MIAMI, FL - JUNE 19: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat attempts a shot against Thabo Sefolosha #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the 2012 NBA Finals on June 19, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Larry W. Smith-Pool/Getty Images)
Both teams have had a number of head-scratching turnovers and mistakes in late game situations. Yet, the Heat are coming through continuously and are closing out games. What are the main factors that have worked in favor of the Heat and against the Thunder?
Surya Fernandez: Some it has been a lack of poise from the Thunder and some if it is a little luck going the Heat's way. It doesn't hurt that the Big 3 have had their biggest moments in late game situations on both offense and defense. Yes, they've made spectacular baskets that are highly memorable such as LeBron's three-pointer but what about the defense that Wade played when LeBron sat with cramps? How about the numerous times Bosh has defended the paint capably or has grabbed a crucial rebound that could have reached the hands of a Thunder player for another opportunity to score? Those moments add up and change the course of a game that's decided by one or two possessions. We simply haven't seen enough of those kind of moments from the Thunder's Big 3.
Mnelik Belilgne: 50/50 plays. The Heat are winning the hustle plays and doing all of the little things down the stretch that are fundamental to wining. The latest example; after the jump ball in the 4th quarter with Udonis Haslem and James Harden, Shane Battier ran to the baseline to beat Kevin Durant to a spot, out-jumped him and tipped the ball over to Mario Chalmers for the game clincher.
The other big factor has been shot making. Simply put, Miami is making more shots down the stretch and the Thunder are missing more.
Diego Quezada: The Heat have managed to build fourth-quarter leads in the last three games, so a couple of turnovers Dwyane Wade commits while bringing the ball up-court trim a lead, not enlarge a deficit. When a team is down in the last few minutes of the game, those mistakes are more hurtful. James Harden (Game 3) and Russell Westbrook (Game 4) each committed an ill-advised foul with the Heat up three. Those two fouls put Oklahoma City in a precarious position, making it a two-possession game in the final seconds of these last two meetings. Although both teams have made some mistakes, the Heat have out-executed the Thunder in late-game situations, as the Heat out-scored OKC 12-4 after the Thunder went up by two midway through the fourth.
How have the Heat suddenly become the deeper team in a series?
Surya Fernandez: All those shots from the supporting cast that weren't falling earlier in the postseason have now gone in on a consistent basis, especially the long-distance variety. Sometimes it's as simple as that. Now suddenly, Battier is an unstoppable force beyond the arc when just a series or two ago, he was wildly erratic. Norris Cole has been efficient in his limited minutes and isn't the wildly out-of-control player he was after the All-Star break. Haslem has returned to the bench to give them quality minutes. Jones and Miller have given what they can in doses and have knocked down important baskets. The Heat have come a long way since the Bosh injury when Wade and LeBron were basically willing the team to victory on their own.
Diego Quezada: By far, James Harden has been the most disappointing player in this series. He got tentative late in Game 4, hesitating on a wide-open 15-footer before missing it in the final two minutes. He's only played well for one half of this series. Serge Ibaka was not given the Thunder much production either. It appears that Nick Collison is the best Thunder big man in this series, but Scotty Brooks doesn't know that. As a result, the Thunder have become increasingly reliant on Kevin Durant and Westbrook. On the other side, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers have taken turns as the fourth option for Miami in this series.
Mnelik Belilgne: Erik Spoelstra has expanded his rotation and Scott Brooks has shortened his. Many have wondered all playoffs why James Jones wasn't seeing action, and he played 22 minutes last game. Spoelstra has done a great job of spacing the floor with shooters, playing Jones and Cole more and most importantly starting Battier and pushing LeBron to the 4 position. I would expect Brooks to finally play Dequan Cook, who's one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. Thunder need to emulate Miaimi's tactic of spacing the floor to open up driving lanes.
Has Spoelstra learned from last year, going more to Norris Cole and James Jones?
Mnelik Belilgne: It appears he has but I think Spoelstra is better assessing the situation this year. Last year the Dallas Mavericks killed teams with their spacing and perimeter shooting. The biggest difference this year is LeBron's willingness to play power forward. His commitment to playing the point-power forward position has enabled the Heat to play small and space the floor with shooters like Jones, Battier and Cole.
Diego Quezada: Erik Spoelstra said after Game 1 that he'd go deeper into his rotation, and he's been true to this word. Norris Cole struggled with his shot after the All-Star break, but he came in and hit two huge 3s to bring the Heat back from that 17-point deficit in Game 4. Both he and James Jones converted on 3-pointers out of LeBron James post-ups. During last year's Finals, many pundits praised Rick Carlisle's decisions -- like inserting J.J. Barea into the starting lineup and putting in Brian Cardinal for short stints. So far, Spoelstra has been quicker to his decision-making than Brooks. It took Brooks four games to realize that his team is better finishing games with Ibaka at the five instead of Kendrick Perkins.
Surya Fernandez: He's been almost too willing to mix it up and freely change his lineups but it's working and it's forcing Scott Brooks and the Thunder to adjust to them, not the other way around. The bench players have responded well and it's giving the starters valuable minutes of rest. Before the playoffs started, I didn't think Cole or Jones would crack the rotation so it's been a pleasant surprise to see the young coach trust his reserves in the most important games of the season.
What do you think is the main reason James Harden has been so ineffective this series?
Surya Fernandez: He's not playing his usual dynamic game anymore. He's standing around waiting for the ball and then simply launches it out of rhythm. The Harden I saw earlier in the postseason wouldn't stop moving off the ball and created scoring opportunities for himself and others with his aggressiveness. He's a huge reason why they're down in the series. Durant and Westbrook can't beat the Heat by themselves and needed monster games from Harden, not just his usual brilliant work.
Mnelik Belilgne: I'm not buying that James Harden is "shrinking" or hiding in the moment. If you look at the tape, Harden is just missing a bunch of open shots. What I will point to however, much like Durant, is his willingness to settle for jump shots. Harden needs to attack the basket, not only because Miami has a small frontline but because it could spark some confidence and trigger some much needed rhythm.
Diego Quezada: He missed a lot of open shots in Game 4, and I'm very surprised that he's struggling mightily considering the fact that Chalmers has defended him for a good portion of this series. He didn't fail to score in double figures throughout the Western Conference playoffs, but has now managed to score in the single digits in three games. It could be in his head or an injury, but he needs to play better for his team to complete the very difficult task of winning three straight.
Big 3 of the Heat vs Big 3 of the Thunder. What's the main reason the Heat have had the clear advantage in this series?
Diego Quezada: As I mentioned earlier, Harden has had a disastrous series. With the exception of one half in these four games, the Thunder have only had a Big Two. Chris Bosh and Wade have rebounded for sub-par Game 1 performances to play well lately. After struggling on the boards during the regular season, Bosh has done great work on the glass in the Finals and become a good help defender. Wade isn't at 100 percent right now, but he made a crucial layup to put the Heat up 99-94 in Game 4, and has made some nice passes to Bosh on the pick-and-roll. And LeBron James has been the best player on the court in this series, bar-none. He defends the opposing team's best player, helps make up for the Heat's lack of size with his rebounding, gets his teammates easy looks and scores 25-30 points. It's amazing. Comparing James to Durant is only legitimate when looking at the two's offensive games.
Mnelik Belilgne: From a scoring perspective, James Harden has been the main reason the Thunder haven't been able to offensively match the Heat. Chris Bosh has also seen his scoring take a hit in these finals, but his rebounding and presence as a perimeter threat, has allowed other players such as Chalmers and Battier to get going. It's more about the Heat's role players vs the Thunder's role players are this point.
Surya Fernandez: Adding an efficient, invigorated Bosh to the starting lineup has changed everything for the Heat and it's helped Wade and LeBron get the spacing they need on offense to create plays and drive to the rim. Plus, the Heat's Big 3 are so much better on defense than the Thunder's Big 3 that it's not even close. It's a cliche nowadays to say that defense wins championships but can you recall any defining defensive moments in the second half from the Thunder's stars in this series?
If the Heat lose game 5, does the momentum entirely shift to the Thunder and how confident are you that Miami could close it out in Oklahoma City?
Surya Fernandez: With two more opportunities to close it out, the Heat won't lose momentum at all in this series should they lose. They've shown plenty of poise and LeBron's struggles in crunch time, while exaggerated in the media, have been a thing in the past. I don't see this current Heat team losing three in a row when the championship is this close. We still haven't seen a truly dominant game from LeBron or Wade in this series like they've had in other rounds so just one of those performances could carry the team to the finish line.
Diego Quezada: Before the series, I said the Heat needed to win one of the first two games and win two of the three on their home court. They've already accomplished that. The Thunder would have the momentum, but momentum has changed instantly in this series. The Thunder had momentum entering Game 2, but went down 18-2. The message for Miami should be to close it out Thursday night, however. We saw the Heat win a crucial Game 4 to go up 3-1, and I like that LeBron has said repeatedly that the Heat should treat Game 5 as a Game 7, just as they treated Game 4.
Mnelik Belilgne: Yes and very. If the Heat lose, then yes the momentum shifts but I'm very confident Miami can win in Oklahoma. At this point in the series, it's not as much about where your playing and more about how your playing. The only asterisk in this whole equation however is the health of LeBron James. If his muscle cramp plays a role in his effectiveness and physical play, the Thunder could have a shot.