In summation, the Miami Heat got exactly what they wanted from the first two games of the NBA finals: A split. With the series now 1-1, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder will have to play the Miami Heat in American Airlines arena for the next 3 games.
Perhaps the basketball gods did us a favor. With both teams tied and just 3 games away from a title let's face it, a 2-0 Thunder lead would have been a fan disservice. The series of superstars continues, sizzling with anticipation and building story lines. Has Russell Westbrook been shooting too much? Is LeBron showing the world that he's ready to capture his first title? Read on to find out..
Biggest matchup of the series?
Erik Spoelstra vs Scott Brooks. Not that biggest are most tantalizing match up but arguably the most significant. Spoelstra has done a great job forcing the Thunder's hands but paying small, spacing the floor with shooters and subsequently rendering their bigs useless. With no post presence from either team, Kendrick Perkins has become a liability the Heat are exposing early and pressure now shifts to Scott Brooks. The smaller quicker and more agile Nick Collison has been very effective in this series, and perhaps will see an increase in playing time in game 3.
Spoelstra has also emphasized Lebron James attack Kevin Durant continuously, forcing him to play defense and attempting to get him in foul trouble. Durant was plagued with fouls throughout game 2 and Scott Brooks will have to make a defensive adjustment for game 3.
Bothe LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have emphasized to the media there level of respect and appreciation for the coach job Eric Spoelstra has done. Following arguably his biggest coach debacle in game 3 of the conference semi-finals against the Indiana Pacers, Dwyane Wade has done nothing but praise coach Spoelstra.
"I've enjoyed seeing him grow. I think the biggest growth in him this season has been his openness to ask other guys what they think, and at the end of the day, he makes the final decision. And that's key for players to feel like he's going to listen to what you have to say. As your leader making the best decision" - Wade said
Spoelstra has done an excellent job making adjustments throughout the entire post season and has only received criticism for his handling of the multiple superstars on his roster. Talent management is as difficult a task as any and his mentor upstairs has seemingly been the invisible voice of reason. Spoelstra informed the media after practice that him and Pat Riley communicate extensively. Perhaps the most important adjustment made internally by the Miami Heat this year.
"With Pat, we talk all the time. It's almost as if he's a member of my staff" - Spoelstra said
Russell Westbrook has received enormous heat for his game 2 performance. Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Stephen A Smith called it the worst first half point guard performance in NBA finals history. That could be a little harsh, but the reality is wedged a couple notches below that extreme evaluation.
Kevin Durant is unanimously the best scorer in the world right now. There really isn't any intelligent way to dance around this issue or wax up some astute analysis as to what is going on with Westbrook's shot selection and Durant's lack there of. Simply put; Westbrook should shoot less. Durant should shoot more. Period
Perhaps Lebron James said it best about Kevin Durant:
"Your not going to stop Kevin Durant. He can make any shot the game has to offer" - James said
When asked about his focus this year compared to last, LeBron James alluded to a mentality he's had all post season:
"I'm a go out and make plays for my team throughout the game. I'm a leave it out on the line and at the end of the day i will be happy with that" - James said
From a psychological perspective, his words epitomize the mentality every superstar player should have. Instead of worrying about the pressure of failure, James is focusing on his effort and impact. It's perhaps the biggest different this year for the Miami Heat. LeBron doesn't bare the transparent pressure and burden that comes with every step he takes on the basketball court. He seems calm, focused and most importantly locked in the only thing that matters: winning.
Last years finals against Dirk Novitski and the Dallas Mavericks, there were numerous sights of premature celebration and uncertainty. LeBron addressed the media numerous times following his teams failure and graced them with such famous responses as - "At the end of the day, those same people have to get up in the morning and get back to their lives and the real world". Scrutinized for months and months, LeBron looks like a new man, seemingly unshackled from public criticism and poised to capture the Larry O'Brien trophy.