Beat Boston in the conference finals, 4-3.
Beat Indiana in the conference semifinals, 4-2.
Beat New York in the first round, 4-1.
Stat Leaders: LeBron James (27.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 6.2 APG, 1.9 SPG), Joel Anthony (1.3 BPG).
Opponent: Western Conference Champions Oklahoma City Thunder, 47-19
Record Against Them This Season: 1-1
Writer: Diego Quezada (@DiegoHeatNBA)
Web Site: Hot Hot Hoops
The Heat survived a grueling seven-gamer against the Boston Celtics and are now in their second straight NBA Finals. They now face the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are making their first appearance since they moved the squad to OKC. I talk to Diego Quezada of Hot Hot Hoops once again to get his feelings about this series. Shoutout to Surya Fernandez as well as I had originally intended to get him for this interview.
Anyway, let's get into it.
This series went 7 against Boston. Was it a matter of Miami underestimating Boston or was Boston really that good of a squad?
The Heat/Celtics series from this year was eerily similar to the series between those two teams last year at times. Miami won the first won games, Boston blew out the Heat in Game 3 and Game 4 went into overtime. Even after the Heat have beaten the Celtics, I still feel like the referees made a couple of bad calls when they fouled out LeBron James. If LeBron doesn't foul out in the overtime, who knows what happens? The Heat could have gone up 3-1 and really put a strange-hold on the series.
But it didn't happen that way. Miami didn't underestimate Boston; the Celtics were No. 1 in points allowed per possession this year. Teams don't luck into that position. The Celtics have been a bad offensive team for the last couple years, and that's why I thought the Heat would win in 5. But Miami had a lot of defensive lapses and turned the ball over, giving Boston life.
Chris Bosh looked really good in Game 7. Is he going to start from here on out? Does it really matter?
I have no idea if he'll start. It was interesting to hear LeBron say after Game 7 that having Chris Bosh come off the bench may be "a good thing for our team." If he does come off the bench, the Heat may put Shane Battier on Kevin Durant to provide defensive relief for James to start the games. On the other side of the coin, starting Bosh and Haslem (and playing them big minutes together) would render Kendrick Perkins ineffective. The Heat could also bring Joel Anthony off the bench more naturally -- he didn't play in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals -- and he should have a role in this series off the bench. But whether Bosh starts doesn't matter if the Heat can get him big minutes and give Anthony some playing time. He may not start games, but he definitely will finish them.
Do you think we are seeing a different LeBron James here? He looked like he was a different animal in Game 6.
Yes. LeBron said at the MVP press conference that winning the championship is all he cares about, and he's playing like it. He's responded when the pressure is at its highest. When the Heat went down 2-1 against Indiana, James finished with 40 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. When the Heat were on the brink of elimination against the Celtics, he delivered 45 points, 15 boards and 5 assists. But it's also important to remember that a year ago, James delivered daggers to the Celtics and Bulls (even shutting down Derrick Rose). LeBron cannot afford another Finals appearance in which he plays hot potato with the basketball.
How worried are you about Dwyane Wade? At times, he doesn't look 100 percent.
I may be in the minority in this, but I'm not all that concerned about Dwyane Wade. He struggled against Boston in the first halves before playing markedly better in the second halves. But like I said, the Celtics were No. 1 in points allowed per possession. Kevin Garnett is a superb defensive player, and he double-teamed Wade effectively. And I'm sorry, but Serge Ibaka is no Garnett on the defensive end of the floor. Ibaka is an off-ball defender who blocks shots. Sefolosha is a good individual defender, but team defense is important in the NBA. If the Heat are able to take Perkins off the floor -- which I expect to happen -- Wade can get going if Ibaka's man sets Wade a pick. Ibaka isn't a great pick-and-roll defender, and if Wade gets by Ibaka and Perkins is on the bench, who is going to stop Wade with a head of steam?
The Heat face the Thunder in the Finals. Keys to stop the Thunder.
The No. 1 key to this series is to play great defense for 48 minutes. The Heat were able to get away with defensive lapses against the Celtics. That won't work against the Thunder, a very good team. Miami would love to force Oklahoma City into some turnovers to get breakaway points (something that Doc Rivers did a great job of preventing from happening). Those long jumpers the Thunder take can turn into long rebounds, leading to more easy points. The Heat should frustrate Westbrook and prevent Harden from getting to the free-throw line frequently. On offense, Mario Chalmers has to show, as he did against the Celtics, that he can hit the 3 and get into the lane. He probably has to play as the Heat's fourth option to win.
The Heat need all of the Big 3 to play at their best. In Game 7 of the conference finals, the Heat's crunch-time lineup was Wade, James, Bosh, Battier and Haslem. I expect that to stay the same in the Finals. Pat Riley wanted this type of versatile, defensive lineup last year, but Mike Miller has just been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster with his incessant injury issues. This lineup gives Miami the option to switch the pick-and-roll, as we could see James guard Westbrook for a couple possessions. This lineup locked down the Celtics midway through the fourth quarter of a tight game. While it won't do that against the Thunder, it can get a few crucial stops in the fourth quarter.
On a scale of 1-10, how do you like the Heat's chances of winning the title?
I'd say a 6. With the 2-3-2 format, the Heat will need to get one of the first two games to have a good chance. Teams rarely sweep those three middle games. The formula for the Heat is to get the split in OKC, then win two out of three in Miami and close it out on the road. Although the Thunder are favorites, the Heat do have the opportunity to exploit some match-ups -- like Perkins. It's also noteworthy to point out that neither team is really deep. I don't consider Harden a sub (and I wouldn't consider Bosh a sub if he came off the bench). Derek Fisher and Nick Collison aren't swinging a playoff series, and neither are Joel Anthony and Shane Battier.