MIAMI — The NBA Finals remain in their infancy, relatively speaking, but here are five things we know for sure, right now, at this moment, after the participants practiced and spoke to the media Saturday on the eve of Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.
1. OKLAHOMA CITY KEEPS COMING
The Thunder are like Joe Frazier. They’re like Terminators. They’re relentless. You can’t fight them off. They’re always right there. On your tail. In your face. They never give up.
Durant. Westbrook. Harden. Fisher. Sefolosha. Ibaka. Perkins. Collison. They come at you in waves. And it’s blocked shots. Rebounds. Fast breaks. 3-pointers. Tip-ins. Steals. Dunks. Everything. They’re all over the place. Yet they’re always right there.
Dallas had them down by seven with 2:30 remaining in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series. The Thunder won, 99-98.
The Spurs had them down by two games, 2-0, in the Western Conference finals. The Thunder won the series in six games.
Miami had them down, 18-2, in the first quarter of Game 2 of these NBA Finals. The Heat milked that lead the rest of the night. if that game had gone another two minutes the Thunder might have recorded the come-from-behind victory.
They never quit.
“Coach always tells us, it’s hard to play well, but it’s easy to play hard,” Durant said. “If we just come out there and play hard, it makes up for a lot of the stuff that we may make mistakes on.”
2. LeBRON JAMES VS. KEVIN DURANT IS GREAT THEATER
Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the world. Better than LeBron. Better than Kobe. Better than Carmelo. Durant is the best. Period.
“He can make any shot the game has to offer, off the dribble, off the catch‑and‑shoot, off pindowns, he can make every shot,” James said. “You just try to wear on him, but he’s going to make his shots and get his points because of the type of player he is.”
LeBron James is the best all-around player in the world. Better than Kobe. Better than Wade. Better than Durant. Better than Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Kevin Love, anyone you want to throw in the discussion. All things considered – offense, defense, the total package of skills – LeBron is the best.
“He’s doing everything he needs to do right now to put ourselves in a position to win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “and that’s on both ends of the court.”
So you have The Best against The Best.
And it’s a head-to-head matchup.
You didn’t get that with Magic and Bird.
You didn’t get it with Jordan vs. Karl Malone.
This is special, and it’ll only get better.
So far Durant is averaging 34.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 25 assists while shooting 57.1 percent from the field in the Finals. LeBron is averaging 31.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists while shooting 45.7 percent.
Of course, no matter what the numbers say, the true winner of this battle is the one that gets the ring.
3 DWYANE WADE IS THE X-FACTOR
OK, maybe his knee is bothering him to the point he can’t be the D-Wade we’ve seen the previous eight-plus seasons.
If Wade is the engaged, aggressive, into-the-game player we saw in Game 2, the Thunder could be in big trouble.
Wade was doing everything going toward the hoop in Game 2. That’s different from Game 1, when Wade settled for jump shot after jump shot after jump shot.
In Game 2, Wade created concern for the Thunder defense and at the same time opened created opportunities for teammates.
Wade is a smart player. He knows he needs to attack, and he knows what happens when he attacks. He’s being limited by his knee ailment. But he has to find a way to be effective, and that’s what happened in Game 2. At both ends of the court.
Wade had 19 points, four rebounds, eight assists, and one steal in Miami’s 105-94 Game 1 loss.
Wade had 24 points, six rebounds, five assists and one block in Miami’s 100-96 Game 2 victory.
The big difference? Wade was 7-for-19 (.368) shooting in Game 1, including 0-for-2 on 3-pointers, when he settled for jumpers. He was 10-for-20 (.500) shooting in Game 2, and didn’t attempt a 3-pointer, because he attacked the rim.
4. THE OTHER GUYS WILL MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE
So far it’s tough to say exactly when the guys aside from the Big Three will make a huge difference.
All you know for sure is that one or two of them will, at some point in each game.
Miami’s Shane Battier hit four 3-pointers in Game 1 loss and five in Game 2.
Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka, the NBA’s regular-season leader in blocked shots, had no blocks in the Thunder’s Game 1 victory and blocked five in the Game 2 loss.
Miami’s Mike Miller gets 10 minutes in the Game 1 loss and one minute in the Game 2 victory.
Who knows if it made a big difference?
Miami used guard Norris Cole in the Game 2 victory and brought forward Udonis Haslem off the bench. Was that the difference? Not as much as Battier’s shooting.
Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison had eight points and 10 rebounds (twice as many as Bosh) in 21 minutes the Game 1 victory. He had no points and three rebounds in just 15 minutes in the Game 2 loss. Was that the difference? Did Scott Brooks forget about him? Maybe.
The trends and contributions might not be apparent yet. But we know the “other guys” will make a huge difference for the winning team.
5. THE SOUTH BEACH HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE IS OVERBLOWN
It’s crap. Don’t believe it. It doesn’t exit. It’s never existed, and Oklahoma City won’t succumb to this myth. The South Beach Advantage theory says teams visit South Beach, see the beautiful women, lose their minds, stay in the clubs all night (last call is 5 a.m.) and then they can’t play the following night. So the Heat cruises to victory.
It didn’t seem to work against Dallas in last year’s Finals.
True, Miami is more seductive than most towns. (In my opinion it has more beautiful women per capita than any other city in America; no place is even close.) But guys go out in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, every major city. Nobody said the Kobe-Shaq Lakers won because guys hung out late in Hollywood. No one ever credited Patrick Ewing’s Knicks with such an edge in The City That Never Sleeps. No one ever granted such a slant to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
And have you noticed the South Beach advantage only gets mentioned when the Heat is good?
When the Heat was winning 25, 36 or 15 games did visiting team stop hanging out on South Beach? Is that why they regularly trounced the Heat in those seasons? No. Opponents were still partying. It’s just the Heat was a bad team.
You win games with talent, and that’s why one team in these Finals will win at least two of these three games in Miami.
If the Heat happens to win two, or three, of these games I can assure you it won’t be because the Thunder partied too hard.
Dwyane Wade agrees.
“I don’t think the urge to want to go out and enjoy Miami is that important right now,” he said, “especially when in 10 days you can enjoy it as much as you want.”
Chris Perkins is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com, covering the NBA and the Miami Heat. Follow him on Twitter.