Finals Notebook: Battle of the Big Threes
The 2012 NBA Finals have lived up to the hype, thanks in large parts to stellar performances from both team’s Big Three. Entering this series, there was plenty of excitement due to the star power and exciting brand of basketball that both teams employ. Through two games, neither trio has disappointed.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have combined for 148 points, 31 rebounds and 28 assists. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have combined for 131 points, 47 rebounds and 23 assists. While role players such as Shane Battier and Nick Collison have stepped up, this series will be won or lost by the stars, as we’ve already seen in Game 1 and Game 2.
“Obviously for our team to be our best, LeBron, Chris and myself need to be playing well at the same time,” Wade said. “But even if we are playing well at the same time, we need other guys to step up at certain moments, at key moments, to make big plays and big shots.”
“We know who the guys are on the team,” Durant said. “We know who the scorers are, who the rebounders are, who the passers are, who the screen‑setters are, who the three‑point shooters are and we play off each other well. There’s going to be games where Russ may score big, James may score big and I may score big, but everybody comes in and does their job. Serge does his role well, Nick does his role well, Perk does his role well and Thabo does his job well.”
In Game 1, Oklahoma City received huge performances from Durant and Westbrook to secure the win. The duo contributed 63 points, which was tied for the most combined points for a pair of teammates making their Finals debut. In NBA history, only one other duo had matched that total: Julius Erving and Doug Collins in 1977.
In Game 2, Miami’s Big Three had arguably their best game of the postseason. James was once again outstanding, Bosh played well after returning to starting lineup and Wade attacked the basket. The trio combined for 72 points, 29 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals.
Which Big Three will go off in Game 3? The answer to that question will likely decide tonight’s game.
Westbrook Tunes Out Critics: Russell Westbrook can’t win. How many point guards could lead their team to the NBA Finals at 23 years old and then average 27 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds? Westbrook has a unique game and he’s a huge part of Oklahoma City’s success. However, that hasn’t stopped critics from questioning his decision-making ability or shot selection through two games.
At halftime of Game 2, Magic Johnson criticized Westbrook’s first half, saying it was the worst performance from a point guard that he had ever seen in an NBA Finals game. Johnson said he was “disappointed” in Westbrook because he wasn’t getting Kevin Durant involved or running the offense efficiently.
At this point, Westbrook is used to the criticism and he says it won’t affect him going forward.
“I’m not making no adjustments,” Westbrook said. “Regardless of what anybody says or regardless of what you guys say about how I play, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to play my game regardless of what happens. I’m going to go out and give 110 percent, and try to find a way to help us win the game. There’s always room for improvement, always room to get better. But the style of play that I play with? That’s not changing.”
“I feel like I’m doing something right,” Westbrook said. “I feel like every year I come back a little better, the more negative I’m going to hear. I feel like I’m doing a good job of getting better, getting my team better. We’re in The NBA Finals now, and the more negative you hear, the better you’re doing. That’s how I look at it.”
Westbrook’s failure to defer to Durant has been the biggest reason for criticism through two games. He has taken eight more shots than Durant, even though he’s shooting 40 percent from the field to Durant’s 57 percent. However, Durant defended his teammate.
“It’s not deserving at all because without him we wouldn’t be here at this point, and people don’t recognize that,” Durant said. “Everybody thinks he should be a traditional point guard like a Stockton or a Mo Cheeks. There are a lot of people that cannot be like Russ, either. We need him to play the way he plays. Of course he’s going to make mistakes. We’re all going to make mistakes. But the best thing about Russ is he comes to work every single day. That’s what you guys don’t see is how hard he works and how much he wants it. That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t care what people say, he’s going to play his game and we need him to play his game.”
Westbrook has developed thick skin over the years, but it wasn’t easy. Early in his career, he would listen to the critics and let their opinions get to him. At some point, he realized that he couldn’t make everyone happy and stop listening to outsiders.
“I definitely had to develop [thick skin],” Westbrook said. “I didn’t really get that much attention in college until I got to the NBA. But it’s just something that comes along with the territory.”
Rather than listening to his critics, Westbrook listens to his coaches and veteran Derek Fisher. Westbrook has been relying on Fisher for advice all season long, and even more so during the playoffs.
“Derek is a great guy,” Westbrook said. “He knows a lot about the game. He’s been in many different situations – down 0‑2 in The Finals and different things like that. He knows how to handle certain situations. Sometimes I just sit back and talk to him and pick his brain a little bit about different things. He’s been a great help for me.”
“I think Russell just has to continue to be himself and play his game,” Fisher said. “There’ll always be critics and people that have comments to make about your game. I played with Kobe for a long time, and I think he’s the best example of no matter what you do, people will always have something to say or question whether you should or should not be doing something. Russell will just remain confident in who he is and what’s gotten him here and continue to just grow and develop before our guys the way he has. He’ll be fine.”
James Feeling More Comfortable: After struggling during last year’s NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks, LeBron James has elevated his game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He’s averaging 31 points and taking over games after averaging just 17.9 points and disappearing during last year’s Finals. From one year to the next, what has been the biggest difference for James?
“I’m just more comfortable,” James said. “I mean, I spent the last five years in one system. I knew the ins and outs of that whole system when I was in Cleveland, so I was very comfortable with that situation. A lot of things had to change in my one year here, and I never got fully adjusted throughout the whole year. This year, I’ve just been more comfortable with the team, more comfortable with the system, more comfortable with the city and everything around it. Once I get on the floor, I just let my game kind of react for me. I just go out and do it, and I don’t have to worry about anything else.”
This is James’ third trip to the Finals, and he seems much more comfortable playing on this stage than in years past.
“I just feel more at ease now in my third appearance,” James said. “In the first, I was young, inexperienced. We had an inexperienced team, and San Antonio did what they wanted to against us in that first experience. Last year, so much had gone on with that series and the whole season. I played too much to prove people wrong last year, instead of just playing my game. I’m just at ease now. I’m going to give it my all, and I won’t leave nothing behind.”
Erik Spoelstra has been extremely impressed with James’ play. He refused to talk about last year’s Finals, saying that this series is the only one that matters now.
“We’re done with last year and analyzing last year’s Finals,” Spoelstra said. “He’s doing everything he needs to do right now to put ourselves in a position to win, and that’s on both ends of the court. He’s at a mentality right now that I can’t put too much on his plate, and that’s minutes, that’s responsibility, defensively, playing multiple positions, shouldering a huge load offensively. He gets it, he’s accepting of it and he’s producing. We need it.”
Game 3 tips off tonight at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.