OKLAHOMA CITY — Miami returns to the NBA Finals stage after finishing off the Boston Celtics in a dramatic game seven (101-88) to capture their second straight Eastern Conference title. The Big Three — yes, Miami is again knocking at the door of an NBA title as they did last year.
We all remember them coming up short a year ago, losing four games to two to NBA Champion Dallas. Because they did not finish the deal and win it in the 2011 Finals, this entire NBA season has been about the Miami Heat; they have been ordained, sentenced, and proclaimed as the 2012 Champion or else.
Not much has changed: LeBron James (31 points, 12 rebounds), Dwyane Wade (23 points), and Chris Bosh healthy again (19 points and eight rebounds) in game seven. The celebrated trifecta, the Big Three — James, Wade and Bosh — continue to carry the burden of winning it all.
As does Head Coach Erik Spoelstra, an understudy of the great Pat Riley, in this, his fourth season. Make no mistake about it: It’s win or bust, and this time around will be every bit as challenging as 2011 was for the Heat.
Last year, Dallas spotted the Heat in game one of the Finals, then came back to win four of the next five as the Heat imploded on the Finals stage. James has been incredible in these playoffs — there is no doubt who the leader of the Big Three is.
Oklahoma City has for the first time reached the NBA Finals. Previously, when the franchise was in Seattle as the Sonics, they reached the Finals. They, like the Heat, were number two in the regular season in their Western Conference.
Miami was 46-20 in the regular season in the Eastern Conference. Both Chicago and San Antonio tied for the NBA’s best record, 50-16. Chicago lost to Philadelphia after Derek Rose injured his knee. San Antonio, after winning 20 straight games with the third-best win streak in NBA history, lost to the Thunder.
The Thunder swept Dallas 4-0, beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1, and rallied down 0-2 to beat San Antonio 4-2; they are 12-3 in the playoffs. The Thunder are led by three-time scoring Champion Kevin Durant and are coached by Scott Brooks, a former Timberwolves player. The Thunder score an average of 103 points a game and allow 96.9 per game, a difference of 6.1.
Speaking of the Timberwolves, Miami was 1-0 vs. the Timberwolves. Oklahoma City was 3-0 vs. Minnesota in the regular season.
Miami is led by James, the 2012 NBA MVP and the only three-time NBA MVP in history not to have won the championship. He helped the Heat beat New York 4-1, Indiana 4-2, and Boston 4-3, and has a 12-6 record in the post season.
The Heat score 98.5 a game and allow 92.5, a difference of 6.0. Perception is that the Western Conference was stronger than the East; it has taken Miami 18 games to reach the Finals, while the Thunder have taken only 15.
Miami was 2-0 vs. the Thunder in the regular season. James was the MVP. I thought Durant was more deserving of MVP, having won his third-straight scoring title. The NBA mantle is about to be taken by either Durant or James, and the NBA will surely follow.
These playoffs have been spectacular, primarily because of the sensational playoff performances of these two teams and their young superstars James and Durant. This is Durant’s first trip to the NBA Finals.
The Thunder are far from a one-man show with guards Russell Westbrook, fifth in scoring in the league, and James Harden, NBA sixth man of the year — both are very good players. However, remember that Oklahoma City lost to Dallas last year in the Western Conference Finals.
James is no Johnny-come-lately. He has been on this stage before, twice in fact — 2007, when he was with Cleveland, losing 0-4 to San Antonio, and last year’s 4-2 loss to Dallas.
As good as the Thunder have been — and they have the home court advantage as well as so far being unbeaten in playoffs, which is huge in this 2-3-2 NBA Finals format — I believe the Heat are being driven by James’ hunger, desire and leadership. I predict the king finally gets his crown and Miami wins it in six.
This should be one of the best NBA Finals in years, and I am covering it as my 20th NBA Finals. Enjoy.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.