The NBA Finals are now set - the Dallas Mavericks will be facing the Miami Heat beginning next Tuesday night, May 31, in Miami. I know that it may be hard to get up for such a finals when we all thought that OKC would be the one representing the West, but 2011 is not that year. Even so, I hope you tune in for two reasons: 1) this year's playoffs have been spectacular and the Finals should be very compelling; 2) We may be losing the NBA due to the lock-out and there is no certainty as to how long a lock-out might last.
We'll continue to work to keep you up to date on all the pertinent goings-on for both the Thunder and the NBA and we have a number of things in store in the upcoming months, so please stay with us during the off-season.
The arrival of James Harden in Games Two and Five of the series were probably the biggest thing the Thunder discovered in these playoffs. We will have to examine James Harden more in the off-season, but what we found out too late was that when Harden plays the point, everyone on the court becomes better.
Young finds a great comment made by Shawn Marion after the series was over. It reminds me of something I heard while the Carmelo Anthony trade was going down - the pundits and columnists argue back and forth whether player A or player B is worth XX, but they never bother to ask the player's peers. His peers know if he's good or not. The rest of the league knows who can play and who cannot.
"Don't talk bad about that man, because he's competing out there and he's playing hard on both ends of the floor. When you deny people from catching the ball, he's got no choice but to shoot it. Don't kill him. I don't like that. He is out there playing hard and competing." - Shawn Marion on Russell Westbrook
Mahoney writes an exceptional piece on the Mavericks' locker room and how brief snapshots of the different players convey so much about who they are and what they want to be.
Beckley Mason recaps the series, but in doing so uncovers a few extremely exceptional circumstances that all broke Dallas' way to allow them to capture the wins. These games, involving hundreds of moments and dozens of working parts, surprisingly often come down to the smallest of elements.
More links after the jump.
Carlson writes about the latest criticism on Russell Westbrook, fittingly coming after the game was over. The tough thing about media scrutiny is that the opinion of Westbrook will never change until they decide it does. One random fact is buried in this story that I did not know - Harden and Westbrook have known each other since middle school.
Pruiti looks at the last best shot that the Thunder had in staying alive against the Mavericks. If you remember how last year's playoffs ended, this story headline hurts just a little bit more.
OKC was not the only team that had trouble closing out a veteran squad. The Bulls too, young, inexperienced, and led by a dynamic but untested point guard in Derrick Rose, fell to the same struggles that befell the Thunder. They too will learn in the off-season what additional steps are required to take the next step.
Kevin Durant reflects that while it was a good season, he is not content to use youth as a reason to only care about the future. Losing in the Conference Finals was still an opportunity lost.
Young assigns grades to various men in the series. You will be shocked to see how Dirk Nowitzki did.
There is ample precedent that upstart teams frequently have difficulty maintaining their mojo from season to season. Sustained excellence requires a common goal, a strong core, and dedication from the top. This off-season will test these themes in OKC.
"Everything is on me." - Derrick Rose
Compare and contrast this line with the general sentiment on Westbrook:
"If graded on an age curve, the 22 year-old superstar is beyond reproach. But, his recent performance is worthy of criticism-in a vacuum. Derrick Rose evades much of that criticism because he failed in a spectacular, aggressive manner."
This is a great anecdote about Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich and how he came by the phrase "pounding the rock," and why it fits the team so well. Obviously the Thunder cannot steal such a great mantra, but it would be great if they could assign themselves some of its qualities.
Early previews are already rolling in. The Heat have the home court advantage and a lot of momentum, but the Mavs have the best post-season player in Dirk.