Russell Westbrook’s epic performance in Game Four was a pretty good illustration of the reasons I thought he’d be MVP of the 2012 NBA Finals. I expected Kevin Durant to struggle at times, thanks to LeBron James’ defensive presence. And with Dwyane Wade apparently playing with some minor injury, I expected the Heat to have no end of trouble stopping Westbrook’s dribble.
LeBron is now the overwhelming favorite to win his first ring and series MVP honors, but that may depend on whether or not the injury that hobbed him in the fourth quarter of last night’s game was a cramp, as most reports are saying… or something more serious. James has been outstanding, and his performance to this point should go a long way towards eliminating any lingering “can’t win the big one” stories. But I’ve seen little evidence to suggest the rest of his Miami teammates are ready to step up should The King be forced to the sidelines for a game or two.
And if this series goes back to Oklahoma City, all bets are off.
I was watching the Heat last night, but it felt like I was watching the Knicks.
Miami came charging out of the gate in Game One of the NBA Finals, building a big first-half lead thanks to uncharacteristically-strong three-point shooting from the likes of Shane Battier. But in the second half, they became a one-man show… LeBron James scored 30 points, but Dwyane Wade shot 7-19 for the game and looked like he wasn’t 100 percent healthy. Chris Bosh went 4-11, and spent much of his playing time floating out by the three-point line like a poor man’s Steve Novak.
Wade’s struggles, and Erik Spoelstra’s curious decision to turn Chris Bosh into the world’s tallest shooting guard, left LBJ as Miami’s only real offensive option. Problem is, James is also Miami’s best choice to initiate the offense. And he can’t pass the ball to himself – that’s a travel, even in today’s NBA.
Sound familiar? It should, to Knicks fans. We saw a similar problem early in the 2011-12 season before Jeremy Lin took over at the point and late in the year when Lin was hurt. Without a dependable backup at the point, Carmelo Anthony was forced into the primary ball-handler and primary scorer roles, and Iso-Melo was born.
Thing is, James isn’t particularly well-suited to playing hero ball. He doesn’t have the post-up game he’d need to back down opposing defenders – that’s one phase of the game where Anthony is far superior to the King. He’s close to unstoppable if he can get to full speed and attack the basket, but he needs a little bit of space to make that happen, space that comes from a pick-and-roll or similar.
Now, I’m never going to be accused of being a LeBron apologist, but this isn’t his fault. I see it more as a structural defect of the Miami roster. Miami doesn’t have a legit point guard to initiate plays in the halfcourt, and in the second half of last night’s game, that deficiency was glaring.
Is it a fatal flaw? Not necessarily. It was a problem in Game One mostly because Wade was off and Bosh was floating out on the perimeter, dis-engaged from the offense. Wade may bounce back. And I suspect Bosh’s positioning was designed to draw Serge Ibaka away from the paint; Erik Spoelstra will want to reconsider that strategy in Game Two. But win or lose, Miami should take a long look at upgrading the point guard position in the offseason.
Which is just one more thing they have in common with the Knicks.
I wouldn’t want this to be the only basketball blog on the Web without a clip of Blake Griffin posterizing Kendrick Perkins, so here goes:
Couple of thoughts on the play:
Holy codfish that man can jump.
The fact that Griffin is the size of a sport-utility vehicle makes his vertical all the more impressive.
The “it wasn’t a dunk, it was a throw-down” discussion that surfaced on Twitter afterwards was among the least interesting sports discussions in the history of sports discussions. And coming, as it did, on Super Bowl media day, that’s an accomplishment unto itself.
But perhaps most importantly… the Clippers were up 19 when Griffin hit the shot, 21 after. At some point, isn’t a tear-down-the-rim dunk attempt considered taunting? The basketball equivalent of admiring a home run too long, or an elaborately-choreographed touchdown dance?
Some time soon, Griffin is going to go up for another poster-dunk… and someone is going to lay him out.
Greatest Dunk Ever?
As for that dunk’s place in history… it was awfully impressive, but it was just two points in a Monday night game in late January. As far as I’m concerned, the greatest dunks are the ones that come at a crucial, momentum-changing moment in an important game. Like, say, this one: