What a difference a weekend makes. The Conference Finals both looked like they were going to be duds going into Thursday night’s game 3 in the Western Finals. San Antonio looked too dominant for the young Thunder and in the East, Miami seemed to athletic for the old Celtics. But after a couple of nights, both series are tied at 2 and it would not be shocking if the Thunder and Celtics win for a grand ol Kendrick Perkins reunion. So how did we get here and who is in bigger trouble? Let’s look at a couple of things in both series:
1. Kevin Durant is going to another level: The Game 3 blowout was expected. The Thunder is too good to not defend their homecourt. But Game 4 is was something else. Russell Westbrook only scored 7 points (2-10 FG). The Spurs had trimmed a 15 point lead to 4. Durant only had 18 points midway through the 4th. Then all of a sudden, Suitland’s finest went off, scoring 18 points in the final 7 minutes of the 4th. It was so quick, I didn’t even realize what he was doing until the highlights after the game. In this playoffs, we’ve seen guys keep their team in the game with magnificent performances (Rajon Rondo, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook) and duos willing their team to win (LeBron and Wade, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum). But could this be the first performance in the playoffs where you say one guy put his team on his back to hold on to win. This is LeBron versus the Pistons in 2007. This is countless games with Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. If Durant plays at this level for the rest of the playoffs, without much help from his partner in crime Westbrook (Ibaka picked up the slack with his 11-11 performance).
2. I have to lay the lackadaisical performances I saw in Game 3 and the 1st half of Game 4 with the guy who I actually like on the Heat; Coach Erik Spoelstra. Game 3 is forgiven. Game 4 is insufferable. The talent on the Heat, even without Chris Bosh, should have made for a more competitive first half in Game 4. The talent on the Heat should have allowed for a better play call on the last shot in the 4th and in overtime. To have shooters like James Jones, Mario Chalmers, and Mike Miller, to go along with slashers such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade makes watching the bumbling that goes on in these situations annoying. Norris Cole should have gotten playing time a lot sooner in this series. Kevin Garnett should not be killing the Heat in the paint. How can a team that can’t rebound have a guy that can’t jump averaging 11 rebounds in this series like he’s Kevin McHale? It’s called heart; Coach Spoelstra needs to make adjustments to negate that.
3. So who is in bigger trouble? The Thunder seemed to have figured out the Spurs pick-and-roll. The Celtics are willing themselves with heart and experience. I think it’s the Spurs. The defensive adjustments by the Thunder have contained Tony Parker’s damage. The offense may have to go through the post. The frontcourt of the Thunder may have found its groove, that’s why DeJuan Blair (who?) is getting playing time. After Parker and Ginobili, there really isn’t a wing player that can shoot off the dribble. If you run at Gary Neal, Daniel Green, and Kawhi Leonard and make them take a dribble, can they hit the shot? Also, there’s that guy named Kevin Durant that has emerged and another guy named Russell Westbrook that has not been unleashed yet in this series.
As for the Heat, their weapon is sitting on the bench making weird faces. Chris Bosh looks like he will come back for Game 5. That should negate Garnett’s impact in the paint. It provides more offense for the Heat, and it is doubtful that the Celtics can match that, even with Jesus Shuttlesworth’s shooting coming back from the dead (see what I did there). But you cannot count out the heart of champions. The Celtics have used that to carry them to a 2-2 series which could be a 3-1 series. You don’t want to bet against the Spurs either who are 4-time champs and still have Gregg Popovich making adjustments on the bench. These new best-of-series are going to something to watch. It’s not recommended for the faint of heart.