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There wasn't a more appropriate way for LeBron James to win his first NBA Championship.
Game Four and Game Five of the NBA Finals highlighted what makes James such a unique, special player. As good as #6 is individually, his ability and willingness to make others around him better separates him from almost every other superstar in the NBA.
Game Six against the Boston Celtics LeBron was on another level good, but that wasn't truly his game. James scored 45 of the Heat's 98 points and Dwyane Wade was the only other player in double figures with 17. Bron took the game over, won it all by himself.
Please don't misconstrue this upcoming part. In the last two games of the NBA Finals LeBron James was far and away the best player on the court.
James played facilitator in Games Four and Five. He scored 26 points in each game, but he controlled the game with his ability to draw defenders and open the court up for his teammates. LeBron had 25 assists combined in the final two games after having only 12 in the first three.
In Game Five the Heat had six players score in double figures, four with 20 points or more. In Game Four the Heat had four players in double figures, 3 with 20 points or more. In the two games combined Miami had 10 players in double figures with 7 scoring 20 points or more.
Compare that to Oklahoma City over Game Four and Game Five. The Thunder had six players in double figures and three over 20 points in the two games combined.
James doesn't need to be coaxed into playing this way, his coach doesn't have to beg him, and his teammates don't have to give off subtle signs about his selfishness in postgame interviews.
His first NBA Championship brought validation for many. People who really paid attention know it wasn't needed.
LeBron as an individual has been on a level all by himself since pretty much his second year in the league. In any one of those season if James was surrounded by the right talent he could have won it all.
Yes James' game has grown and evolved, playing more in the post as a true power forward was ultra important to this year's title run. But with a player like James depending on the complimentary players he could lead a team to a championship playing as a true point guard.
LeBron's versatility has always been one of his biggest strengths. The way the Heat were constructed Miami was able to create the most mismatches with him playing power forward. It gave room for Wade to operate on the perimeter and opened up the court for Miami's many solid spot up shooters in Bosh, Battier, Chalmers and Miller.
James playing power forward with point guard passing skills and the Heat's complimentary players was an impossible combination for the Thunder to stop.
LeBron won a championship his way, the right way, and it is just the beginning.
In the not so distant past, James Harden was described by Suns head coach Alvin Gentry as a top 10 player in the NBA on Arizona Sports 620 and media types were throwing around the words "max contract" for Harden's upcoming deal.
Unfortunately for the former Arizona State Sun Devil and sixth man of the year, his first visit to the NBA Finals has not gone smoothly. Through four games Harden is averaging 10 points on 35 percent shooting, 28 percent from three and shooting 72 percent from the foul line, which has been one of the biggest reasons Oklahoma City trails the Miami Heat 3-1.
He has scored less than 10 points in three of the four games. To put that in perspective in 76 prior games, playoff and regular season included, Harden had only scored less than 10 points four times total.
This is far from a career defining moment for the former first round pick. Harden is only 22 years old and still developing as a player, but seeing him struggle like this is surprising considering the maturity he showed the three previous series.
In the Thunder's Game Four loss, Harden was 2-10 from the field, 1-5 from three and only scored eight points. In the fourth quarter, he was 0-4 from the field, 0-2 from three and scored zero points.
The most concerning part about his performance was by the end of the game Harden looked hesitant and scared. With the Thunder trailing by five with just over two minutes left he came off a down screen and had a wide open shot. Instead of pulling the trigger immediately Harden looked to pass, couldn't find anyone and eventually settled for a contested 16 foot jump that was a brick.
This was coming off a 2-10 performance in Game Three - so if you're keeping track Harden is 4-20 (20 percent FG) in the last two games.
Part of the problem for Harden is he is getting asked to do more on the defensive end than he normally does. He has been assigned to guard LeBron James for long stretches of the past two games to try and keep Kevin Durant out of foul trouble.
Is it possible that this is impacting him on the other end of the court? Absolutely, but the game of basketball is played on two sides, not one.
Just because Harden has a tough defensive assignment doesn't give him a pass for disappearing as the Thunder's chance for a title goes from a strong storm to a light drizzle.
I don't believe this year's NBA Finals will impact Harden long term mentally or financially, even if he continues to struggle. There is too big of a sample size of excellent play and success to write him off because of one playoff series.
The problem is right now, in this moment, the long term doesn't apply. Oklahoma City needs Harden to be the player he is capable of being to have any chance to bounce back in this series.
If he doesn't, Thursday night, the Thunder will have to witness what they believed it was their time to do. Watching instead of celebrating as the Larry O'Brien Trophy is brought out to the floor.
It was right there for the Oklahoma City Thunder to take. Despite a terrible close to the third quarter, Kevin Durant missing a significant amount of time with foul trouble and Scott Brooks benching Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City only trailed by two going into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth it seemed like neither team wanted it. Miami outscored Oklahoma City by four, but shot 6-16 from the field (37.5%) and turned the ball over eight times.
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were far from spectacular, Wade, imparticular, accounted for four of the Heat's eight turnovers, including a brutal display of ball handling that ended with a Thabo Sefolosha pick pocket and lay-up. That play made the game 86-83.
But in the end the three made enough plays across the final 12 minutes to move within two games of accomplishing what they set out to when they joined together two years ago.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh combined for 15 points on 3-11 shooting with 15 rebounds (3 offensive) in the fourth. Their aggressiveness towards the basket kept them afloat as they were 9-10 from the foul line.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side, we were viewing a Thunder squad playing without the confidence we have come accustomed to seeing during this playoff run.
It started with their point guard Russell Westbrook.
Most people criticize him when he shoots too much saying he's out of control and not getting Durant the ball enough.
Sunday night was exhibit one, exhibit two and exhibit three of why you are all so very, very wrong.
It seemed like it was Scott Brook's fault for the tentative Westbrook on the court in the fourth quarter. After the point guard committed a charge in the third, Brooks benched his star. Whatever Brooks said or didn't say to Westbrook during his time on the bench, it didn't bring out positive results.
Russell, who played the final 12 minutes, didn't take one shot at the rim and went eight minutes between his first and second shot, both mid range jumpers which he nailed. He ended up with four points on four shots, one rebound and one assist. The kicker, which showed Westbrook was holding back, zero free throws.
The trickle down effect from Westbrook not playing like himself led to the game becoming harder for Kevin Durant. Durant, who had been magnificent with 33 combined points in the fourth quarter of Games One and Two, struggled mightily. The man known for taking over when it matters most shot 2-6, missed his only three point attempt and two free throws, grabbed one board, had zero assists and two turnovers.
James Harden after a nice start to the fourth completely disappeared. He looked as flustered as I've ever seen him play. I'm not going to put his line here because when looking at the numbers it wasn't terrible, it's something you need to watch to understand how poor he played.
For Oklahoma City to make this series go the length most expected (six or seven games), the Thunder stars can't disappear for long stretches. In the second game it was Westbrook and Durant shooting poorly in the first half, tonight it was the three of them struggling collectively in the fourth quarter. To beat the Miami Heat the Thunder need a quality 40-42 minutes from Durant, Westbrook and Harden not bits and pieces of high level play.
-Scott Brooks, yea I'm piling more on you, Serge Ibaka played zero minutes in the fourth quarter - unreal. Kendrick Perkins did some nice things tonight, it was the best game he played in the series. That being said, Ibaka is one of at most three players in the NBA that has the ability to legitimately challenge LeBron James at the rim. Whatever Perkins is going to bring, that one fact alone makes Ibaka more valuable to have on the court. An absolute disgrace.
-Derek Fisher played more minutes than Thabo Sefolosha (It was only one more minute, but still -- I'm looking at you again Scott Brooks).
-If the Heat start knocking down outside jumpers at any point during this series the Thunder are in a lot of trouble.
In the first two games of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Miami Heat led early against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In Game 1, the Thunder fed off the energy of their home crowd and came back late to finish with a healthy lead and secure the win. In Game 2, the Heat led from wire to wire and gave OKC their first loss at home this postseason to even the series.
The Finals heads to South Beach for Game 3 on Sunday and things should be no less thrilling or intriguing as the Heat try to take a series lead in their own backyard. They'll need big contributions from their "Big 3," but after Game 2, it doesn't look like that will be a problem.
Sunday's Game 3 will tip off at 5:00 p.m. PT and will be televised nationally on ABC.
For more coverage of the NBA Finals, visit SB Nation's dedicated NBA hub. For more on the Heat, visit Peninsula Is Mightier or check out SB Nation Tampa Bay. For more on the Thunder, visit Welcome To Loud City or stop by SB Nation Kansas City.
As the NBA Finals sit at 1-1 after the Miami Heat handed the Oklahoma City Thunder their first loss at home of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, only one person can get in the way of the Thunder winning this year's championship.
It isn't that Oklahoma City is awful when Perk is on the court -- it's that they're that much better when he is off. When breaking it down per 100 possessions during the playoffs, when Perkins plays the Thunder's offensive efficiency is 107.2 and defensive efficiency is 104.2, good for a +3. When Perkins sits the Thunder's offensive efficiency jumps to 114 and defensive efficiency drops to 101.1, a 12.9 positive differential.
The sample size isn't just the playoffs either. During the regular season the numbers were similar.
With Perkins on the court their offensive efficiency was 103.7 and defensive efficiency stood at 99.6. When Perkins was on the bench the offensive efficiency was 110.3 and defensive efficiency, 100.4. A +4.1 when Perkins played and a +10.1 when didn't.
Against the Miami Heat, Brooks insistence on playing their starting center sticks out like Tim Tebow would at a swingers party.
With no true big man on the Heat's roster there is no match-up that makes sense for Perkins. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem are both face up jump shooters and not back to the basket players. In addition the Heat put the former Celtic in the uncomfortable position of having to guard pick and rolls; it is too easy for the Heat to take Perk out of his comfort zone.
This is a big reason Miami has put together terrific starts in both games. In the first quarter of Game 1, Perkins was a -9, while in Game 2 he was a -15. To his credit when he was put back into the game the Thunder didn't perform nearly as bad. After the first quarter in Game 1 Perk was a +7 and in Game 2 he was a +1.
Scott Brooks playing Perkins won't stop the Thunder from winning the title, but it opens up the door for the Heat to steal it.
If Brooks pulled Perkins from the rotation and gave all the center minutes to Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison with Kevin Durant and Thabo Sefolosha playing power forward the chances of Oklahoma City losing to Miami would drop significantly.
So far, this has all the makings of a great NBA Finals series. In Game 1, the Oklahoma City Thunder turned up the defensive pressure and sacrificed some offense (James Harden) for some defense (Thabo Sefalosha) and in the process were able to slow Dwyane Wade.
The Miami Heat, for their part, is going to have to come up with a better plan for containing Russell Westbrook's destructive drives. Chris Bosh, who was huge for the Heat in Game 7 against Boston, will also need to dominate his match ups.
Game 2: Thursday, June 14 at Oklahoma City at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ABC
Here's the remaining schedule for the 2012 NBA Finals:
Game 3: Saturday, June 17 at Miami at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT on ABC
Game 4: Tuesday, June 19 at Miami at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ABC
Game 5: Thursday, June 21 at Miami at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ABC*
Game 6 Sunday, June 24 at Oklahoma City at 8:00 p.m. ET / 5:00 p.m. PT on ABC*
Game 7 Tuesday, June 26 at Oklahoma City at 9:00 p.m. ET / 6:00 p.m. PT on ABC*
Schedule and updates for the 2012 NBA Finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.