2012 NBA Finals: Game 2 Preview
Chris Bosh The Savior
As we sat in press row watching the Miami HEAT fall apart down the stretch of their Game 1 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder (105-94), it was hard not to focus on Chris Bosh.
Sure, it was LeBron James who had the ball most of the time, and LeBron did what LeBron does. Namely, he fell short in the clutch.
By now that is an old story line, and even those who delight in LeBron’s every failure are tiring of the re-run. LeBron is the most amazing player on the planet for three and a half quarters, but when the final minutes come around he is nowhere to be found.
Isn’t it time for Erik Spoelstra to figure this out?
As we watched Bosh wandering aimlessly around the perimeter during the closing minutes of Game 1, it was hard not to wonder if, perhaps, the All-Star power forward who was supposed to be the third of Miami’s Big Three might have a role to play.
There’s absolutely no reason why Bosh can’t be the one the offense runs through in the fourth quarter; no reason why the HEAT can’t put the ball in his hands and force the defense to react. If he faces single coverage, Bosh can put his own offensive skill to work. If the Thunder trap him, he can create for his teammates. Surround Bosh with shooters – put Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade around the outside, LeBron on the weakside, and let Bosh either score, hit a shooter, or hit a cutting LeBron.
When the play you’re running over and over isn’t working, it’s a good idea to try something else.
If the HEAT take the same approach to Game 2 as they did to Game 1, you can bet they’ll be an 0-2 hole as the series turns to South Beach.
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers
Westbrook, admittedly battling nerves at the start, had nine points at 3-of-10 shooting and missed two three-point attempts in the first half. By the end of the game, he was flirting with another triple-double (27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds) crediting a half-time attitude change. He remembered that unwavering defensive focus leads to better offense. Westbrook and Durant – just the two of them – outscored Miami 41-40 in the second half.
Westbrook set a nice record: he was the first player since Charles Barkley in 1993 NBA Finals to log at least 25 points, ten assists and eight rebounds.
On the other end of the spectrum, Chalmers started off pretty solid in the first half – recording ten points and five assists – but fell in the second half, with just two points and one assist. Credit Westbrook and Derek Fisher for halting his efforts. He also struggled in man-to-man defense against Westbrook. Chalmers will need to push the pace and move the ball with better focus tonight.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. Thabo Sefolosha
Many wonder what is going on with Wade. He logged a respectable 19 points, but his .368 percentage, compared to his .497 regular-season shooting, and shot selection is not Wade-like. Is he struggling more than we know with knee pain? In any case, he’s playing though it, and we expect better effort even with his self-professed decreased athleticism. He will likely spend more time trying to stop Westbrook.
Sefolosha split time with Westbrook guarding Wade in Game 1. After a nice rest (he played just 8:44 minutes in the first half), the Thunder’s premiere defensive stopper guarded, rather suffocated, James in the fourth and limited him to seven points at 2-of-6 shooting at .290 percentage. That allowed Durant to do his thing, namely close out this game. We think Thunder coach Scott Brooks should play him more. The 6’7″ player with impossibly long arms can guard one to the four, so watch for him everywhere on the court.
Power Forward: Chris Bosh vs. Serge Ibaka
With Bosh’s solid play in 31 minutes in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Boston Celtics, it was surprising to see him missing from the starting lineup and from the start of the second half. Nevertheless, HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra elected to give him almost 34 minutes off the bench, and he delivered ten points and five rebounds. Bosh should be utilized more to draw Ibaka away from the basket and open up lanes for Wade and James.
Ibaka had a nice ten points and six rebounds, but the league’s leading shot-blocker recorded no blocks in Game 1. Brooks sat both Ibaka and Perkins in the final 14 minutes as Miami went small. Of course, they compromise post defense in that move. If Miami gives up reliance on jump-shots, Brooks will counter with Ibaka.
Rumor has it that Bosh will assume his starting position tonight. He has the tools to be a difference-maker in the game if he’s used correctly. Bosh vowed to be more aggressive in putting pressure on the rim and to make open threes. We know the seven-time All-Star is capable.
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Joel Anthony
There’s not much to analyze here. Anthony played 2:06 minutes with no measurable contribution. Perkins was guarded by James in the post for large chunks of time; he scored four points and had seven rebounds. Arguably one of the best low post defenders in the game today, Perkins stands ready to contribute depending on their opponent’s lineup. With Miami expected to attack the basket more, Perkins will be waiting.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
Suffice to say both players played at a high level; they scored, grabbed rebounds, dished and made foul shots as predicted. The difference revealed itself, as also widely predicted, down the stretch.
Durant elevated his game to help close out the game, scoring 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter. James was unremarkable in the final 12 minutes of play, making just one basket in the first 8:15 minutes. His 30 points – a Finals personal best (writer’s note – not postseason) – weren’t enough for a win. Remember, James averaged three points in six fourth quarters of last years’ Finals against Dallas.
James guarded Perkins for a large majority of Game 1; we expect he’ll have Durant tonight a bit more. Durant saw a variety of defenders, and it seems Battier bothers him the most. Durant guarded James in the first three quarters; Sefolosha drew the assignment in the final quarter. Brooks limited Sefolosha’s minutes so that he’d be ready and able to stop any thought of James may have had of attempting to close out the game.
Advantage: Thunder (down the stretch, especially)
Bench: James Harden/Nick Collison/Derek Fisher vs. Udonis Haslem/Mike Miller/Shane Battier/Norris Cole
The bench situation in Game 1 for both squads was unexpected to say the least, starting with Spoelstra’s decision to have Bosh come off the bench.
Harden, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year, posted only five points, three assists and one three-pointer. Add one turnover and four personal fouls, and that was the extent of his production. Collison was nearly the player of the game with an eight-point/ten-rebound night and a countless number of gritty plays. In just over 21 minutes, he had an impressive rating of +13. This series looks to be custom-made for Collison with Miami’s favored small lineup.
Battier scored 17 points – a postseason high – connecting on four-of-six three-pointers. Most of that came early though before the Thunder stepped it up defensively.
It’s safe to say Harden will not see more five-point games in this series while Battier won’t maintain 17-point games.
Spoelstra went with a rotation of eight players; two of whom (Miller and Anthony) played roughly 12 minutes combined, so Miami was basically six-deep. The coach indicated he’d go deeper in the next game.
Coaching: Scott Brooks vs. Erik Spoelstra
Simply put, Brooks made in-game adjustments with successful results, and Spoelstra largely went with the status quo with disappointing results.
After the game, however, Spoelstra practically guaranteed adjustments. He knows they have to get stops, plus counter OKC’s speed and defensive efforts. James Jones, who apparently sat out Game 1 with a migraine, may return. He wants better spots for Battier and Chalmers to be effective the whole game. As we mentioned, Bosh may start.
Spoelstra has to address the fact that; 1) the Thunder outscored the HEAT 59-40 in the second half and, 2) the Thunder outscored Miami 24-4 in fast-break points. Miami needs a solid defensive effort to stop Oklahoma City.
Brooks didn’t think his players responded well to Miami’s switching and said it took time to adjust. These repeated games where the Thunder fall behind in the first half, then step it up in the second half, makes for compelling basketball, but it’s not a pattern Brooks wants. They need a consistent defensive effort.
There were a wealth of questions raised in Game 1 – will they be answered in Game 2?
Is fatigue a factor for Miami? Are Wade and Bosh playing at 100% health? Can the Thunder control the first half? Will Spoelstra limit switching and opt for more man-to-man defense? Can the HEAT play more physical basketball?
Interesting facts: Teams with a victory in Game 1 of the Finals end up taking the series 72.7 percent of the time. The Thunder are 9-0 at home in the playoffs.
Game 2 of the 2012 NBA Finals is Thursday night in Oklahoma City, beginning at 9:00 PM Eastern on ABC.