1. Something special was going to happen
As an admittedly biased supporter of the Thunder, I should have been nervous during pre-game introductions. I wasn’t. That’s because, as a fan of basketball, I was too giddy to be nervous. Something special was about to happen, one way or the other.
Durant, Westbrook, and the Thunder were going to spoil the Miami championship party, send the series back to Oklahoma City and, in doing so, open up the very real possibility of a Boston Red Sox-esque comeback.
If not, LeBron James was going to win the most critically anticipated ring in the history of the NBA. The Miami Heatles trio would conquer the darlings of the league and win not six, not five, not four, not three, not two, but one championship.
Either way, the narrative in the aftermath of Game 5 would be incredibly intruiging.
2. Unfortunately for OKC…
Despite trailing by single digits for the majority of the first half, the outcome never seemed as if it was in question. Westbrook was off. Harden never showed up. Derek Fisher was firing up shots as if he were a viable scoring option; as if he was the 32-year old version of Derek Fisher. But the number on his jersey — and the outcome of those ill-fated jumpers — reminded otherwise.
The entire process seemed like a drawn out, mostly unnecessary coronation process for Miami. The home team shot 54 percent from behind the arc in the first half — including four 3-point buckets by the guy who used to be Mike Miller.
Somehow, the Heat were even hotter in the second half, when it seemed as if they literally could not miss. Miller, Chalmers, Battier and, if I’m not mistaken, even Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, buried 3 after 3 en route to blowing the game wide open by the end of the third quarter.
Chalmers knew it, as he waved to the ecstatic, white-clad occupants of the American Airlines Center. Lebron James didn’t care. “Not yet,” he said. “Play ball.”
Say what you want about The Decision and the narcissism that accompanied it. Say what you want about James’ ill-fated attempt at playing the villain last year. He’s past that. He is finally the player that he was expected to be.
Lebron and the Heat deserved this one. They wanted it more.
3. The sky is not falling
The funny thing about success is that it breeds the expectation for greater success. Fifty-five wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals was enough improvement to outweigh the disappointment associated with the team’s inability to close out games last season. Forty-nine wins (the strike shortened equivelant of 60 wins in an 82-game season) and a dominant run to the NBA Finals should have accomplished the same degree of pacification this season — only suddenly, after four straight losses to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, it hasn’t.
Nevermind the fact that each of the first three losses was a one possession game with less than a minute to play. Nevermind the fact that LeBron James turned in one of the all-time great Finals performances in the history of the Association. Nevermind the run that preceded the shortfall: the sweep of the defending champion Mavericks, the bookend beating of the Lakers, the four straight victories versus the previously invincible Spurs. In the glare of the championship round, past triumphs have given way to recent inadequacies.
We know better.
The young Thunder have the deepest, most talented lineup in basketball, and the group returns everyone in 2013 — plus Eric Maynor. Just as last season’s conference finals appearance represented progress, this season’s championship failure represents yet another step in the right direction.
GRADING THE THUNDER
• Kevin Durant: B-minus, Durant went out like a champion, leading all scorers with 32 points and 11 rebounds on 13-of-24 shooting. If only someone would’ve reminded him that 6-foot-10 dudes shouldn’t dribble behind their back in traffic... Seven turnovers? Seven?!
• Russell Westbrook: D, Westbrook followed up one of the all-time greatest performances in NBA Finals history with a stinker. Four-of-20 from the floor. 19 points. But, hey, at least he finally got to the foul line.
• Serge Ibaka: C-minus, Ibaka was a complete non-factor in this series. That didn’t change in Game 5.
• James Harden: C, The Beard finally got on the board with 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Too bad all three of his triples dropped with the Heat up by several touchdowns.
• Thabo Sefolosha: D, Zero points for Thabo. Twenty-six points and 13 assists for Lebron. What more do you need to know?
• Kendrick Perkins: D, Zero points and five fouls. Have we exercised that amnesty clause yet?
• Derek Fisher: C-plus, Fisher missed some big shots when the game was still within reach, but at least he had the courage to shoot late. For what it’s worth, I appreciated Fisher’s contribution to the team and to the growth of Russell Westbrook. We’re lucky to have had him around.
GRADING THE HEAT
• LeBron James: A-plus-plus, Enough already, this guy is the best all-around player in the Association. Need proof? How’s 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds in a championship-clinching game. Please, please, please, stop saying LeBron isn’t a closer or a winner. The guy just won his first title and was clearly the best player in the series.
• Chris Bosh: A, Started strong and played that way all the way through — until he was pulled for a standing ovation late in the fourth quarter. With LeBron and Dwyane Wade hogging the headlines, Bosh often goes unnoticed. But it’s hard to ignore 24 points and seven rebounds on nearly a nightly basis.
• Wade: A, Full disclosure: it’s going to be hard to give any Heat players anything less than a B after such a dominant performance. Wade had 20 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks to win his second ring. Not bad for a guy people said was done after the first game of the Finals.
• Shane Battier: B, Not his best showing of the Finals, but hey, he still had 11 points and was plus-8 while on the floor.
• Mario Chalmers: B, Of course he wasn’t going to repeat his 25 points from Game 4, but he didn’t have to. He still had 10 points on 3 of 6 shooting — 50 percent ain’t bad.
• Mike Miller: A-plus, There are no words to describe what Miller did in Game 5. The guy had been a shell of his old self in the playoffs, but all of sudden, he randomly turned it on to get Miami another ring. Miller had 23 points while knocking down 7 of 8 3-point attempts. And of course, OKC kept leaving him open; the guy hadn’t hit an open shot in two years. Just the way it goes sometimes.
Udonis Haslem: D, He gets a low grade only because someone has to finish at the bottom end of the totem pole.
• Norris Cole: C-minus, Somehow, he was minus-12 while on the floor. Of course, most of OKC’s points came in garage time with him on the floor.
• Terrel Harris: A, He hadn’t played all series and picked up three points in three minutes on the floor. Sure, it came way after anything mattered. But regardless, kudos to Harris, an Oklahoma State alum, for getting a ring.
• Erik Spoelstra: A-plus, Before the season even started, some said the Heat coach should lose his job if Miami didn’t win the title. Well, he can sleep well knowing the championship will reside in South Beach until 2013.
The 2012-2013 season. Well, unless you count the Olympic basketball in London in July and August. Until, hats off to the Heat.
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