointed to another LeBron laydown leading to the start of a Thunder dynasy with a win in five or maybe six games. In addition to the evidence we had from Game 1, we also had the fact that the Heat had just struggled to get past a decrepit Boston Celtics team and an Indiana Pacers team that would have finished 13th in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Thunder had just rolled through the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs like they were Chuck Norris dispensing with the first wave of bumbling Ninjas before his real nemesis stepped out of the shadows wearing a cooler Ninja suit.

Let's break down the deciding factors (in no particular order except the last one) and see if we can figure-out how the Thunder lost the initiative and never got it back:

"What can I say brother . . . it's
just not as cool when you're
making 20% of your shots."
1. James Harden: He had 5 points in Game 1 on 2 of 6 shooting but no one really noticed because Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook went off and the role players did enough to get the win. Harden then threw us off the scent with a 21 point Game 2. After that, it was as if he looked in the mirror and had the epiphany, "why didn't someone tell me this beard started looking ridiculous three months ago?" because he was an anchor in Game 3 (2 of 10 for 9 points) and Game 4 (2 of 10 for 8 points). His Game 5 stats were better (3 of 8 for 19 points) but most of those were after the game got out of hand towards the end of the 3rd quarter and the Heat knew that all they had to do was put two guys each on Durant and Westbrook with their fifth guy under the basket and they were home free. Harden's garbage time three pointers only served to make his overall performance look worse which I didn't think was possible.

2. The Refs: That had to be a 2001 ACC officiating crew who took one look at Shane Battier and then nodded at each other knowingly. (I'm pretty sure they were given special contact lenses to make the Heat's uniforms look blue but I can't prove that). In Game 4, Russell Westbrook took 32 shots (more on that in a minute) and at least half of them were on kamikaze drives down the lane. If that had been Dwayne Wade, he would have gotten at least twelve trips to the free throw line. Westbrook shot three. I'm not saying the refs decided the series, I'm just sayin'.
"Who told you to pass the ball
Russell? More dribbling dammit!"

3. Scotty Brooks: It kills me to knock a 5' 11", 165 lb. white guy who was able to grind-out ten seasons as a player in the NBA with six different teams and even pick-up a ring with the '94 Rockets but let's face it, Scotty was Rich Kotite to Erik Spoelstra's Bill Walsh in that series.*** It's never a good thing as a coach when the move you are most praised for is the concession speech you made to your team before the last game was over.

4. Russell Westbrook: He went back to being the guy no one wants on his team in a pick-up game. The play at the end of the first half said it all as he pounded the ball into the floor for 15 seconds as the NBA's leading scorer stood 20 feet away begging for it until Westbrook decided to dribble through three guys and then plead for a foul that did not occur. I don't understand why a bigger point has not been made of the fact that, after Eric Maynor blew-out his knee in January, the Thunder were left without a true point guard which is ok if, like the Heat, you have the modern version of Magic Johnson with Rob Gronkowski's body. The Thunder don't have that. What they do have is three pure scorers and a bunch of hustle players which is a great nucleus if you have someone to dribble the ball down the court and tell them all where to go. If only there was a guy who fit that description available in free agency this year.****

5. Heat Role Players: So while James Harden was shooting with both hands around his neck and every other member of the Thunder decided to take a scoring sabbatical during the Finals, Shane Battier had 17 points each in Games 1 and 2, Mario Chalmers had 25 points in Game 4 and Mike Miller's corpse had 23 points in Game 5. Do you know what those first two guys have in common? They both came up huge in the National Championship Game and Chalmers hit one of the most clutch shots in college basketball history (Chalmers Shot). You'd think NBA teams would rank those attributes up there with wingspan and upside more often when drafting and signing free agents. You'd think.    
Somehow no one 
noticed that she 
couldn't act . . . at all.

6. LeBron: Sticking with the martial arts theme, back in 1985 one of the best/worst movies of that genre called the The Last Dragon was released. I'll let Wikipedia handle the plot description with a few FGR parantheticals: "Set in New York City (Cleveland), the plot follows a teenage martial arts student named Leroy Green a/k/a Bruce Leroy with dreams of becoming a great martial artist like his idol Bruce Lee (Michael Jordan). Leroy goes on a quest to achieve the highest level of martial arts accomplishment, known as "The Final Level". Martial artists who reach this "Final Level" are said to possess "The Glow", a mystical energy that can only be attained by a true martial arts master. When a fighter's hands glow, he is one of the best in the world and when his entire body glows, he is the greatest fighter alive. On his journey to becoming the "Last Dragon" and wielding the power of "The Glow," Leroy must confront villains such as a crooked arcade mogul Eddie Arkadian (Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert) and the evil Sho'nuff, the "Shogun of Harlem" (Kevin Garnett), from whom he must also protect his love interest, TV music video host Laura Charles (played by 80's super hottie Vanity).

"If you send that many,
don't forget one thing...a
good supply of body bags."
Sound like anyone else we know? I know the final hurdle was the Thunder but what we didn't fully realize at the start of that series was that at some point before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics, LeBron discovered "The Glow." The parallels in this climactic scene are really incredible right down to the Sho'nuff/Garnett resemblence and the creepy Eddie Arkadian/Dan Gilbert character standing off to the side rooting for Leroy/LeBron's demise - (The Last Dragon). The scary part is that now that LeBron has discovered "The Glow", it doesn't matter who he plays with as he just proved in the Finals. All he needs is another decent scorer, a few 3-point shooters, one tall guy and he can take care of the rest. He has the ability to guard, out-rebound and out-assist any player in the league. You can't guard him with less than two people and, if you'll indulge me one more 80's movie segue....

Endnotes

* Dirty Dancing is the rare chick-flick that's ok for guys to quote . . . right?

** I always wondered if real Ninjas watched Chuck Norris movies and debated whether they should swim across the Pacific Ocean and kick his ass for making them look bad.

*** I had to go football reference here because if I named a horrendous basketball coach instead of Rich Kotite, no one would have any idea who in the hell I was talking about.

**** How would you like to see a rematch of this year's Finals with the Thunder fielding this starting line-up: Steve Nash at the point with Westbrook at shooting guard, Durant at small forward, Nick Collison at power forward and Serge Ibaka at center. Steve Nash running fast breaks with Durant and Westbrook flying down the wings. I just got a chill.

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