By Dennis Berry
A few days have passed since the Miami Heat won game five of the NBA Finals to clinch the NBA Championship. The final outcome was surprising – not the fact that the Heat won, but the dominant way they did so.
Most figured that this would be a six or seven game series. Many predicted that the Thunder would win. I figured that Miami would win the series, but it would take seven games.
So, for the Heat to win it in a short five game series was a surprise. So what led to the decisive outcome of the finals?
The first thing is the Thunder's inexperience on the big stage.
Yes, the Thunder was dominant going through the Western Conference. They swept the defending champions, the Dallas Mavericks 4-0 in the first round. Then they knocked out the Los Angeles Lakers, who won the title in 2009 and 2010 in the second round 4-1. In the Western Conference Finals they were down 2-0 to the San Antonio Spurs, and then won the next four games.
The NBA Finals is a different level of basketball all together. The only Thunder players with any experience in the Finals were Nazr Mohammed, Kendrick Perkins, and Derek Fisher. Outside of the stellar play of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the rest of the Oklahoma City players looked unready for the stage they were on.
The easiest example is James Harden. During the regular season he averaged 16.8 points and shot 49% from the floor. Even in the Western Conference, he was outstanding. He averaged 18.3 points against Dallas, 16 points against Los Angeles, and 18.5 points against San Antonio.
In the finals he only averaged 12.4 points a game and shot 38% from the floor. In games three and four he combined to shoot 4-20 from the floor, 1-9 from three, and scored a total of 17 points. Harden is not the only Thunder player to not show up in the finals, he is just the best example because of how important he is to Oklahoma City’s success.
On the other hand, the Miami role players stepped up big when the finals began.
There are so many examples to choose from for Miami. During the regular season Battier only averaged 4.8 points a game. In games one and two it was Shane Battier who became an offensive threat for the Heat. He scored 17 points in both games, going 9-13 from the three-point line.
In game four it was Norris Cole who provided a spark in the first half after Miami got off to a slow start. He came off the bench and hit two three pointers in a 16-0 run that got the Heat back into the game.
Then Mario Chalmers found his shot. After scoring 12 points in game one, Chalmers had struggled in games three and four scoring a combined five points on 2-15 shooting. In the second half he exploded shooting 7-10, including two 3 pointers, and scoring 19 of his 25 points. In fact he was Miami’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter scoring 12 points.
Game five was the Mike Miller show. He came into game five scoring a total of eight points for the whole series. He had shot the ball only five times total and had not hit a three-point shot. In the Miami clinch, Miller played perhaps the best game of his NBA career. He hit 7-8 three point shots and scored 23 points off the bench.
It was one of the greatest shooting performances in NBA Finals history.
Where the Oklahoma City role players seemed to shrink in the moment, the Miami role players rose to the occasion.
Finally, the main factor was LeBron James.
Now either you love James or you hate him. One championship is not going to change the way you feel towards him. The one thing you cannot look down on him about is his play in the NBA Finals.
James finally played the style of game that most believe he could. He did everything in this title run that the Heat could ask of him. When Chris Bosh went down in the Indiana series, James stepped up to the power forward position.
When the Pacers took a 2-1 series lead, James rose to that challenge as well. He scored 40 points on 12-16 shooting, grabbed 18 rebounds, and had nine assists. The Heat would win the game 101-93 and close out the series in the next two games.
Against Boston, it appeared the Heat's playoff run was over. The Celtics took a 3-2 series lead and had a chance to close out the series in game six at Boston; a place the has been unkind to James throughout his career.
James also rose to that challenge. He had perhaps his best playoff game when he needed it the most. He scored 45 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, and had 5 assists to lead Miami to a 98-79 win. The only other player in NBA history to have a stat line like that is Wilt Chamberlin.
Then in the finals, James made up for his terrible performance against Dallas. He did not shrink like he did against the Mavericks; instead he stepped up and played the way everyone has wanted him to since he came into the league.
He averaged 30.3 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 7.4 assists in five games and was named the Finals MVP. He was one rebound away from a triple double in game four – 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. He did have a triple-double in game five with 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds.
As the clock clicked toward 0:00 and the final outcome was known, James could finally celebrate a title. It appeared that the weight of the world had been lifted from James’ shoulders. Finally he could be called a champion.
For Oklahoma City it was a learning experience. While the Thunder will not use something like their youth as an excuse, it was a factor. Every year they have had to learn what it takes to win in the playoffs. The following year they come back better.
For Miami this was the validation of the forming of their Big 3. It proved that Pat Riley knew what he was doing bringing in James and Bosh to combine with Dwyane Wade. It also showed that Erik Spoelstra could lead this team to a title.
As we move forward we can only hope that this was just the first chapter of the Durant-James, Thunder-Heat rivalry.
Now that Lebron James has a title, who replaces him as the best NBA player without a championship ring?
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