The Miami Heat are the 2012 NBA Champions. The Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five of the NBA Finals to win the series four games to one. It was the second championship for the Miami Heat franchise. They won their first championship in 2006. LeBron James was named Finals MVP. I have so many things to discuss now I just have to pick a place to start. Let’s look at the game first.
I don't think Oklahoma City was going to rally to win game five, but any chance they may have had ended in the third quarter when Derek Fisher was called for a flagrant foul. It was laughable to call the play a flagrant foul. James was driving down the lane when Fisher got in his way to try and take a charge. Fisher was not set so a foul on him was the correct call. A flagrant, however, was a joke. It was just another example of some of the bad officiating we saw in the Finals. Thankfully, the Heat were out ahead so we won't look back on the play as costing the Thunder the game, but that still does not mean we should ignore a horrible all that could affect a game next year.
Players cannot win championships on their own, but I think I was a year early, at the minimum, in crowning Kevin Durant as the NBA's best player. He is an offensive threat like no other in the league, but I saw flaws that stop him from receiving the torch as the NBA's best. His main issue is defensively. Durant has a lot of work to do defensively. He needs better footwork to start with. Durant also needs more discipline. He bites on the shot fake a little too often and gets caught reaching when players get by him. Durant could also use some more toughness in the block. It may be nitpicking when talking about one of the best five players in the league, but I have to be honest in realizing I crowned him too early.
I thought Kevin Durant and the rest of the Thunder team were very classy in defeat. They congratulated the Heat before leaving the floor, something the Heat failed to do last season. While the Thunder probably would have done so as they seem like that kind of team, it was extremely classy of Scott Brooks to remind them during a late game timeout. Brooks’s speech during the timeout was all inspiring and all class. It is easy to see why this team loves to play for him.
When LeBron James signed on with the Miami Heat, it was clear one of his intentions was to have a safety blanket in Dwyane Wade to rely on. James could carry the team early and allow Wade to take over late when James typically disappeared. We saw it last year when James disappeared when the going got tough in the Finals. However, this year, James carried Wade. James gained a maturity on and off the court that allowed him to become a better player on the court and maybe even a better person off the court. There is no denying this was a different James than we have ever seen in the postseason. There was no late game crumbling or series ending crumbling. There is no doubt now that this is James’s team. Once his team, Wade is now Robin to James’s Batman.
While James deserves props and credit for this postseason, we cannot be prisoners of the moment. I have heard many journalists opine that this erases the rep James earned after previous poor playoff runs. Let’s not try to brush that under the rug. James had a bad NBA Finals in 2007 against the Spurs. While he finished strong, James struggled against the Celtics in the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals. James was inconsistent in the East Finals against the Orlando Magic in 2009. In 2010, we all remember James’s vanishing act against the Celtics in the East semifinals. Finally, we all remember James’s disappearance in the NBA Finals against the Mavericks last year. We criticized him for those runs, making this turnaround all the more impressive. We cannot pretend those poor years were not important. I also heard a few journalists who say James is now the only player you can compare to Jordan. Incorrect again. James has one title. With his new attitude and maturity, he has a great chance to make a run at six titles. However, let me know when he has four before we start to put him in the league of the Jordan’s, Magic’s, Bird’s, Abdul-Jabbar’s, Bryant’s, Duncan’s, and all the other greats with multiple titles.
I want to praise James again for accepting his limitations and playing within himself. He did not try to play hero ball by shooting from the outside, nor did he disappear when the outside shot was failing him so miserably. Instead, James did what he does best and took the ball to the hole. He kicked it out when need be, giving his open teammates great looks at the hoop. By my count, James was 0-4 from outside the paint in game five, making him 9-51 since game six of the Eastern Conference Finals from outside the paint by my count. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has James at 8-48 from outside the paint since game six of the East Finals. Either way, that is James’s worst six game stretch of shooting from the outside since 2007. If there was ever a year for James to crumble, disappear and draw criticism, it was this year. Instead, he dug deep, realized his weaknesses and did what he does best by driving. He deserves credit. Not many players would recognize and accept a limitation. James further showed a new level of maturity by doing so that will allow him to take his game to even higher levels.
According to ESPN’s Mike Greenberg from the Mike and Mike radio show, James is the most maligned player not to win a title. He was suggesting that James had unfair expectations and criticism placed on him. I couldn’t disagree more. James brought a lot of this on himself. He was the one who called himself the King upon entering the NBA. He was the one who disappeared late in critical games. He was the one who decided to hold the decision television special to announce his new team. He was the one who decided to hold a victory party when joining the Heat before the team ever took the court. I could go on and on, but we’ve seen James actions over the span of his career and to act as if he didn’t bring any of it on himself is being disingenuous. If Greenberg really feels this way, than the reclamation project that I believe James deserves credit for on and off the court is unnecessary. If Greenberg really thinks James has not matured on and off the court, than he simply has not been watching.
While I am discussing Greenberg, I wonder if he still thinks the 2-3-2 format is great, even after the home team loses one of the first two games. To me, it has been unfair since it was first implemented and will continue to be unfair until it is changed. No team with home court advantage should have to face an elimination game if they win all home games until game seven. No team with home court advantage should be able to lose one of the first two games of a series and not have a home game to right the ship.
I am not sure where they were all year, but Miami’s role players stepped up huge in the Finals. Entering the Finals, it appeared the Thunder had the stronger, more fluid lineup outside of the each team’s big three. Even if only looking at scoring, Miami shot that theory down right away. In game one, Shane Battier had 17 points while going 4-6 from three and Mario Chalmers had 12 points on 5-7 shooting. Battier dropped 17 points again in game two, going 5-7 from downtown in the process. In game four, Chalmers scored 25 points on 9-15 shooting. In the clincher, Mike Miller had 23 points while going 7-8 from long distance. Also, Battier added 11 points on 4-8 shooting while Chalmers had 10 points on 3-6 shooting in game five. Miami’s support staff was huge.
On the other side, Oklahoma City could only dream of that kind of production from their support staff. In game one, only Serge Ibaka broke double digits with 10 points. In game three, it was only Kendrick Perkins with 10 points. In game five, only Derek Fisher was in double figures with 11 points. In games two and four, no player outside of the big three scored in double digits. Plus/Minus never tells the whole story, but Ibaka was -42 for the series while Perkins was -25. Also, this does not include the fact that James Harden was non-existent for three of the five games. He only scored double digits in games two and five. Miami got production from their big three in every game. Simply put, the better team won.
I have to wonder how the fans in Seattle are feeling right now. The Thunder were the SuperSonics before Owner Clay Bennett ripped the fans hearts out and moved the team to Oklahoma City. I suspect they would want to rejoice at Bennett’s loss. However, they did have Durant for one year prior to the move. Not only is he a likeable player, but he also had nothing to do with the move. I suspect a little mixed emotions are occurring in the great northwest. That being said, I bet they are more on the rejoicing side than sad side.
Is there anyone out there who still wants Heat coach Erik Spoelstra fired? I didn't think so. I defended Spoelstra when many were calling for his head during the Boston series. Spoelstra kept this team together through trying times against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. He also dis something Thunder coach Scott Brooks did not do during the Finals - make adjustments. No, Spoelstra is not the greatest coach in the NBA. In fact he may just be average, but he is the perfect fit for this team and the personalities of its players.
So, can the Thunder get back here with this team and win a championship? Yes, I believe they can. They are a very young team and will only learn from this loss. In fact, it is quite amazing they have achieved as much as they have so soon. Durant is 23, Harden is 22, Ibaka is 22, Perkins is 27, Sefolosha is 28, and Westbrook is 23. 25 year old Eric Maynor, who missed the playoffs due to injury, will be back to help off the bench at the point. Daequan Cook, 25, could see an expanded role while Nick Collison, 31, is hardly over the hill. This team can and will improve. That being said, they were offensively anemic in the finals. That could be solved as the young players improve their games. It could also be solved with some moves. The Thunder will have an interesting decision to make with Harden and Ibaka. Both will be unrestricted free agents in 2014. Yes, that is a couple of years away, but the Thunder are going to struggle to keep both under contract. If I were the Thunder and had to move one, I’d move Harden. I keep Ibaka for his defense and try to improve the offense by dealing Harden. I doubt either gets moved this summer, but general manager Sam Presti is very good and will not pass up a good deal to improve is team’s depth and offensive punch.
As for the Heat, why change what is working? While it is true some teams have holes that could be filled to make them even more unstoppable, I don’t see that with this team. The Heat will just make some minor adjustments. The big move I expect is for them to add a shooter. Someone like a Ray Allen makes sense. I do not expect them to add a point guard. If the Finals taught us anything, it is that James playing the point power forward is what this team needs. Adding a Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, or Andre Miller will actually be more detrimental than helpful in my opinion. In the draft, the Heat should go for some size to help Bosh in the middle. Again, nothing major though another shooter on this squad sure will seem major to the rest of the NBA.
I realize that was boring so I will suggest something that won’t happen, but maybe should happen if James is going to win not five, not six, and not seven. If the Heat truly are looking long term, they should explore moving Dwyane Wade. Wade is the first of the big three to show signs of aging and it is only going to get worse. His age, 30, is not as big of a concern as his knee(s). In two years, Wade could be a shadow of his former self with no real trade value. If the Heat want to build a dynasty for James, 27, and Bosh, 28, moving Wade to get a bit younger would be a smart move. The Heat could bring in a few good role players and a high draft pick or go for a younger, maybe disgruntled with his situation great to superstar player. Again, this won’t happen, but I wonder if in two years we are questioning whether it should have.
There is one big travesty that has come with the Miami Heat winning an NBA Championship. The travesty you ask? Eddy Curry is now an NBA Champion. I know there are many players who ride the bench who win titles, but at least they contribute in practice and play vital roles in prepping the players who see more court time. Eddy Curry is like a semi-retired player. Since the 2007-2008 season, he has played 24 games. Over the course of those games, he averaged 6.5 minutes per game. Oh well, at least he saw action in 14 games this year.
All joking aside, I send my congratulations to the Miami Heat on winning the 2012 NBA Championship.