The NBA season is now down to three teams. One of those teams is on their way to the NBA finals and will meet their opponent in the NBA finals after tonight's winner between the Heat and the Celtics.
Of course that team is the OKC Thunder who are in the NBA finals for the first time since they moved from Seattle to Okaholma City. There is a lot to talk about and ponder.Here are a few thoughts.
On the way to immortality:The San Antonio Spurs had won the first two games of the Western Conference finals.Overall they had won 20 in a row.People,myself included,started to think of the Spurs in lofty terms of being an all-time great team and an organization worthy of mention with the Lakers and Celtics as the premier organizations in the sport.Yet something happened. The OKC Thunder!
A subtle,yet sensational move by Scott Brooks(the OKC head coach)putting Thabo Sefaloosha on Tony Parker and switching every pick-n-roll.What this did was throw Parker's rhythmn off after the first two games.Oh he did score 21 points with 10 assists in the first half of game six.However the Thunder shut him down in the second half.
The real defensive job was done on Tim Duncan.Listen Tim is an all-time great player.Yet he is not at that level as he once was.Tim can get 15-20 points and 10-15 rebounds potentially.Yet the all-time great Tim could get 30-40 points and 20 rebounds.The Spurs needed him to be the all-time great Duncan in this series.They did not get it.Manu Ginobili was the Spurs' only constant force.
Durant,Westbrook,and Harden all stepped in and overwhelmed the Spurs offensively.Then the Thunder get timely contributions from Collision,DaQuan Cooke,Serge Ibaka,and Derek Fisher.The Spurs went from 2-0 up to a 4-2 crushing series loss.The Thunder grew up and dealt with the pressure and every Spur rally.
Whether the Spurs were up by 18 in the first half of game six or when the Spurs were rallying in game five when Harden's shot put an end to that rally.Simply the Thunder were better! Once they contained Parker with the defensive switch to Thabo and subsequently switching the pick-n-roll'the Thunder got their equilibrium.Now they await the winner of tonight's game seven between the Heat and the Celtics.
As for the Spurs?! This might have been their last hurrah.Duncan is still very good;yet he is not great and the Spurs need him to be great.Manu is tremendous.Yet Manu is 34 and has been playing for a long time if you include his career in the international league as well.And now the question has to come about can Tony Parker lead the Spurs the way Rondo lead the Celtics. Tony had a great season.
Yet when the Spurs needed him to step up and play in the same vain as Rondo has played for Boston;Tony was contained.I know Popovich tried to incoporate the bench more this season.However his bench was not relevant as the conference finals moved forward.Often benches are not relevant because most NBA benches don't travel well on the road.
Most teams have their two to three stars and then get contributions from 1 to 2 players on the bench and not from 3 to 4 players as the Spurs had done during the regular season.The playoffs are different because the coaches can focus and prepare for all the various options a team has.The Spurs are going to have to think about a major trade to get younger and better.That could mean Manu or Tony might have to be moved.
The Lakers are in the same boat.They either must move Pau or Bynum.As for now the west belongs to OKC and could belong to them for years to come.
The Celtics and Heat:This has been a real good series.The ups and downs have been thrilling to say the least.Rajon Rondo and LeBron James have been the two best players in this series for their respective teams.As great as Garnett has been it has been Rondo who has conducted the Boston Celtic offense the way Arthur Fiedler use to conduct the Boston Pops.
Rondo has been as dynamic as Magic Johnson and lethal quick as Isiah Thomas.However the Celtics' defense has been as lethal and has been conducted to aplumb by Doc Rivers who has done a sensational coaching job.The zone and man to man defense and the timely switching between the two has confounded the Miami Heat at times.
Now the Heat need Dwyane Wade to step up his game.LeBron has played well and delivered an all-time performance in game six with 45 points 15 rebounds and 6 assists.LeBron has gotten unfair press.
I have watched the NBA since 1979-1980. There has not been a more criticized athlete in the NBA than LeBron.The press and the fans want more and more.If the Heat win tonight and LeBron is average;the fans and press will say the Heat won and LeBron had to be carried.If the Heat lose then LeBron will be blasted.If LeBron has another all-time game;the press and the fans will say why could he not have done more of this earlier in the series?! Hey LeBron is an all-time great.
He puts up numbers that are scary.If LeBron plays up to his potential then the Heat will win this series and the finals as well.Maybe it is the time he plays in.Maybe it is the way of the world.Yet any other NBA player does what LeBron has in his career that player is not as criticized.It took Jordan seven seasons to win a title he was not as criticized.Karl Malone and John Stockton never won;they were not as admonished for failure.Neither were Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing.
When Boston beat the Lakers in 1984 Magic and Kareem were admonished.Yet the stories were as much about Boston's success as it was about the Lakers' failure.True they had to win in 1985 to erase away their losing in 1984.However Magic and Kareem were still highly respected by everyone including Red Auerbach and the Boston press.
LeBron does not even get cursory respect.I think if Miami does win this year people will say OK now you need to win again.I think Miami will win game seven.Yet the Celtics won't go easily.Should be a fun game!I hope I can stay awake!
Take care and please be well.