NBA Finals Game 1: Miami Heat at Oklahoma City Thunder
Outside of perhaps LeBron James and Kobe Bryant facing off in the NBA Finals, this year’s championship series is the best individual matchup in decades to decide the 2012 NBA title as LeBron’s Miami Heat are series underdogs for the first time as they face the Oklahoma City Thunder starting Tuesday night in OKC. The Thunder are 5-point favorites for Game 1 on WagerWeb.com.
The Thunder had a much tougher road to get here in terms of quality of opposition: They swept last year’s champion Dallas Mavericks in the first round, knocked out Kobe’s Lakers in five games in the second round and then, after falling behind 2-0 in the series against San Antonio, which was on a 20-game winning streak at the time, won the final four games of that series to advance to the franchise’s first finals since the mid-1990s when it was still in Seattle. OKC has yet to lose at home in these playoffs.
The Heat, meanwhile, didn’t have much trouble with the Knicks in Round 1. Things got interesting for a while in the conference semifinals vs. Indiana when Chris Bosh got hurt in Game 1. But after falling behind 2-1 in that series, the Heat roared back to win in six. And then Miami fell behind Boston 3-2 but stormed back in that series with back-to-back double digit wins to advance to the Finals for the second year in a row (lost in six to Dallas a year ago). It’s LeBron’s third Finals of his career as he his Cavaliers were swept by years ago by San Antonio.
These two teams are very similar. They both finished second in their conference. OKC won 47 games, the Heat 46. (If Miami hadn’t rested its stars in the final two games of the regular season it probably wouldn’t have lost those games and would have home-court advantage in this series). The Thunder had a scoring margin of 6.1 points per game; the Heat had a margin of 6.0. They both have a Big 3: Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden for OKC and LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Bosh for the Heat.
Of course Durant is the three-time NBA scoring champion, while LeBron is a three-time NBA MVP. After recording five 30-point, 10-rebound games during the 66-game lockout-shortened regular season, James has as many during this 18-game playoff run, including 31 and 12 to close out the Boston Celtics in Saturday’s Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. After closing with 45 points and 15 rebounds in Game 6, James, according to Elias Sports Bureau, became just the fourth player to go for at least 30 and 10 in Game 6 and Game 7 victories.
With all three of their main stars on the floor — Durant, Westbrook and Harden — the Thunder outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 48 minutes this season; with two of those three playing, they were plus-5.0. That’s outstanding — but it’s not as good as Miami. With their Big Three together, the Heat swamped opponents by 12.8 points per 40 minutes, according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. With at least two of them on the court, they were plus-7.1.
The teams split two meetings during the season. On March 25 in OKC, the Thunder won 103-87 in what was Miami’s worst loss of the season at the time. Durant had 28 points, nine rebounds and tied his season-high with eight assists. Oklahoma City had a season-high 13 steals and forced Miami into 21 turnovers that led to 28 Thunder points. Miami’s Big 3hree combined for 57 points but also 15 of the giveaways.
On April 4 in Miami, the Heat won 98-93. James had 34 points and 10 assists. Durant scored 30 points for the Thunder but had a career-high nine turnovers. Westbrook scored 28 points for Oklahoma City, but like Durant, he had his struggles, shooting 9-for-26. James Harden had 12 for the Thunder, who lost despite holding Miami to 37 percent shooting.