The 2012 NBA Finals will showcase two of the most athletic, exciting and talented teams in the league: the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat.
Both squads possess superstars and scoring champions who are capable of outstanding ball movement and lethal transition games.
Though this would normally be a recipe for a high-scoring, up-and-down affair, it may not be the case in this series because both rosters boast tenacious defenders who have the ability to shut down their opponents at the defensive end of the floor. Every possession will be crucial, and turnovers will be costly.
There are a lot of similarities between the Heat and the Thunder. Both sides have at least two players who are capable of exploding and going off for 40 points in a game if they get hot.
Both teams also feature Big Threes: Miami has 2012 NBA MVP James, 8X All-Star Dwyane Wade and 7X All-Star Chris Bosh, while OKC has 3X NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, 2X All-Star Russell Westbrook and 2012 Sixth MOTY James Harden. Amazingly, the members of the Thunder’s triumvirate are all 23 years old or younger.
There is tremendous depth on each bench. Coach Scott Brooks, who is making his first trip to the finals in just his third full season as head coach, will probably go deeper into his reserves than Miami, considering coach Spoelstra went predominantly with six players against Boston in Game 7 of the ECF when the season was on the line.
Oklahoma City is capable of playing very big or playing small and fast. However, Miami has not really played big all season, though they have the option to go with Chris Bosh at the 4 along with one of their seldom-used centers such as the shot-blocking Joel Anthony at the 5 and LeBron at the 3.
We may see more small ball in this series than we have seen in previous championships as the key players on both teams are perimeter-oriented with amazing quickness, which often makes lumbering, big men ineffectual.
The number one concern when going up against the Heat is transition defense. The Thunder have to get back and be compact so that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don’t score easy baskets in transition.
As for defending the Thunder, Miami will also have to limit their transition game because they run so hard and so fast. And they must shut down the league’s most prolific scorer Kevin Durant. Spoelstra has to decide how to match up against him, whether with consistent double teams or staggered weak-side help.
The format changes to 2-3-2 in the finals, so capturing the first two home games will be critical for the Thunder because they don’t want to give the Heat a split with a chance to win three straight at home. The Heat and Thunder played twice in the abbreviated regular season, each winning on its home court.
OKC has one of the best crowds in the NBA, if not the best. And Miami’s fans were perhaps the most vocal they’ve been all year in Game 7 versus the Boston Celtics. It will be paramount for both squads to try to take away the opposing crowd’s energy and impact by limiting scoring runs and establishing road leads.
The global hoops audience will be watching the 2012 NBA Finals to see whether LeBron will clinch the title in his third finals appearance, or If the young Thunder are on the verge of a dynasty.