After Oklahoma City vanquished the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night, Trev and I got emailing to show Simmons and Gladwell how it’s done. We hit a delay late on Thursday, but it was for the best as it gave us the chance to discuss LeBron’s magnificent series-saving Game 6 against the Celtics as well. Buckle in for 6000 words.
Trev Smith: Captain Murphy – we just saw a sea change in the Association last night. The Thunder have officially arrived as we all propheicized they eventually would. Staring at the ruins they left the Spurs in over the last four game, it’s difficult NOT to want to get ahead of ourselves and say this team will own their conference for the next decade. So, while we both have had a well-documented (For example, see here, here, and here) appreciation for Mr. Durant since Jump Street, I know that your repping for him has been more fierce than my own, so I turn the floor over to you to kick off this coronation party.
Blake Murphy: Ahh, but I can’t, my friend. There is no such coronation ceremony to be had, at least for another two weeks or so. We should have learned from the Heat last year that merely the appearance of a championship and/or dynasty is not a guarantee of one to come; the Heat proclaimed multiple championships, and everyone wrote off the Mavericks in the Finals, but here we are two years into their run and they are but a single loss from not even making the Finals, let alone raising a banner. So, as unbelievable as that series was (and it was, in all honesty, the best I can remember as an even semi-coherent pseudo-adult viewer in terms of pure quality of basketball), I’m hesitant to award my Thunder, and specifically my boy KD, anything more than a congratulations and a sincere “thank you.” There are anywhere from 4 to 7 more games to play before the real “party” can get started.
With that said, allow me just two sentences of KD-love-fest fan-boyism…
1) With his defense improving leaps and bounds this year (specifically in terms of IQ, team-D, rotations, etc, though not necessarily man coverage), KD is bordering very close on stealing the crown as The Best Player in the NBA – LBJ may maintain the edge due to his all-world defense, but the gap is narrowing if not gone.
2) Short of James Harden deciding he needs to be The Man, something by all accounts it seems isn’t really in his makeup based on recent press, it’s difficult to envision a Western Conference that isn’t dominated by these Thunder for the next half decade.
So, I ask you, first if I’ve been too skeptical and hesitant in my initial reply, and second if I’ve been too optimistic and homerish in my follow up points?
Trev: Well, your initial reply is rather prudent and appropriately cautious – it echoes of NHLers who refuse to touch the Conference Championship trophy for fear of jinxing themselves from eventually hoisting Lord Stanley’s pride and joy. Something about not counting your chickens I think. And it is a valid point: this was not the NBA Finals, and there is no guarantee that the rest that awaits them won’t bring a bit of rust, or that OKC’s youth and inexperience on the grandest stage won’t reveal itself when the lights shine brightest…(A-Sir-Mix-A-Lot-Approved-Sized)…BUT we have any valid reason to think that will be the case?
Your point about how impressive Miami looked in vanquishing the Bulls last season only to then falter is well taken, except to me there is a false equivalence. Simply put, those Bulls were not in the same class as these Spurs. Yes, there were times last spring where Rose looked like he was playing with cheat codes, but on the whole, his team was vastly inferior to the San Antonio roster that the Thunder just put away. Consider that the Spurs had gone 50 days without a loss before the Thunder took 4 in 7 days. They had just got through punking the Clippers and Jazz, and at times in the first two games of the series were doing the same to OKC. This was a squad we were all ready to crown as hands-down the best team in the world just a week ago. By comparison, the Bulls had struggled at times in a closer-than-you-remember series against the Pacers, and dropped two games to an over-their-heads Atlanta team. So Miami besting them in 5 shouldn’t have resonated as much as it did, especially since the manner in which they did it – LeBron and Wade hitting their threes at an insane clip – was in no way going to be sustainable or consistent given their personal histories.
What I’m saying is that team “Good Job, Good Effort” was never the unstoppable force some wanted to proclaim they were last spring, and instead benefitted from the Bulls having to rely so heavily on Rose to close out games. Maybe the more important distinction between Miami-2011 and OKC-2012 is the manner in which they slayed their Conference rival. I more than anyone like to point to the “It’s not about How, it’s How Many”, but there is something to be said about the way the Thunder responded to every Spurs run, and the fact that we saw them mature and evolve before our eyes as the series progressed. Miami-2011 made no such transformation – they did not grow and mature as a team, they just hit their outside shots better than they previously had. This became painfully obvious with how they responded when Dallas fought back in Game 2 – they revealed themselves to be the shrinking violets we had always expected. By contrast, when the Spurs punched them in the mouth, the Thunder responded by playing better and better – whenever faced with adversity, or a challenge to their collective momentum, OKC straightened up and fought back. Wednesday’s 15 point halftime deficit was the latest example – a lesser team might have folded up shop and lived to fight another day, but instead they met the task head on and stole the game and the series, and there was nothing the Spurs could do about it.
That is what impressed me most, and why I am ready to bestow them with a title two weeks early – they’ve proven that they will adjust to whatever you throw at them, they will persevere through whatever you throw at them, and then their talent will overwhelm you. It’s that evolution of collective will that wasn’t there last year against Dallas, and it’s the last step they needed to take to ascend to where we all hoped they’d get to. I admit I never thought they’d get there this quickly, but I see nothing to suggest this is a temporary development – they’ve cracked the code now, and what comes next should be a prolonged run of (at least) Finals appearances to rival those of the Showtime Lakers.
As for your KD (Almost >) LeBron argument, I think it all depends on what we really mean when we talk about who is “The Best Player Alive.” On the surface that title seems like it is straight-forward – who is the best basketball player in the world today? But the difficulty with that distinction is whether you equate being the greatest talent or having the most skill with being the best actual player. Because I don’t, and for that reason I already view KD as being at least as good as, if not better than, LeBron.
That sort of sounds ridiculous, I know. LeBron’s physical gifts are unrivaled in the history of the game; you wouldn’t have to work hard to convince me he is an android, designed to be the perfect athletic specimen for playing the sport of basketball. While there is no way to prove this definitively, it’s my view that LBJ’s natural physical gifts are the greatest the league has ever seen – greater than Wilt because of his coordination, greater than Jordan because of his size and strength. Package that with his Basketball IQ and skill-set – which he deserves credit for having worked at tirelessly to improve – and you have the most talented player ever. The trouble is that skills and talent aren’t all that make a player great, and it’s the intangibles where he comes up wanting.
And this isn’t just about being ‘clutch’ in the final few minutes of a few games. That is a boring narrative, even if it’s becoming a well-founded one. This is about not having “It” – that thing that allows truly special players to elevate when the moment asks it from them, and to impact the game in ways the boxscore doesn’t reveal. Statistically speaking, LeBron has been incredible this series, and has been the entire playoffs. There is no doubting or questioning his statistical or advanced-metric dominance. But I’ve watched all those games, and save for his truly amazing Game 4 against Indy, he hasn’t been there in the moments that mattered most – which do not always come at the end of games. Sometimes they come with 8 minutes to play, or even in the 3rd Quarter, when you need to stop a run, or when your teammates need you to carry them on your back. Durant has a sense for those times and responds. As does Kobe, and for that matter Wade. LeBron just doesn’t – he is consistently great in the box score, but small in the breaks of the game that mean the most. It’s for that reason I would take Durant over him if I were starting a franchise – there is just too much “Karl Malone” in LBJ for me to trust him to carry me to a title. Not so with KD.
(GOOD LORD – what happened there? I blacked out and just started writing ‘Ulysses’ I think. Please response before I break off another 2000 words of tangent-filled nonsense.)
Blake: Wow, that’s weighty…I feel like I’m now just a commenter responding to an article you wrote. Allow me quickly to clear up that I was by no means comparing OKC12 to MIA11 in terms of actual accomplishments or team dynamic, moreso just the comparative narratives they’ve been subjected to immediately after their Conference Championships. I agree 100% that what this Thunder team accomplished is light-years beyond the Heat beating Rose & Co last spring, I merely wanted to illustrate that handing out titles before they are won is a risky endeavor.
In terms of the Thunder’s victory against the Spurs, you hit several nails on their collective heads – this was the best team in the league, bar none, for AT LEAST the last two months of the NBA season, and after Game 2 I remember reading multiple pieces of prose about where a 16-0 playoff run would rank this Spurs team (and their dynasty) among the all-time greats. They also have the best coach in the NBA, so it would have been difficult to envision any team rallying off four straight victories without Pop and the Spurs being able to make the necessary adjustments. The fact that Oklahoma City was able to run their wide pin-down play so often and with such success, in multiple games, varying their looks off of this base play enough to get every single player on the team involved at different times, without leaving the Spurs any suitable “out” defensively, was astonishing. It’s a single example, yes, but the Thunder continued to make similar adjustments on both ends, making their identity fluid throughout. And in that light, it can’t be understated that the Thunder were generally thought to have a weakness behind the bench, but Scotty Brooks did his fair share of growing up in this series as well. One final note on the Thunder “growing up” before we turn off any remaining readers with our trading of monologues in place of a dialogue – the fact that OKC went from the league’s most turnover-prone team to winning the ball-protection battle against a smart, savvy, and precise Spurs team is the most fitting representative example I can think of from this series to exemplify their growth – they took their single greatest weakness as a team and made it a strength against a team who should have dominated them in that regard.
On to KD vs. LeBron…okay, I admit it. I held back because I thought it a bit too homerish to proclaim KD The Man, but your points are valid. LeBron is the most talented, but Durant is the best basketball player. While some scoff at intangibles and hang every argument on new-wave statistics, it can’t be ignored. There’s a reason Bill Russell won 11 titles and Wilt won two, just like there’s a reason LeBron doesn’t have one yet and probably won’t after this year is through. If people don’t believe in this appreciable gap between basketball talent and basketball capacity, take a look at current mock drafts and scouting reports. Teams are going nuts for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist despite the fact that in pure ‘talent’ terms he’s a late-lottery pick (he’s not a great shooter and probably can’t create his own shot yet), but he might go as high as 2nd overall because everything about him screams winner. He’s exactly the type of guy, like Durant, that could figure out and manage the touchy dynamic with an alpha-craving #2 like Russel Westbrook, something Durant has done that’s been integral to the Thunder’s success (rememeber that at this time last year, everyone was claiming KD/Russel was like Avon/Stringer and one had to go). And I’ll note that I’m not advocating MKG as Durant’s eventual equal, not even close, but I am certainly advocating him as a top-3 pick in the draft.
I’m getting lengthy here too now….I’ll pass it back, and ask for you to touch on OKC’s medium-term (3-5yrs) prospects after you respond.
—End of Thursday transmission—
Blake: Well…that might change things. What a showing, as between emails LeBron threw down one of the all-time great performances, pouring in 45-15-5 on just 26 field goal attempts (19/26, 2/4 3FG, 5/9FT). There can simply be no complaints about a game like this, but does it serve the two of us notice of just how easily James could switch from “most talented player” to “best player” if he got the mental side together, or is ir simply a frustrating reminder of what could/should be a regular thing for him?
I’ll allow you some time to settle in and continue with our OKC chat from yesterday afternoon before we touch on Mia/Bos, with a game 7 looming.
Trev: All that was missing last night was Bron sprinting up to the media table, with Worldwide Wes draping off his shoulders, screaming “EAT YOUR WORDS! I’M A BAD MAN! I MUST BE THE GREATEST!”
And yet, as remarkable as his performance was – and let it be said that that first half was truly as impressive as any stretch of basketball I’ve ever seen – I’m not convinced enough to throw aside my previous assertion that LBJ might have a short circuit somewhere that prevents him from ever truly realizing his frighteningly awesome potential when it comes to big moments. Yesterday I joked that he had too much Karl Malone in him for my liking, but I will go a step further and suggest maybe it’s a bit too much Vince Carter.
No, not that he quits on his team, or sulks. By every account he is a terrific teammate, and he generally does not give off any air of feeling sorry for himself, despite the hate. What I mean though by the Vince comparison is that he desperately needs to be liked. To be loved, and appreciated, and to have friends. And I’m not sure that you can have that pathological need to be the good guy and to make everyone love you and still be the assassin that you need to be. Being a Heel never suited LeBron – last year at the height of the Heat Hate, his Hollywood Hogan NWO act was obviously awkward and unnatural. He is a Face, through and through, and needs to be around friends. That is why he teamed up with Wade and Bosh, it’s why he references his days at SVSM in high school with his boys as the best time in his life, and its why he has an entourage that would make Vinny Chase proud. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be seen as the good guy, it’s not how closers in the NBA work. They are assassins, and even if they are nice guys off the floor, they have no problem making a few enemies if it wins them games. KG does that; Wade does; so does Rondo. Same with Kobe, and seemingly now Durant. That wasn’t always true, I admit. Last spring KD deferred to Russ way too much and it cost him. But this year he seems to have come around to the idea that OKC will go exactly as far as he will take them, and he is owning that more. Maybe last night we saw LeBron have the same epiphany, and just decide that if he is going to undeservedly take the blame for any collapse, that he’d go out on his own terms.
Maybe the Vince comparison isn’t the best I can do. Maybe there is another more obviously one we just don’t want to acknowledge. Maybe LeBron is just like Shaq.
Yes, Shaq ended up with 4 rings, but not for lack of trying to never evolve into the killer he needed to be. Like Bron, he wore the mask of being a Heel poorly, and seemingly had a pathological need to be loved, and to never have to take responsibility or accountability when things did not turn out as planned. Being an all-time great player doesn’t have to mean you are also a prick, but it certainly seems like most of the guys we put in the pantheon – Jordan, Kobe, Russell, Bird, West – were singularly obsessive competitors, who’d bark at – or even punch – a teammate in practice if he thought it would motivate, even if only by fear.
Last night proved LeBron isn’t scared of big moments, and it was a joy to watch him work. As a fan of the game, it was a thrill to see him respond with the game we all know him to be capable of: that is, a game like no one else on the planet could deliver. He was special last night, no question. So I don’t think fear or pressure necessarily makes him turtle in other big moments. And winning clearly matters to him. It is just a question of how much, maybe. After the game he told Dorris Burke that he wouldn’t have had any regrets if they had lost last night and that he just wanted to have fun and play hard and give his team a chance. A chance. That is very enlightened, understanding that things are beyond his control and he can only be responsible for his response to what happens, not control his fate. But he is a master of the universe. A basketball god. He cannot be okay with giving himself just ‘a chance to win’. Good Job, Good Effort kid might have perfectly captured his state of mind before Thursday. And maybe now the switch has gone off, and he is going to shift into being the killer he needs to be for the next week or two in order to carry this fading group around him. I hope so, even though I am not personally a fan. I hope so because it is important for the game that he does, and selfishly because I want to see what that level of basketball excellence would look like.
How did you respond to last night? Did it change your mind about him completely? At all? Can it change back if he comes out flat on Saturday night? And where the hell was Dwyane Wade in all of this?
(Oh, and our OKC thread in not forgotten – I will try to weave my thoughts on their future into my next reply, but I thought it best to focus on The King for now.)
Blake: Last night was something truly special. I liked Bill Barnwell’s take on it today that it should really be considered a very ‘clutch’ performance, only because it’s Game 6 of a 7-game semi-final series, it will be forgotten from the collective subconscious at the next moment of perceived failure on Bron’s part. It was also a pretty crazy trip reading some of the articles today outlining his previous playoff heroics, especially the fact that this was only his ninth best playoff game according to the Game Score metric. Where were all of these articles when the world was crumbling around LBJ just 48 hours ago and it was a fact that he wasn’t clutch? Has LeBron crossed a line from being Kobe-level polarizing to The King of Cognitive Dissonance? How do the haters take that game and adequately reload their ammunition for what they will argue is an impending Game 7 failure?
These are a lot of hypothetical questions, and I stress hypothetical because I don’t want you to return fire with The Book of Basketball II – Trev Smith Edition (I kid), but really, it’s difficult to digest that game and not immediately move to “okay, now what’s next?” I feel terrible that after signing off last night, jubilant and in amazement with his performance, I awoke not in subdued or appreciative reflection, but in rabid curiosity for what tomorrow night will hold. I could insert commentary here on where our social media-driven world has taken us as fans, to the ultimate peak of ‘ what have you done for me lately,’ but I’m trying to assure myself even if he provides a 25-10-8 in a loss on Saturday that I’ll still appreciate a Game 6 performance that instantly enters the Pantheon.
I think the Shaq comparison is more appropriate than the Vince one, specifically because like Bron, Shaq had physical, god-given tools that no player could possibly work to match, so the lack of killer instinct and assasin’s mentality was even more frustrating in their cases. Yes, Vince was an incredible athlete and didn’t live up to his potential, but there have been a dozen players just like him, but LeBron and Shaq are fairly similar and solitary in this regard. And like Shaq, it’s possible LeBron gets a couple of rings without ever embracing the assassin’s role, but I remain hopeful that he “figures it out.” No, last night probably wasn’t any sort of epiphany, and his stoic expressions and intentional lack of emotion made the night seem unorganic and, therefore, probably not something that will be sustained. But the fact that he flipped the switch for one night (again, the ninth best night of his playoff resume) when his back was truly against the wall can’t be considered as anything but a step in the right direction.
Trev: Just because it is fun to go Pacino and play Devil’s Advocate, if you were a Miami fan, wouldn’t it concern you that LeBron went historically HAM, and yet in the 3rd Quarter you were only up 8 DESPITE also seeing Pierce go 4-18, KG go 6-14, Rondo having an uncharacteristic 7 TOs, and Boston as a squad going 1-14 (7%!!!) from three?
Doesn’t that suggest that you need just about everything to go right in order to win these games because of how poorly constructed the rest of your roster is? Or are those just the breaks in the game and any team needs to have some luck in order to advance at this point?
And in the name of “Immediate Gratification and All Things Instant”…what is next? What do you see coming down the pipe for us Saturday?
Blake: Oh yeah, Heat fans have to be pretty shook by the fact that, until late, this all-time performance had them just narrowly ahead. Wade’s disappearing act, Bosh’s playing at less than 100%, and the bizarre deserves-its-own-large-column mismanaging of roster spots 4-12 are all such that Game 7 couldn’t be further from a certainty. Even if LeBron plays this good again, which is hard to ask of him, the Celtics regression to something more resembling their normal level (albeit offensively this is still a below-average squad) would make this a tight game.
The Celtics will almost definitely play better come Saturday night, and you’d think if this really is the Last Hurrah for The Big Three (green version), you’ll see a balls-to-the-wall effort from KG, The Truth, and even Rondo, who may see this as his last window at a ring for the next while. I’d include Ray-Ray, but it’s pretty clear at this point that his ankles need some serious work, which is a shame. He could still catch fire from downtown and make a difference, because nobody does that quite like him, but it seems more likely the others carry the burden. We know Rondo can get to another gear with the best of them, while Pierce’s ability to do so at this stage in the game is somewhat less obvious. KG, of course, will do everything he possibly can to win, whether it’s game 27 of the regular season or game 7 of the Conference Finals.
I’m going to roll the dice (and I actually can’t believe I consider this a dice roll at this point) and give the Heat the nod. LeBron might not play at quite this level, but his ‘normal’ is somewhere in that ballpark anyway, and you’d think Wade and Bosh will contribute at least a bit more. And the Celtics will play better, but as bad as they were in Game 6, they’re also not as good as they were (offensively, anyway) in Games 3-5.
By the way, my girlfriend’s boss is having a stag & doe tomorrow night, rendering me unable to watch the game in real time. What are the odds of me being able to avoid the outcome until midnight or so? And is it unreasonable to give myself food poisoning tomorrow afternoon (raw chicken?) to make myself bed-ridden and allow for real-time viewing?
Trev: First, let’s address the domestic question – my advice is that you can avoid the game, if you go to obnoxious lengths in order to do so. I was able to do this last night – the Mrs. and I went for dinner and to see “Moonrise Kingdom,” and by the time I got home it was almost 1am. Yet I was able to watch the game via PVR when I did get home, and watched it in its entirety by 2:45. The secret? Turn off your phone, and leave it at home. I say turn it off because leaving it at home isn’t enough – you will get back after the stag and doe and instinctively check it, at which point one of Cambridge’s finest lads will ruin it by having messaged you “CAN YOU BELIEVE X JUST HAPPENED!” or the like. From there you will need to publicly announce to everyone you meet at the stag that you are trying to avoid the score – say this immediately so they don’t casually lead with it to avoid awkward small talk. The food poisoning isn’t a sound plan, since if its real you will be vomiting for the better part of the evening and away from the broadcast as it is.
“We will be right back with more Domesticated Problems after this…” #TheMoreYouKnow
My view of what lies ahead Saturday is something along the lines of Game 7 of the Kings-Lakers series from 2002, though I don’t expect an OT thriller necessarily, but a tense, back-and-forth game that serves as a nice nightcap to one of the more dramatic and theme-heavy series we’ve seen in the last decade plus. Yes, the WCF this year had better overall basketball, but from a theatre standpoint nothing compares to Boston-Miami.
If you’ll recall from that 2002 LAL-SAC game, there were 16 ties, and 19 lead changes, and even though neither team executed with singular brilliance, there were some very solid individual performances in the face of elimination and the possible end of a championship reign. In that game, the Kings were undone by awful foul shooting – 16 for 30 – and a horrible 2-20 clip from distance, as well as an over-reliance on Bibby to carry them and win the day himself. Meanwhile Shaq threw up 35 and Kobe had 30, and every Laker starter was in double figures.
You might think the parallel draws nicely to see Bron-Dwyane as the Shaq-Kobe combo in this scenario, and the horrible long-range shooting of Boston in Game 6 as a sign they too could be undone in just this manner, but I am actually going to flip the script and say that I expect Miami to fall closer in line with that Kings team. That Sacramento team was significantly better man-for-man than LA. Though Shaq and Kobe were the best players on the floor, Cow Town probably had the 3rd through 9th best players on their side. Yet when the lights were on and it came down to a single game, I’m not sure they really believed they could beat the Lakers. That is where I see the Heat – knowing they are better, but somehow not really trusting that fact, while Boston would assume the role of the Lakers by not being impressed with themselves or their opponent in that spot, and have complete trust they would prevail when the shakedown came.
In the scenario I’ve imagined in my head, LeBron gives Miami a punching chance early, and ends up with something like 27, 11, and 5, but defers somewhat in the fourth to Wade, who is simply too beat up and tired at this point to throw the entire team on his back. I’d guess Wade get to 32 points, but on 25-ish shots, and that the Celtics make him earn it, because the Haslems, Millers, and Battiers of the world are going to lay an egg and provide no breathing room.
What I’m saying to you I guess is that, if I were a betting man, I’d say Boston by 5.
Now, to close this out and bring it all full circle– does Saturday’s result even matter given what we both think about where OKC is at? Does it mean anything different if it’s Miami and not Boston? And exactly how much would we all drive the LeBron-versus-The-Anti-LeBron narrative into the ground if it came to pass?
Blake: The narrative is going to be unbearable if it’s OKC/Miami, but it’ll at least be the rare and obvious good-vs-evil storyline that the casual fan always wants but usually has to be shoehorned to be appropriate.
But no, I don’t think it matters. As you said, Wade is tired at this point, and LeBron can’t do it all himself, considering he might not even be the best player in the series. The Heat were built so that they should always have the 1st, 2nd, and 4th best player in any series, but the actual truth might be that they have the 2nd, 5th, and 6th best player, as well as a far weaker #4-10 than their opponent (and no, Harden isn’t better than Wade, but he’s played it of late, so it’s entirely possible it continues for a series, especially with Thabo working on Wade while Harden is covered by Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole or someone of that ilk).
If it’s the Celtics, I think the Thunder are just better, through and through. I have a tonne of respect for the Celtics, but nobody would deny the element of luck it’s taken them to get even this far. They’d be heavy underdogs against the Thunder and the series wouldn’t go longer than 5. The Heat would take it 6 as LeBron steals a game and the Thunder have one final “learning” experience in another. But no, I think I’d pick the Thunder in any case.
Your thoughts? The Thunder have there hands on the Larry O’Brien, save for them dropping it?
Trev: I agree with everything you just laid out. When the WFC began, my response to anyone who asked who I thought would win was OKC, and I explained my rationale that position by position they were either equal-to-or-better-than SAS at every spot on the floor, and that the only notable advantage by position either team had was Durant-versus-Any SF on San Antonio. That same logic would apply regardless of who wins Saturday.
Blake interjection: And a coaching advantage.
Trev continued: If it’s Boston, they will be equal at the 1 (Rondo v. Russ is a wash), better at the 2 (Harden > The Ghost of Jesus Shuttlesworth), better at the 3 (Durant > PP), and probably a wash at the 4-5 (I’d wager that Ibaka+Perk is more or less the same as KG+Bass at this point, with it being a coin toss on which pair is worth more on any one night). From there the Not-Sonics’ depth is lightyears ahead of Boston’s, and they would be able to run on them all day, something Miami secretly isn’t good at exposing because even with Bron and Wade they aren’t athletic enough anywhere else on the roster to consistently play breakneck transition offense.
If Miami should win the day this weekend, the same rules apply: OKC wins the individual matchup at the 1, 4, and 5 (give me a healthy Ibaka over a gimpy Bosh all day), and I’d call the 2 and 3 both a wash (Harden+KD = Banged Up Wade+James). And that is before considering just how Streets Ahead (shout out to Dan Harmon, #SixSeasonsAndAMovie) Oklahoma’s depth would be compared to the Super Friends’. James and Wade would have to each play around 44-45 minutes a night just to stay with the Thunder, and by Games 6 or 7, and following a hellish season and schedule, I just don’t see how they’d have enough gas left for that.
As for how much fun this matchup would be, I will lean on something my brother sent in a back-and-forth this morning – “There is so much potential for passing the torch stories, the parallels of LBJ and KD but also the obvious differences. AND of course a spread in Men’s Vogue featuring Wade and Westbrook in a “Who Wore it Best.” The Grantland callout of OKCWGKTA was great. I can’t get home fast enough to see this happen.”
Looking forward even further though, my expectation is that unless LA can somehow acquire Deron and Dwight (say, Pau and picks for Williams in a sign-and-trade, and Bynum for Dwight more or less straight up with some loose change thrown in) there is no one out West – not the Clippers, not the Grizz, and not another-year-older San Antonio – who will stand in the way of the Thunder owning their conference for the next 5 years. Other people a lot smarter than you or I have pointing out that this feels a lot like the ’91 Bulls’ run, where we weren’t completely convinced they were ready yet, but then all of a sudden you look up and they are up there with Dictator Stern taking their bows.
But then again, what do any of us really know. That is part of the fun. And that is what is going to make Saturday night so special.
Blake: I don’t want to put any sort of long-term time frame on their reign in the West, just because things can change rather quickly. Still, you’re right that none of the primary suspects look particularly strong in the near-term, so it’s going to take a really focused and well-executed effort, even from the perenially-contending Spurs, to dethrone the Thunder now that the West is theirs.
Well I think that might just about wrap it up. With any luck, I’ll talk to you Sunday morning for general Game 7 debriefing, though you’ll be my first text if I get sucked in to checking real-time updates tomorrow night.