Your Water Cooler Guide to the NBA Finals
The NBA Finals start tomorrow, and for at least the next week or so, your office will likely be buzzing over what’s happening. And if you’re planning on tuning in, you’ll get to see basketball at its best and follow the sure-to-be great storylines of this match-up between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
And even if you haven’t been following the season—no worries. Here’s a rundown of who’s playing, what to expect, and what everyone will be talking about.
What’s Happened So Far
The Heat were 46-20 in the regular season and the second seed in the East, while the Thunder were 47-19 and the second seed in the West.
The teams played each other twice in the season and ended up 1-1. Now, the Thunder are on a roll, coming off four straight wins against the San Antonio Spurs to win the West. The Miami heat won the East against the Boston Celtics during a hard-fought Game 7.
Most importantly, this match-up means the Finals promise to be a battle between two of the biggest superstars in the NBA today: Kevin Durant and Lebron James, both of whom have yet to win a championship.
Who’s Playing: Thunder Players of Note
The best scorer in the NBA (for the third year in a row!) and the heart and soul of the Thunder’s offense. The best way to describe Durant’s playing style is smooth: His jumper is textbook-perfect with a release point so high, it’s virtually impossible to block. He wasn’t the MVP this year (that honor went to Lebron James, who had better overall stats and defense), but you can be sure he’s gunning for the Finals MVP trophy.
The Thunder’s point guard developed a reputation in 2011 for being rebellious and a bit wild, but he seems to have toned down. He’s been averaging 24.1 points per game in the playoffs and has been known to pull out a monster offensive game (he scored 40 points against the Nuggets earlier this year). In the past, he was prone to turnovers (4.6 times per game, on average, in the 2011 playoffs) but in 2012, he’s dramatically improved that statistic to 1.6. He’ll most likely be guarded by Dwyane Wade, which could go a long way towards diminishing Wade’s impact on the game.
A key part of the Thunder offense, Harden had his best season in 2012, including a career-high of 40 points against the Suns. He was also named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year (an award given to the best player who comes in as a substitute). This means Miami is at a disadvantage—all their best players are their starters, while Harden coming in off the bench improves the Thunder’s game. Plus, he’s got an awesome beard. What’s not to love?
As he proved in Game 4 of the West Finals (he shot 11 for 11 and scored a career high of 26 points), Ibaka can be a powerful offensive tool for the Thunder. But his primary strength is defense: Ibaka is the best shot-blocker in the league, and if he effectively deploys his defensive skills to cut off Miami’s offense, he could be a key part of a Thunder win.
Who’s Playing: Heat Players of Note
A three-time MVP, and the best scorer in the league during the postseason (averaging 30.8 points), James is the Heat’s (and the NBA’s) superstar. A lot has been said about him, particularly about his skittish performance in the 2011 Finals. He’s developed a reputation for choking during high-pressure games (see: the 2007 and 2011 Finals), but then again, he delivered the performance of his career in Game 6 against the Celtics with a game-changing 45 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. His past arrogance, however, hasn’t done him any favors (the fateful Decision, arriving in Miami, and responding to the public after 2011), which means the media is ready to pounce—if the Thunder get an early series lead, the inevitable media skewering could mess with James’ confidence.
Wade has been pretty good in the playoffs so far, averaging 22.9 points per game, but he’s going to have to light up offensively if he’s going to keep up with the dominating Thunder. He’s a difficult player to guard because of his two-step, which allows him to skirt anyone defending him. On the flip side, Wade will also have to stay busy stopping some of the Thunder’s offensive power, in particular by staying close to Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and forcing missed shots.
The third of the Miami Big Three, Bosh is a terrific shooter and a key part of the Miami offense—there’s a reason Miami lost three games to Boston when Bosh sat out due to an abdominal injury. In the fourth quarter of Game 7 against Boston, Bosh demonstrated his offensive prowess by hitting a career best three three-pointers. His game led the Heat to their biggest lead of the night, ultimately cementing Miami’s victory. Bosh is a tough player to guard as well because of his height (6’11”), yet impressive speed and ball-handling skills. Watch for him to make a large impact on the game, assuming his injury doesn’t give him any trouble.
Most Importantly: The Schedule
Tune in starting tomorrow for the big games:
Game 1: Tuesday, June 12, 9 PM ET
Game 2: Thursday, June 14, 9 PM ET
Game 3: Sunday, June 17, 8 PM ET
Game 4: Tuesday, June 19, 9 PM ET
Played only if necessary:
Game 5: Thursday, June 21, 9 PM ET
Game 6: Sunday, June 24, 8 PM ET
Game 7: Tuesday, June 26, 9 PM ET
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison.
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