The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat might be the toughest NBA Finals to call in quite some time. They are alternately very similar and quite different. They each boast a 1-2 punch that can be both explosive and inconsistent. But, as usual, this will be a series that comes down to match-ups, and I think the enough match-ups fall on OKC’s side of things.
When Miami has the ball, I expect OKC to put Thabo Sefolosha on Dwyane Wade in an effort to mimic the Celtics plan to limit Wade and the rest of the group in hopes of keeping Miami’s scoring in check. Remember, in that monster Game 6 performance by LeBron James, the Heat still didn’t score 100 points. So it’s possible to let him have an historic game but still keep within striking distance. I’d let Kevin Durant handle LeBron James 1-on-1 and deal with the consequences. Put Westbrook on Chalmers, Serge Ibaka on Shane Battier and Perkins on Chris Bosh.
In a best-case scenario for OKC, Durant plays off LeBron, dares him to shoot, and uses his length to bother the shot. Sefolosha is good enough to limit Wade, Ibaka’s length bugs Battier and Bosh is flustered by Perkins’ physicality. In a worst-case scenario, Bosh and Battier spread the floor, leaving wide open lanes for LeBron to abuse the rim or drive-and-dish. If Battier and Bosh get hot, watch out.
When OKC has the ball, Wade would have to guard Westbrook, with LeBron on Durant, Chalmers on Sefolosha, Battier on Ibaka and Bosh on Perkins. In the best-case for Miami in that scenario is that LeBron bodes up Durant and forces him to take a lot of shots to get his point while Wade keeps Westbrook at bay. The worst case is someone else goes off like Sefolosha did in Game 3 against the Spurs.
That’s all, of course, when the starters are in the game. But what happens when it comes time to close?
Now OKC brings in James Harden. And that’s going to force Miami to make a decision. And I don’t think it’s something they’ll be able to conquer. Because with Harden in the game, someone is going to have to help. He’s a play maker, and being on the floor with Westbrook and Durant gives OKC too many option for the Heat to handle. Miami doesn’t have the personnel to deal with that fourth quarter line up. Either Harden or Westbrook will have openings.
As for that LeBron/Durant match-up. I like Durant’s length in this match-up over LeBron’s strength. Durant is a better shooter than LeBron, while LeBron is a better penetrator than Durant. You can figure out a way to help on drives… you can’t really help when a guy with a height advantage and can hit shots over you.
Mind you, I while I like these advantages, I like them by very slim amounts. The only clear match-up issue is James Harden, and that’s enough for me to think someone else will take advantage of it. I’ve got a hunch it’ll be Russell Westbrook who closes most spectacularly. I think he takes advantage of Miami’s weakness like Rajon Rondo did, but with more explosive finishes. Throw in a very important home-court advantage (I love the Garden fans, but I don’t think any team feeds off its crowd quite like the Thunder do), and I like the Thunder in 7.