It's time for another roundtable from our writing staff as we enter the midway portion of the NBA Finals series against the Miami Heat and the OKC Thunder. Let's do it!
Your general thoughts on Durant's subpar 4th quarter in the Game 3. Also, was it due to foul trouble and he couldn't be aggressive? Or was it cold shooting, Heat defense?
Diego Quezada: The Heat played good team defense on Kevin Durant. The three-time scoring champ can get a step on LeBron James if he wants to -- such as his driving dunk in the first half of Game 3. But in the fourth quarter, Miami sent extra bodies when Durant was able to get that step on James. Chris Bosh came over to block him on one possession and alter a couple of other shots. Mario Chalmers also did a good job of helping James after some pin-down screens for Durant, leaving Thabo Sefolosha open. Durant played aggressively in the fourth quarter in Game 2 despite picking up five fouls then. He was still aggressive in Game 3, but saw a Heat defense that crowded him.
Surya Fernandez: The foul trouble killed his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and he couldn't really settle into a flow like he did in Game 2 when he was also in foul trouble. That's largely his fault because he's committing silly fouls like reaching in when there's no chance of stopping LeBron on his way to the basket. With the way the Heat are continuing to go at him, Durant has to be smart about when to try to make a great defensive play and when he simply needs to let it go because the Thunder can't win if he's sitting on the bench.
Mnelik Belilgne: Foul trouble and Heat defense. Some of his fouls were due to unnecessary reaching, some from the physical wear and tear from trying to defend Lebron and Wade and some have just been questionable calls. What won't change however, is LeBron's willingness to attack the basket so the Thunder will have to make a defensive adjustment if they want Durant out of foul trouble. In addition, in that 4th quarter Miami did an excellent job of crowding Durant and collapsing in the paint. Durant drove by LeBron a couple of times but was met by Chris Bosh and a barrage of hands in the paint. Heat did a great job of shrinking the floor but then again everything i just wrote could be moot if a couple of his shots didn't rim out.
What's impressed you the most and the least from both teams so far this series?
Mnelik Belilgne: The Heat have really impressed me with their focus and relentless interior attack. Throughout the playoffs they have somewhat faded in and out, lacking the consistent focus required to obliterate an opponent. In these first 3 games however, the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have made it their mission to attack the paint, and seemingly made the Thunders frontline look nonexistent.
Scott Brooks has impressed me the least thus far. His substitution patterns have been erratic and baffling. After game 1, it seemed apparent that Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka needed to play more but Brooks has elected to go with the slower Kendrick Perkins. With Wade and Lebron continually dominating in the paint and the Heat winning the boards, Brooks is under the hot seat to make adjustments.
Surya Fernandez: The Heat still need LeBron's huge contributions to pull out any win but they are now counting on Shane Battier, Chris Bosh and others to chip in as well and it's come through. They're still struggling to score in late game situations though.
The Thunder's toughness can never be called into question because they have made comebacks in every game of the series and have solid chances to win each game. But that's also their biggest weakness, they've never encountered this type of defense so far in the playoffs and have not been able to consistently score. Their defense has been up-and-down the whole series as well and have allowed LeBron to finish at the rim with little resistance.
Diego Quezada: Shane Battier's 3-point shooting has easily stood as the most surprising aspect of the series so far, but Miami's defense in Games 2 and 3 have been very impressive. Holding a team with the offensive firepower of the Thunder to just 85 points is remarkable. Aside from the aforementioned defense on Durant, Russell Westbrook has overall had a decent yet erratic series, and James Harden has only had one good half of basketball (first half of Game 2) in this series. As far as disappointment for the Heat, these last two wins have gotten dangerously close to becoming losses. People will point to Dwyane Wade's two turnovers bringing the ball up-court, but other people deserve blame as well. As soon as Wade lost the ball the first time in Game 3, Chalmers should've come over to ask for a pass. And although Wade attempted an ill-advised jumper on the Heat's next possession, James rifled off a contested 3-pointer in Game 2 after the Thunder got the Heat lead down to two in the final minute.
As for the Thunder, Durant has continued to play at an otherworldly level. James shut down Derrick Rose in the conference finals last year, but Durant is as pure a shooter as there is. He moves like a gazelle and can use a couple of long strides to get to the basket with ease. He's the second-best player in the NBA right now. But Oklahoma City has made a bad habit of getting off to slow starts. A team that goes up 2-0 in the 2-3-2 Finals format puts itself in a great position to win it all. To come out in Game 2 and get into an 18-2 hole is inexcusable. The Thunder played a bit better to start Game 3, but still lost the first quarter by six points in a game that had a final margin of victory of six.
Can the Heat continue to win like this in crunch time? How can Spoelstra adjust and get the offense to flow more in the 4th?
Mnelik Belilgne: As long as the Heat continue to attack the paint and not settle for jumpers they can. That's the scouting report on the Heat, shrink the floor and make them take jump shots. If Lebron and Wade continue to get into the lane, the Heat will have a handful of opportunities to score. Erik Spoelstra needs to make sure that there are enough shooters on the floor during the 4th, to ensure spacing for penetration. Last game we saw James Jones get some action and he was very productive in his brief time. With Bosh a threat in the pick and roll, and a couple of shooters spacing the floor, the Heat should have no reason to get stagnant.
Diego Quezada: Miami had a 7-point lead with 53 seconds left in Game 2, and a 7-point lead with 2:19 left in Game 3. As I mentioned earlier, Wade committed a costly turnover in each of the last two games. But the Heat have run some nice plays for crucial baskets in Games 2 and 3. James set a pick for Wade, who found Bosh for a big dunk in Game 2, and Wade and James both went right at Perkins after the high pick-and-roll for big baskets in Game 3. Both of these teams can turn to isolation at the wrong times, but if the Heat attack the paint and build fourth-quarter leads, they'll be fine.
Surya Fernandez: Why not? It seems to be working out. Barely. No Heat fan wants to see yet another late-game turnover from Dwyane Wade that could have lost Games 2 and 3. If they can get Bosh involved a little more in crunch time, keep Chalmers and Battier free by the arc and ready for the pass, and let LeBron do his thing then they can keep winning these types of close games.
What's behind Bosh's solid play this series (despite shooting 3-for-12 in the last game)?
Diego Quezada: Bosh's work as a great help defender stands as a big part of his success in this series. He was a big reason why Durant struggled in the fourth quarter of Game 3. Offensively, when he rolls to the basket instead of popping after setting a pick, good things happen. He had two early dunks in the opening minutes of Game 3, and when the Thunder got the Heat lead to one with 90 seconds left, James found Bosh rolling to the basket. Bosh got fouled and made two free throws.
Surya Fernandez: He's picking his spots and has been very efficient at it. He struggled with his shot in the last game but that's been the first time since he's returned from injury. Even better, he's been noticeably more aggressive grabbing boards.
Mnelik Belilgne: Effort. Chris Bosh, much like the majority of the Heat, is giving maximum effort on both ends of the floor. At the end of the day, that's what is most important in a series. Bosh is most responsible for the Heat's dominant rebounding and if that continues, they should be in good shape.
What's up with Brooks' questionable decisions (benching Westbrook in 3rd, playing Ibaka 22 minutes)? Lack of experience? How has Spoeltra out coached him?
Surya Fernandez: This time around, Spoelstra is the veteran coach with NBA Finals experience and it shows. Some people may wonder if it's possible that the Thunder have been winning so much in spite of coach Brooks and not because of him? That would be a bit harsh but this series has not been kind to him. Sitting Westbrook next to Durant at the end of the third quarter destroyed any momentum they had and pretty much lost the game for them. Spoelstra has clearly outcoached him, much like he experienced against Rick Carlisle last year.
Diego Quezada: Brooks' decision to bench Russell Westbrook has drawn fair criticism. Durant had to go to the bench with foul trouble, and Harden was in the midst of a 2-for-10 shooting night. But the key to the Heat's third-quarter run was getting a lot of points quickly, not necessarily the Thunder's stagnant offense. Battier and James Jones both got fouled on 3-point shots to score six points, and LeBron James made a 3 in the final moments of the third.
What baffles me more is the fact that Brooks went to Kendrick Perkins in the fourth quarter of a game the Thunder had a real chance to steal instead of Ibaka. Perkins had a good game on paper (10 points, 12 rebounds), but only scored two points after the 4:42 mark of the second quarter. If Ibaka is an All-NBA Defensive Team player with a jump-shot, why did he only play 22 minutes? Ibaka could've blocked those two key baskets the Heat made at the rim -- Wade's and-one floater, James' driving layup -- in the fourth quarter. Spoelstra had the Heat playing great defense in the second half and continually attacking the paint, notwithstanding the opening minutes of the third quarter. The challenge for Spoelstra is trying to get the Heat to play with desperation in Game 4. The Heat can sometimes get complacent, but Spo has to remind his team of the opportunity to go up 3-1 in the series.
Mnelik Belilgne: Everything is all there in the question. Perhaps that's why he hasn't gotten a contract extension from Sam Presti and the Thunder front office. Scott Brooks has not done a good job in this finals and the pressure will be on for game 4. Westbrook publicly admitted that he was frustrated that Brooks took him out and the explanation was just as baffling. Ibaka has been underused all season by Brooks, hovering around the 25 minute mark and you have to begin to wonder what the rationale is with his substitution patterns and lineups. If anything, Spoelstra has set the example for multiple lineups and rotation altering. Brooks seems set in his ways and should the Thunder lose this series, his coaching will certainly be under the microscope.