WORDS BY: KIRBY GARLITOS
RECAP SPECIAL: THE CONFERENCE FINALS
How the West was won
Simple answer, really. Dallas was better when it counted. When Oklahoma was missing shots, turning the ball over, and couldn’t run a simple set play to save their season, Dallas was an efficient machine anchored by a German import that’s fast becoming one of the best to ever play this game. No matter how good the Thunder were in the first 36 minutes of the game, there were so bad in the last 12 that whatever lead they had didn’t even matter.
If there’s one thing that we found out about the Oklahoma Thunder in this series, it’s that they have some serious flaws that need to be worked on. A lot of people are giving Russell Westbrook some serious for heat for jacking up way too many shots in the series and while the criticism is warranted, it’s also a little too premature to put all the blame on Russ’ shoulders. First of all, KD needs get the ball more.
Far too many times, Shawn Marion denied Durant from touching the ball at the start of the play and instead of fighting for position to get a better pass, Durant just shrinks away, leaving Westbrook no other choice but to do his best Steve Francis impersonation with the clock winding down. KD needs to be more aggressive in getting the ball and when he does, he needs to attack and not settle for those fall-away 35-footers.
Thunder coach Scotty Brooks also needs to take some blame for not making the necessary adjustments to counter the Mavericks’ line-up. Take a look at the Thunder’s starting line-up of Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka, and Perkins. If you only have two guys on your starting line-up that can get their own shots and the other three rely on a point guard that doesn’t even pass up much in the first place, you’re asking for trouble.
Why not put James Harden on the starting line-up to stretch the floor for Durant and Westbrook? I’m sorry but Thabo Sefolosha was completely useless in this series. His biggest strength – defense – was immediately negated by the fact that he was defending DeShawn Stevenson at the start of the game. If this were the Lakers, I could see OKC starting Sefolosha so he could guard Kobe. But DeShawn Stevenson? Really? I have a bar stool in my garage that could guard DeShawn Stevenson.
Sefolosha didn’t need to be on the floor because he couldn’t score the ball and he sure as heck couldn’t guard Dirk Nowitzki. So why was he even there in the first place if Harden could’ve done a much better job at getting some buckets?
Speaking of Dirk Nowitzki, in as much as the Thunder showed their green streak in this series, the series was dominated end-to-end by the big German. His 48-point Game 1 performance will go down as one of the best play-off games in history and he wasn’t too shabby either in Game 4 when he single-handedly won the game for the Mavs by scoring 12 points on an array of ridiculous threes, up-and-unders, off-balanced flings, and his now-patented one-legged step-back-with-a-hand-on-his-mug.
If this were diving in the Olympics, the degrees of difficulty on some of those shots were about 11s and 12s…out of 10. Heck, 2K11 Dirk Nowtizki isn’t as good as the Dirk we’ve been seeing this play-offs.
Now, is there a way for the Miami Heat to stop the suddenly unstoppable German? We’re not pressing our luck, BUT it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done…
The Beasts of the East
After all the scrutiny, criticisms, and hate lobbed at the Miami Heat this season, you can’t take away the fact that these guys are peaking at the right time. At the beginning of the East Finals, it looked like the Chicago Bulls had the overall talent to give the Big 2 ½ a run for their money. But in the middle of the series, something strange – or long overdue, depending on you opinion – happened: that ½, Chris Bosh, finally decided to show up.
Of course, the series was all about the overall brilliance of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. These two combined proved to be too much for even MVP Derrick Rose to handle.
So what if the talent pool with the Heat drastically drops off after James, Wade, and Bosh. If there’s anything the Heat has taught us this year, the King and Flash - OK, the Dinosaur too - can carry a team, even if the rest of their teammates resemble more of a JV squad than anything else.
For the Bulls, it was simply a matter of trying to beat 2 ½ stars with 1. Derrick Rose, for his overall brilliance, isn’t there yet. Same goes for the rest of team who, with the exception of Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, couldn’t hit a shot if the basket was the size of Lake Michigan. The Heat exposed a serious weakness in the Bulls armor – the lack of a knockdown shooter at the 2 – to crowd Derrick Rose and make him try to make play after play after play.
In spurts, Rose was up to it. But when LeBron decided to do his best Scottie Pippen impersonation and make D-Rose earn everything he got, the latter didn’t have the teammates to make the Heat pay.
So now that the Heat are in the NBA Finals, they only need to win four more games to justify all the pre-season preening, roaring, and showboating that they seem to have perfected better than anybody else in the recent history of the NBA.
Standing in their way is the Dallas Mavericks, a team that booked its own ticket to the Finals on the back of Dirk Nowitzki and a steady group of veterans that know that this is their best chance at winning a title.