2012 NBA Finals: Game 5 Preview
The Oklahoma City Thunder face elimination tonight in Miami as the series is now 3-1 in the Miami HEAT’s favor. Desperate, angry and hungry, the Thunder have talked for the last 24 hours about not going out the way they have played. The moment of truth has arrived for the young Thunder.
On the other side, the Miami HEAT refuse to think about anything but the 48 minutes of basketball in front of them, brushing off questions about parades and trophies. The HEAT understand that getting Game 5 tonight will not be easy.
Here is how the match-ups shape up:
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers
Both point guards answered the call in Game 4 with Russell Westbrook leading all scorers with 45 points on 20-of-32 shooting. While Westbrook did everything he could to keep his team in the game, it was costly turnovers and poor decision-making that was the storyline between games in Miami.
Thunder head coach Scott Brooks expressed nothing but confidence in his young guard, saying repeatedly that the Thunder would not be in the NBA Finals if it were not for Russell and the way he plays and there are no plans to rein in his guard.
Mario Chalmers became an unexpected source of offense in Game 4, knocking in 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field to go with three huge three-pointers.
The HEAT players expressed nothing but confidence in Chalmers during the off-day, reminding media that he was a huge clutch player at Kansas and is capable of big games every night.
As Game 5 looms, the guard position is one of the crucial match-ups.
The Thunder need huge production from Westbrook in order to win tonight, but more importantly they need him to make better decisions. Westbrook had just 5 assists on 3 turnovers, and those numbers have to change pretty dramatically.
If Westbrook is the Thunder’s leading scorer again tonight, the Thunder will go home.
The HEAT simply need Chalmers to be efficient and, so far in the series, he has played his role almost flawlessly.
Shooting Guard: Dwyane Wade vs. Thabo Sefolosha
HEAT guard Dwayne Wade is clearly injured; however he is leaving everything he has on the floor, scoring 25 points on 8-of-19 shooting in Game 4.
With a NBA championship in sight, Wade has been the emotional leader of this HEAT team for the past three games and he says he’s ready to close this out.
Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha is not nearly the impact player on offense as Wade is for the HEAT, but Sefolosha is an elite NBA defender and for the Thunder to have a shot tonight, he will have to come up big on both Wade and HEAT star LeBron James. Neither player can be stopped, but if Sefolosha can be a part of slowing or challenging both of the HEAT’s go-to options, the Thunder will have a chance.
In the head-to-head match-up, there is almost no question who the better player is. However, for the Thunder, they need Thabo to be at his very best defensively.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
This match-up never stops being intriguing, from the personal relationship both Kevin Durant and LeBron James share off the court to the tenacity each approaches in guarding one another on defense on the court. Both players can score at will in more situations than not, and both players continue to showcase why they are arguably the #1 and #2 players in the NBA respectively.
James was one rebound away from a triple-double in Game 4, kicking in 26 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds on 10-of-20 shooting. James had some fairly severe cramps towards the end of Game 4, an injury he professed yesterday was not going to be a problem. If cramps, or worse yet, muscle problems surface in Game 5, things could get hairy for the HEAT. However, LeBron was adamant that he’d be fine by game time.
The Thunder’s Kevin Durant did his best in Game 4, kicking in 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting and a dreadful 1-of-5 from three point range. Durant has been dialed in from the start of this series mentally and says his club is ready to win tonight and that there is no pressure inside the team.
This is a flip-a-coin match-up in terms of advantage. James clearly contributes more to his team in terms of rebounds and assists, while Durant is a potent scorer. If there is a clear cut advantage for one team or the other, it’s almost impossible to find.
Power Forward: Shane Battier vs. Serge Ibaka
HEAT forward Shane Battier has been the star of the HEAT’s media availabilities, giving great quotes and funny one-line zingers. However, his role in this series has been greatly undervalued and appreciated. Shane has been a clutch shooter, an engaged and aggressive defender and arguably the heart of the HEAT’s defensive mentality.
Battier has been almost unconscious from the three-point line in this series, shooting an eye popping 12 of 19 from three in the four NBA Finals games. He wasn’t nearly as good in Game 4, hitting just one three on four attempts, but the threat of Shane’s three ball keeps the Thunder honest defensively, which has been huge for Wade and James being able to get to the rim.
For the Thunder, Serge Ibaka has been good on the defensive end, but they need a lot more than four points and seven rebounds from their best front court player. Ibaka, who is known for his defense, had just one block in Game 4 and will need to be far more assertive in Game 5 tonight if the Thunder hope to get the win.
Ibaka is the better player, but so far in this series, Battier has been bigger and more clutch, giving the advantage in the match-up to the HEAT.
Center: Chris Bosh vs. Kendrick Perkins
HEAT forward Chris Bosh has been seeing minutes at the center spot and while he has not been leading the way in terms of scoring, his presence in the post is keeping the Thunder honest on defense and opening the driving lanes for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Bosh’s 13 points and nine rebounds were huge, especially in getting the HEAT back into the game on Tuesday. Tonight, expect more of the same from Bosh .
Kendrick Perkins is the emotional leader of the Thunder, but in order from them to win tonight they more than four points and three rebounds from the center spot.
Perkins has to be more aggressive, when he is in the double-double range the Thunder are tough to beat. If Perkins mails in another single-digit scoring and rebounding effort, the Thunder are going home.
Bench: James Harden/Nick Collison/Derek Fisher vs. Udonis Haslem/Mike Miller/James Jones
The Thunder have the better bench, but with James Harden clearly being lost and rattled, the Thunder are struggling in areas they are normally strong in. Bench play has a been a key reason for OKC’s success and while the game’s energy level changes when Nick Collison comes in, the Thunder need Harden to shake the funk he’s been in for the last couple of games.
The HEAT got a huge boost from rookie Norris Cole, who jump started the comeback in Game 4. He’s not expected to see many minutes in Game 5, so the advantage in bench play still belongs to OKC, but if they are going to stay alive, Harden has to do better than 2-for-10 from the field and he has to finish plays, especially at the rim.
Coaching: Scott Brooks vs. Erik Spoelstra
Erik Spoelstra has taken some heat in this playoff run, but you have to hand it to him. He is one win away from matching icon Pat Riley for the most franchise playoff wins and NBA titles.
Spoelstra and his staff are not getting nearly enough credit for how difficult they are making things for the Thunder, and that’s not going to change tonight.
On the flip side, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has had to answer far more questions about his rotations, substitution patterns and player usage, especially as player like James Harden have struggled. Brooks is a smart guy and he is making adjustments, but the one thing he and his coaches continue to say – it’s not the system that is the problem, it’s the mental breakdowns that are costing OKC games.
Brooks says he not making changes for Game 5, so expect to see the coaching match-up come down to who’s guys want it more and both coaches will have their guys ready to play.
The Miami HEAT have placed sixteen signs on sixteen palm trees in front of American Airlines Arena. They have been crossing out each number after each win. With just one more tree to go, a championship in Miami seems imminent.
Game 5 will tip off tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.