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2012 NBA Finals: Game 4 Preview
Posted By Alex Kennedy On June 19, 2012 @ 12:50 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
“This is not over,” Kevin Durant said after losing Game 3 of the Finals. “It’s not over.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder may be trailing the Miami HEAT, 2-1, but the NBA Finals are far from decided. The games have been competitive, the stars have delivered and the series is just getting started. Each game has come down to the fourth quarter and both teams are still very much alive heading into Game 4.
During last year’s Finals, the HEAT had a 2-1 lead over the Dallas Mavericks, but ultimately lost the series in six games. The Thunder also know a thing or two about overcoming deficits, after beating the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals despite falling behind 2-0 in the series.
In this series, Oklahoma City is trailing but they’ve outscored Miami by one point through three games. Neither team has pulled away thus far, as evidenced by the 10 lead changes on Sunday. Game 4 is the closest we’ve had to a must-win for both teams, since Miami can go up 3-1 and Oklahoma City can even the series.
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers
Westbrook has become the most polarizing and heavily criticized player in this series, despite averaging 24.3 points, 7.3 assists and 7.0 rebounds through three games.
After being criticized for his shot selection and number of attempts in the first two games, Westbrook shot the ball less in Game 3. He was 8-18 from the field, which was his lowest number of attempts (18) and highest field goal percentage (44.4 percent) of the series.
Westbrook’s turnovers are usually an issue, but he has done a great job of protecting the ball during this series, recording just two turnovers per game. One key for the Thunder in Game 4 is getting to the free throw line more. Westbrook attempted just two free throws in Game 3, which has to improve.
Chalmers has been criticized throughout this series as well, except it’s usually his teammates who are doing the chiding. He has struggled during the Finals, averaging just 5.7 points and 3.3 assists, which are well below his regular season and postseason averages.
After contributing 12 points and 6 assists in Game 1, Chalmers hasn’t done much. In the last two games, he had a combined 5 points, 4 assists and 4 turnovers. While Miami managed to win both games with Chalmers struggling, they’ll definitely need more production from him going forward.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. Thabo Sefolosha
Wade played well in Game 3, finishing with 25 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. While he shot 8-22, he got his teammates involved and made an effort to attack the basket, which wasn’t happening earlier in this postseason.
His turnovers have been a concern during this series, but Wade has played at a much higher level in the last two games. After Game 1, he was answering questions about his deteriorating health, but those have went away after consecutive games with at least 25 points.
Sefolosha has done an incredible job for the Thunder, matching up against Wade and James. Sefolosha has solidified himself as one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA during this postseason run. He has caused a lot of problems for Miami and, at times, caused their offense to stall. He’s averaging 2.3 steals per game, and he has forced plenty of bad shots through three games.
While his shot hasn’t been falling – he’s shooting 33.3 percent from the field – he has been Oklahoma City’s most important defender. How many players could guard Tony Parker during one series and then guard LeBron James during the next? Sefolosha’s versatility has been huge for the Thunder.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
This match-up has lived up to the hype through three games. James is averaging 30.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.7 steals while shooting 46.4 percent from the field. Durant is averaging 31 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.3 blocks while shooting 57.4 percent from the field.
Both players have stepped up and hit big shots at different points in the series. They have even spent a considerable amount of time guarding one another, giving fans the showdown they’ve been salivating over. James and Durant have been outstanding during the Finals, just as they have been all season.
After disappearing during last year’s Finals, James has risen to the occasion against Oklahoma City. He’s playing some his best basketball and there’s no question that he’s the alpha male in Miami. James hasn’t given his critics much ammunition during this postseason, and he’s two games away from hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Durant has been spectacular in his Finals debut. He’s playing at an extremely high level and refusing to back down from Miami’s Big Three, even when the Thunder are trailing by double digits or when he’s playing with multiple fouls. Durant is arguably the best closer in the league and he’s the main reason why every game has come down to the wire in this series. It’s scary to think that Durant is only 23 years old because his inexperience never seems to show on the court.
As if this match-up wasn’t fun enough, Serge Ibaka’s fighting words may up the intensity even more.
“LeBron is not a good defender,” Ibaka said on Monday. “He can play defense for two to three minutes but not 48 minutes. LeBron can’t play (Durant) one-on-one.”
Power Forward: Shane Battier vs. Serge Ibaka
When Chris Bosh was sidelined with an abdominal strain against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics, Battier was thrust into the starting lineup and asked to guard power forwards and centers. Battier did such an excellent job that Erik Spoelstra kept him with the starters when Bosh returned from injury.
He has been terrific on the defensive end and he continues to shoot lights out from beyond the arc. In perhaps the most surprising stat of this series, Battier joins Rashard Lewis as the only other player to hit at least 11 three point-shots through the first three games of a Finals series.
Ibaka has been playing well on the defensive end, but he has struggled on offense during this series. He’s averaging just 7.3 points and he hasn’t been able to knock down midrange jumpers with consistency, as he has been doing throughout the regular season and postseason. His biggest contribution has been his 2.3 blocks and 5 rebounds, but he can become another offensive weapon to Oklahoma City and help spread the floor if his shot starts to fall.
Center: Chris Bosh vs. Kendrick Perkins
Since returning from injury, Bosh has been playing extremely well. He has effectively made the transition to center, averaging 12 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He has been a great third option for the HEAT, which is something they desperately missed in his absence, when James and Wade were resorting to two-man hero ball for long stretches.
Throughout his career, Bosh has shied away from playing in the paint and hated the idea of playing center. However, Spoelstra’s adjustment is looking brilliant right now. Bosh is matching up well with Perkins and having him at center allows the HEAT to play their five best players together. Bosh is also helping on the glass, rebounding missed shot after shot in the last two games.
Perkins played well in Game 3 after struggling during the first two games of this series. For awhile, there were questions that Perkins wasn’t even the best center on the team, with Nick Collison playing better when given the minutes.
Perkins has improved, averaging 6 points and 9 rebounds in the series, and he brings a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score. Brooks often says that Perkins is the team’s best screen-setter and he’s also one of Oklahoma City’s best leaders thanks to his championship experience.
Bench: James Harden/Nick Collison/Derek Fisher vs. Udonis Haslem/Mike Miller/James Jones
The Thunder’s bench has been better, but the gap between the two second units isn’t nearly as big as it should be. The NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, has struggled to score against Miami’s defense, which has made Oklahoma City’s bench much less effective. Harden is averaging 11.7 points on 40.7 percent shooting from the field, which are both below his regular season and postseason averages. Harden rarely scores in the single digits, but that happened twice this series – 5 points in Game 1 and 9 points in Game 3.
While Harden has struggled, the Thunder have received huge contributions from Nick Collison and Derek Fisher. They have been excellent off the bench, playing their roles to perfection. Fisher has come in and hit big shots without being a defensive liability. Collison has done the dirty work for Oklahoma City and allowed Ibaka and Perkins to rest without a huge drop off in production.
Haslem, Miller and Jones haven’t been spectacular off of the bench, but they’re making hustle plays when they’re in the game. Miller and Jones can’t play for long stretches, which is why we’ve seen so much of James and Wade throughout this postseason, but they haven’t struggled too badly when they’ve checked in. At times during this series, Spoelstra went with a six-man rotation simply because he didn’t have the depth to go away from his starters when Oklahoma City’s back-ups were in.
Oklahoma City’s second unit has been better, but Harden needs to step up going forward.
Coaching: Scott Brooks vs. Erik Spoelstra
Both coaches have been criticized at times during this series. Spoelstra took some heat after not starting Bosh in Game 1. Brooks was second guessed for taking Durant and Westbrook out of Game 3 prematurely, which sparked a Miami run. Despite these criticisms, both coaches have done a good job in the Finals.
Spoelstra’s decision to move Bosh to the five has paid off and he has done a great job managing match-ups as well. Putting James on Perkins to start the series backfired, but he has adjusted and had James guard Durant, which has been pretty effective especially when the latter has been in foul trouble.
Brooks has put Sefolosha on James for long stretches, which is the right move given Durant’s inability to stay in front of James and recent foul trouble. Expect to see Sefolosha on James much more so that Durant can focus on offense and stay on the court without picking up questionable calls. This young Thunder team hasn’t come off as inexperienced or nervous throughout this series, which a testament to Brooks.
Game 4 will tip off tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
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