In a season of unpredictability the 2012 NBA Finals will be contested between the two best teams: the surging Oklahoma City Thunder and a Miami Heat team returning to the Finals stage after 2011’s defeat. Join us from 11am AEST for live commentary and scores.
The Heat trio of individual talent in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh wasn’t enough to overcome a gritty 2011 Dallas Mavericks team led by goofy sharp shooter Dirk Nowitzki.
Did the Heat’s big three learn enough from last years finals to overcome Oklahoma’s younger, less accomplished three-headed monster in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden?
Well today we find out in Game 1 of what promises to be a flip of a coin seven game series.
The beauty of the opening game in a Playoff series is that we have little idea of what to expect. Will LeBron look to takeover early in a bid to make up for his virtual absence in the 2011 Finals? Will the inexperienced Thunder get off to a shaky start on the biggest stage and fall behind early?
Will Russell Westbrook fail to appease the erratic “shoot first” Demon which often possesses his mindset and derail the Thunder’s Championship aspirations? Will Kevin Durant leave this series as the undisputed best player in the World? Will Dwyane Wade show up in what has been a sub-par playoffs by his usual high standards?
Will Chris Bosh cry? Ok, either way Chris Bosh will definitely cry.
Outside of Bosh, I believe only two things are certain in this series. James Harden will have a beard and both fanbases will complain that the referees “suck”.
Outside of the inevitable referee home cooking, who will have the advantage in Game 1? Both teams rank inside the league’s Top 10 for defense and Top 5 for offense. In previous meetings, the two teams split the regular season 1-1, with the home side victorious on each occasion.
In most facets, comparing Oklahoma and Miami by the numbers is like being stuck in a maze of mirrors.
Among the mirrors is one area which stands out more than the others, each teams ability to defend their own house. The Miami Heat have a home record of 35-6, the Thunder 33-7. On the road Miami are 21-19, Oklahoma 25-15. There’s a clear advantage to the home team no matter which way you cut it.
Outside of questionable road records, weaknesses for either side are harder to find than Mike Miller’s jumpshot. Only two areas stood out, points allowed and turnovers. When the Miami Heat allow 92 points or more, they possess a record of 23-19. When they register 15 or more turnovers, Miami are 21-14.
How does that impact the Thunder? In 40 games at home this year Oklahoma have averaged 105.3 points per game (2nd overall) and forced their opponent into 14.4 turnovers per game (13th overall).
Miami should be ok in terms of protecting the ball offensively, but they are going to have to dramatically step up their defense against the high powered OKC offense in order to limit the area which their win/loss record is most vulnerable.
As for the Thunder, their two key indicators of defeat were (surprise) identical to that of Miami’s. The Thunder are 20-18 when they allow the opposition to score more than 97 points. In road games this year Miami average 95.6 points per game (11th overall). When Oklahoma turn the ball over more than 16 times per game they are 22-14. In Heat road games this year, Miami’s opponents have average 16.7 turnovers per game (2nd most overall). When you combine Miami’s ability to force turnovers with Oklahoma having the 4th highest turnover rate in the NBA this year, Russell Westbrook becomes the most important individual on the floor. In the Postseason, Westbrook has limited his turnovers to 2.3 per game, down from nearly four in the regular season. Maintain that number and Oklahoma are all the more closer to victory.
My tip for Game 1? I’m siding with the home team, at least until we can make our way through the wall of mirrors. Although nobody would be at fault for aligning their allegiance with a coin flip.