NBA Conference Finals Preview
After 2 amazing rounds of the NBA finals, we’re down to the final four. Both series are highly anticipated (we’ve been waiting for the Pacers/ Heat matchup all season, and the Spurs/ Thunder rematch since their unforgettable duel in 2012). The Spurs (against Dallas) and the Thunder (against both Memphis and the Clippers) have had to fight their way to this point, whereas the Heat and Pacers (although they looked shaky against both Atlanta and Washington, that was their own doing. Those teams aren’t legitimate contenders) have had relatively easy runs to get here. So let’s get straight to business and the NBA conference Finals preview.
San Antonio Spurs vs Oklahoma City Thunder
As I mentioned before, basketball fans have been waiting 2 years for this rematch. In 2012, San Antonio jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Oklahoma evened the series at 2, won an incredible game 5 in San Antonio and closed the series out at home. That game 5 was pivotal, and the best of the series, but the game 4 in Oklahoma was mind boggling. You had Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka going a combined 18-20 from the field. The Spurs were in a brilliant position to go up 3-1 but they let that get away from them and it bit them in the arse the next game. We won’t see anything like that out of Perkins ever again (he made 7 out of 9 shots, including a couple of 15 footers, which I still shake my head at…), and Ibaka is now out for the rest of the playoffs, which is huge (and absolutely heartbreaking if you’re an Ibaka or Thunder fan). There’s talk of the Thunder going small, but they should have been considering/ doing that already. Durant is tall enough to play the 4, but the whole reasoning behind going small is to make your opponent pay for doubling. If you’ve got Perkins or Stephen Adams at the 5, the Spurs can easily protect the rim and help whenever Durant or Westbrook get into the lane. Now if OKC puts Durant at the 5, now we’re talking! That would cause so many mismatches on both ends on the floor, it would be insane. Small ball would also have worked with Ibaka because of his offensive game. But not with Adams or Perkins. Those guys are liabilities and it’s counterproductive. It would almost make more sense for them to go big with both Adams and Perkins, and have Durant, Westbrook and Jackson carrying the offensive load.
As for San Antonio, I love this team. The way they play. The way they conduct themselves. It’s a joy to watch. But, and I know we say this every year, it has to come to an end at some point. This season might be that point. The Spurs are clinical, but we are yet to see them desperate. This series could bring that out in them. Oklahoma is desperate too. This is going to be great to watch. During the podcast with Chris, I predicted these two in the conference finals, but I couldn’t pick out of them. I still can’t. San Antonio is such a team based game. OKC relies too much on Durant and Westbrook, but they’re here. They’ve beaten the Spurs before in this exact same situation. But the Spurs seem to be clicking at the right time, and have so much depth. And let’s not forget the coaching disparity between Popovich and Brooks. I think that’ll be the difference. I’m picking the Spurs in 7, but it really doesn’t matter. This series will be something special, so sit back and enjoy.
Indiana Pacers vs Miami Heat
I’m not a big fan of stats, but here’s one for you: In this year’s playoffs, the Pacers have only won 3 out of 7 games at home but have won 5 out of 6 on the road. Go figure. That means nothing though. They know that, and so does Miami. Look, Miami has coasted into the conference finals, and they’re smart enough and experienced enough to know that this will be a war. Indiana lost their focus a bit early on against Atlanta, but they proved they had resolve (they were 2 minutes away from being eliminated in game 6 to Atlanta) to get here. But their run, it’s not like OKC going through Memphis and the Clippers. They can’t take a whole lot of confidence from getting through those wars struggles against Atlanta or Washington. Expect Hibbert, who finally woke up against the Wizards, to be absolutely huge for them. But also expect them to struggle guarding Norris Cole of all people. He’s an aggressive, quick, guard that can shoot and get into the lane. If Indiana has a weakness on defence, it’s slowing down guards with that skillset. Also expect Chris Bosh to make a huge impact. He can draw Hibbert away from the rim with his outside shooting. It’s like I’m seeing all the problems the Hawks gave them and times them by 100 and that’s what Indiana is walking into with Miami.
LeBron puts so much pressure on any team, and it’s going to be up to Paul George to slow him down. We’ve all been surprised by how quickly he’s come along in his career, but this is his moment. He has a great opportunity to show the world how good he is, and there are no excuses. Do you think Carmelo Anthony wouldn’t kill for an opportunity to go at LeBron in the conference finals like this? There’s no guarantees that he’ll ever get back here, so he has to make the most of it.
And that leads me to this point: if we think the Spurs and Thunder are desperate, just wait for this series. There’s a good chance that neither Indy nor Miami will get back to this position for quite some time. Miami is dealing with all kinds of issues that come with playing in 3 straight finals and going for a 4th trip to basketballs biggest stage. Wade has shaky knees, Chris Bosh might leave for a place where he can be featured and utilised more and LeBron, well, nah, LeBron would never leave for a better team so he has an easier run to the finals, right? And the Pacers are younger, but who knows what they’ll do if they lose. Remember this is the team that traded Granger for Turner in the middle of this season, so I have no doubts that they wouldn’t hesitate in dealing David West or Hibbert if they lost. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to be a war. I’ll pick Miami in 6, but I’m hardly confident with this pick. Indiana has been eyeing Miami since that epic 7 game war last year. But this season, there are some genuine expectations for the Pacers to win. I’m not sold they can beat Miami 4 times in 7 games (especially when we’ve seen how inconsistent they’ve been these playoffs), but it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if they did win. The worst thing that could happen is if they blow out Miami in the first two games at home, considering how they’ve shown the ugly tendency to lose their focus in the playoffs so far.
Last round: 4-0