It's the matchup we all dreamed of. The players we couldn't wait to see take the court against each other. The teams that we catapulted above the rest and envisioned would face off in a dueling battle of God given athleticism and talent out the wazoo. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat are set to face Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA finals. We should all breath a little and let it soak in.
Hall of fame legend and basketball icon, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, labeled this star studded series as the most above the rim finals matchup in NBA history. With each team sporting their own superstar big three, and Serge Ibaka casually hanging in the balance as the shot blocking prowess in the middle, there's arguably enough talent here to start 5 franchises. Only 1 team will win. Question is, what are the keys?
Fear the Bench
How will Erik Spoelstra manage the minutes of LeBron, Wade, Bosh and the rest of the Miami Heat? Against the Boston Celtics, the Heat were able to do a decent job on the glass but the frontline of Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison present a tougher task. Miami also leaned heavily on LeBron, who played a whooping 320 minutes last round. The Celtics big 3 however is roughly 13 years older than the Thunder's big 3 and although LeBron James has consistently proven to be the one of the most conditioned athletes in the league, his energy will be harder to come by.
LeBron James jokingly suggested something intersting following the game 7 victory against the Celtics. He hinted at the possibility of Bosh coming off the bench, alluding that James Harden and Jason Terry don't start but have just as signifcat roles as starters. The intitial reaction was obvious shock, but in hindsight, James might have a point. Miami has struggeled with their bench all year, plagued by injuries, a depleted frontline and lack of play making personnel. This years sixth man of the year will only further expose this weakness and Erik Spoestra will have to find a way to manage minutes accordingly and develop a rotation that can balance and hide this weakness.
The Chris Bosh effect
Of the many match ups that have been featured and spotlighted thus far, none might be as significant as Chris Bosh vs Serge Ibaka. Bosh has returned to form, rescuing the Heat from the brink of elimination and providing them with reliable perimeter shooting from the frontline. Due to his top notch shooting ability, Bosh's presence alone can have a tremendous impact on this series. If Ibaka is assigned the defensive task, he'll have to stay relatively away from the paint in order to be able to close out on Bosh. This will serve as a huge advantage for Wade and LeBron, opening up the lane and providing much needed spacing in the half court set.
It will be interesting to see how coach Scott Brooks adjusts to this matchup and rearranges lineups to accentuate Ibaka's defensive capabilities. It could be advantageous for the Heat to once again play small ball and put Bosh at the 5 slot. This will force the Thunder to play small as well and either force Ibaka to be matched up with Bosh or replaced by a smaller and quicker Collison.
A matchup of matchup's
No matter how many different ways you assess this series, draw out reasonable conclusions and point to key contingencies, the everlasting reality will smack you in the face in the shape of either a Durant or LeBron. Sure we might see Dwyane Wade vs Russell Westbrook or even James Harden but the world is locked in and focused on one matchup: the league's MVP vs the runner up. The NBA's MVP and 3 time scoring champion will go head to head in one of the most thrilling small forward match ups in recent memory. Fans, coaches and even players should appreciate the footage that they're privileged and fortunate enough to witness.
To nobody's surprise, both Lebron James and Kevin Durant have downplayed the extent of their paramount matchup, responding to reporters as vague and politically correct as possible. Dwyane Wade however, spoke loudly about that headline matchup and perhaps said it best when explaining what he expects to see:
"Two good players, two of the best in our game. Getting the opportunity to match up in the prime of their careers. I think it's going to be a great matchup, it's going to be tough to guard each other and they're going to have to guard each other. I look forward to it, you know, seeing what my teammate has, going against one of the best players. I'm glad that he has that challenge" - Wade said