As we all sit in bed at night and count down the minutes to the greatest series of basketball we will ever see in our lives (at least, that's what we tell ourselves), it might be pertinent to go back to the Thunder's regular season series and get a small preview of what we can expect heading into the NBA Finals. The two matchups occurred on March 25th and April 4th, and both of them occurred after the acquisitions of Derek Fisher and Ronny Turiaf. There were no injured players on either team for either matchup, except for the obvious Maynor. The first matchup was a handy Thunder win, with a total defensive collapse late in the fourth by the Heat. The second matchup was a narrow Heat win, with lots of fouls called and turnovers made.
I split what I gleaned from the games below into matchup notes and general thoughts. They shouldn't be taken as things saying that one team is definitively better than the other. (That comes tomorrow, in my series preview.) Rather, you should take them as potential factors that could tip the balance in either teams favor.
Russell Westbrook is perfectly capable of shredding Chalmers. Westbrook's game was limited, to say the least, in the first matchup. But in the second matchup, he used screens, superior speed, and his bigger size to blow past and shoot over Chalmers.
On the other hand, Wade is more than a match for Westbrook. Wade is only a little bit taller than Westbrook is, but he's 30 pounds bigger, just as quick, and much longer in the arms. In other words, he's Westbrook's worst nightmare. He's always out in front of Westbrook on the drive, and he can easily find his way around a Perkins screen. Westbrook will almost never get an open look or get to the paint.
Sefolosha sticks to Wade like glue. Even though Wade is Westbrook's worst nightmare, Sefolosha is Wade's worst nightmare. Now, Wade is crafty enough of a player to where he'll be at least semi-productive 93% of the time on average. ("Yes, that stat is exact", I lied.) But Sefolosha will have nights where he can limit Wade to something like 30-35% shooting or less shots take overall, with not too many trips to the line. He's not quicker than Wade, but he's got the length and center of gravity to keep Wade out of the paint, and Wade's jumper isn't as good as you think it is. (Though, it's still pretty good.)
Below: How James can destroy the Thunder D, Battier's Sneaky Threes, Heat Turnovers, Open Court Ball, Finding the Fourth Man, and Wade's Offensive Game!
Harden, generally, isn't physical enough to defend James. Sometimes this matchup will happen when Durant is out of the game or when the Thunder are going small. Harden is a few inches shorter and not nearly as strong, so every single time Harden is put on James, James goes straight to the paint and out-muscles Harden for an easy shot. Harden is also a lot more prone to get stuck behind screens, which James takes full advantage of.
Durant, on the other hand, can defend James really well. His length allows him to alter every shot James takes. I'd say James is a bit quicker and stronger, sometimes allowing him to beat Durant to the hoop. But by and large, James's shot is altered just enough by Durant to make it a miss.
Sefolosha is in-between the two. He only defended James in the second matchup, but he's not as long as Durant, and he gets stuck behind screens sometimes. But he can affect James's shots, and he's big enough to stop a drive to the paint. Honestly, he'd be better served by defending Wade.
Expect a lot of small lineups. Westbrook, Fisher, and Harden were seen on the floor together regularly during the two matchups, and their impact on the game was almost always positive. It should be even better now, since Fisher is actually hitting shots in the playoffs. You'll also see some Durant at Power Forward, but since Durant is better at guarding James, it will only be for short bursts.
Battier will bite us in the butt during at least one game of this series. All he does is stand on the arc, waiting for you to forget about him. Luckily, the Thunder don't use zone defense very often (at all?), but they still like to converge upon driving players, usually forcing a couple of players to switch off of their man and leaving Battier open in the wing. That or someone on the weak side will camp too close to the paint and not be quick enough to get back and defend Battier's shot.
The Heat throw some really predictable passes. Usually, they'll lose the ball by sitting around a few feet behind the arc, lazily throwing a pass to Wade or James for a simple isolation play. They can also lose it while trying to work some two-man action with Bosh or Haslem, because the plays are really predictable and neither of the two players set excellent picks. The Thunder will usually intercept the ball by having defender A switch to on the ball, and defender B (usually Harden, Westbrook, or Sefolosha) stand a few feet back of the guy he's supposed to switch to. This gives the ball handler the illusion that the player he's passing to is unguarded. The pass is made, defender B turns on the jets, and it's an easy steal. But, I'd be dissing Perkins and Ibaka if I didn't credit them with some really nice tipped passes that were meant for Joel Anthony. He's too used to single coverage and not going out to get his passes.
If the Heat are going to win, they can't forget about their big men. I know that Wade and James are considered unguardable, especially in the paint. But the Thunder have had some good success defending them. Ibaka and Perkins never venture too far from the paint, always ready to block a shot. Sure, it means that Haslem and Bosh get some open jumpers, but it also gets the Thunder some great shot defense down low. But sometimes James and Wade are too short-sighted, and they forget about a wide open Anthony on the other side of the paint, or a wide open Bosh at the top of the key. Passing out of a drive is difficult to do (Westbrook can attest to that), but any free points the Heat can get would be invaluable towards their cause.
A lot of this game will be fought in the open court. I think you'll find few who would argue that the Heat and Thunder are the two most fun teams to watch when they get out on the fast break. James and Durant can run down the court like a rainforest tree cutter, leaving a clear path in their wake. Wade and Westbrook don't have the size to do what James and Durant do, but they can weave their way in and out of players, and beat their opponents with speed. Sefolosha and Chalmers are good players to run the court with, and rarely make mistakes. Lastly, James Harden has a sixth sense sometimes, and isn't unwilling to make a risky pass that yields huge rewards.
Finding someone outside the big three is important. As much as the Thunder like to tout themselves as the well-rounded team that made it in a small market, the fact is that the Thunder's scoring load largely rests on three guys, just like the Heat's scoring load rests on three guys. So, while this is anything any idiot could say, I think that the team who has a fourth guy step up will generally win the game. The Thunder have Ibaka, who's certainly capable of doing so, but his jumpshots are unreliable and he can be forgotten about on the offensive end if he doesn't grab the offensive boards. Sefolosha is there, but he gets blocked in the paint really easily and his corner threes are off and on. Lastly, you have Fisher, but I don't think the Heat will leave him open as often as the Spurs did. The Heat basically have just Chalmers and Battier, and their success is largely dependent on ball movement and how much the Thunder commit to stealing the ball. Because Chalmers and Battier are so limited, I think the Thunder have the advantage in this department.
Dwayne Wade works really well off the ball. It's generally irrelevant who's guarding him, because he's not the type of guy who will face up his defender all of the time like James. When Wade has been successful against the Thunder, he's generally working either in transition, in some sort of pick and roll after the ball's been brought up, or slipping past the defense on the weak side or high on the perimeter, making for an easy pass and score. He's generally less successful when he tries to take things into his own hands, and he works really well when getting passes from James.
Do you think anything from the regular season series will come into play? Post a Comment!