Game 4 of the NBA Finals – Oklahoma City Thunder are attempting to level the series against a Miami Heat side just two wins away from a Championship. Join us from 11am AEST to see if Oklahoma can erase the possibility of a win or go home scenario in Game 5.
In a series full of twists and turns, one area of the game has stood out as an accurate indicator for victory: points in the paint.
In the opening three games of the series, whichever team scored the majority of their points inside won the game.
It’s pretty simple in theory, but as the Thunder have found out, it’s tough to execute on the court. In the Thunder’s lone Game 1 victory, Oklahoma sourced 68 of their total points via free throws or points in the paint compared to Miami’s 42 points.
In Game 2, Miami would reverse those numbers and experience a 52-49 advantage for points via the paint and free throws. For Game 3, Miami would obliterate the Thunder in this area, scoring 71 points to Oklahoma’s 39.
The standout difference maker for Miami between Games 1 and 2 was Chris Bosh. In Game 1, Bosh wouldn’t attempt a single shot inside the paint. For Games 2 and 3 Bosh made his inside presence known, going 8-for-15 on field goal attempts and getting to the free throw line on eight occasions.
Bosh has also impacted the offensive glass. Of his 26 total rebounds in Games 2 and 3, 15 were offensive. In Game 1 Bosh had just 5 rebounds, all defensive.
Another area where Miami possess an advantage is free throw shooting. The Heat have made a staggering 67 of their 78 free throws (85%) compared to the Thunder’s 54 of 77 (70%). Miami have attempted just one more free throw than Oklahoma in this series, yet possess a +13 point advantage.
Miami’s two wins thus far have been by four points and six points. You have to make your free throws. Whoever wants to win the Championship will have to do so from the inside and via the foul line.
What can Oklahoma do to enhance their chances? It all stems from the above; force the Heat into taking jump shots. In the Finals to date LeBron James is shooting 30% on jump shots (12/40), Dwyane Wade 35% (14/39) and Chris Bosh 23% (5/21). The Thunder’s ability to limit the Heat all starts on the defensive end.
I’d love to see Scotty Brooks match Miami’s small ball line up and throw out a starting five of Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Collison and Ibaka in order to help contain the Heat’s speed advantage.
Apart from forcing contested jumpers and wearing Shane Battier like a straight jacket, the Thunder must keep Kevin Durant out of foul trouble. When Durant left the game after picking up his fourth personal foul with less than 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Oklahoma had a 10 point lead. That quickly evaporated and the Heat took a one point advantage into the fourth quarter.
Winning on the road in the Finals is hard enough as it is, but defeating a Miami team who boasts a 30-1 record when leading at home after three quarters is borderline impossible. Durant failed to break 40 minutes in the Thunder’s previous two losses, in Game 1 he played 46 minutes.
Oklahoma’s recipe for success has to be force jump shots, make their free throws and keep Durant out of foul trouble. Miami’s recipe for success is to keep doing what they’re doing.
Play inside, continue to hit 85% of their free throws and allow LeBron to isolate Durant one on one so he can get to the basket and draw contact.
With a stubborn Scotty Brooks calling the shots, I can’t see any changes or curveballs coming from the Thunder in regards to lineup changes. This series isn’t ready for an elimination game just yet, so I hope Oklahoma can square things up at 2-2. Unfortunately the Heat are playing smarter, more fundamentally sound basketball right now.
My head says the Heat, but I’ll be hoping for a monster game from Kevin Durant, and anything but a 3-1 result.