Why The Heat Won: Evaluating The 5 Keys

With over a minute to go in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a smile stretched across Lebron James’ face. A smile we rarely ever see from Lebron James. Was it relief? Was it just sheer joy? It doesn’t really matter. We can debate all we want. We can criticise him all we want. We can question whether he has the ‘clutch’ gene. But ultimately, Lebron James was clutch for 23 games, for over 900 minutes, in some of the most high press circumstances we have seen a superstar placed under, during this current generation.

Now Lebron James has a ring. The pressure SHOULD ease slightly. The criticism SHOULD cease to exist. Sure, we will still get the haters, but that’s just part of the world we now live in. Lebron James proved he has what it takes to be a champion, and after two years, it’s time to forget about ‘The Decision’, it’s time to forget about “not 1, not 2, not 3…” (even though that is looking a distinct possibility now), and it is time to embrace Lebron James.

So Why did the Heat win? Let’s evaluate the 5 keys that I made reference to a week ago.

Russell Westbrook’s Decision Making

This was a prominent feature during the remaining three games of the series, prominently… a problem. Yes we are sometimes unfair to Russell. In Game 4, he had his best game ever, scoring 43 points, but we will remember it for the unnecessary foul with 10 seconds left in the game, because that is the world we live in now. Much like Lebron for a time, Can we not accept Russell Westbrook for who he is? He is going to give you fantastic production, probably put up 25+ a night, but you can also expect him to make one incredibly irrational decision. Lebron James for a while was percieved to not possess a ‘clutch gene’. So if that was the case, why couldn’t we accept him as the guy that consistently dominated for 46 minutes, and put that team in a position to succeed? Why must a guy have a flawless game, or hit the game-winner to somehow validate his legacy?

But ultimately, this was a deciding factor. Yes the Thunder may have still lost if Russell hadn’t made those poor decisions, but we can never be sure. This part of Russell Westbrook’s game has been far too prevalent for far too long, and if Russell wants to take the next step, it needs to be addressed. Maybe, it’s just because he’s young. Maybe, just like the Thunder, they need one more year.

Advantage: Heat

Dwayne Wade’s Continued Production

What had become abundantly clear by the time the NBA Finals had come around, was that this was now Lebron James’ team. Whether or not Dwayne Wade believed it, he admirably played the sidekick, and he did a pretty good job of it. What is sometimes overlooked by the Heat, is their ability to play team ball. But with ALL of the Big 3 making big contributions, that was particularly evident in the finals. There were questions about whether or not Wade and Lebron on the same team would be a good ‘fit’ but when you see these two driving to the basket, kicking it out to the perimiter, running the pick and roll, it is a joy to watch, and is virtually unstoppable.

And that would be impossible if it were not for Dwayne Wade’s  continued production after his admittedly poor play-off run.  Dwayne Wade is an essential part of this team. And whilst he may not be ‘the guy’ anymore. he still finds a way to make contributions. He still gets his fair share of the ball, driving to the basket on a consistent basis. But it’s the hustle plays that are sometimes overlooked. Now more than ever, he is chasing down loose balls, crashing the boards and producing blocked shots, as he knows that he doesn’t need to be the guy that puts up 40 points anymore. And that is crucial, because now with a team possessing an identity, with the quality of players like the Heat have, it really is a scary to consider what the next stage of the evolution process is for this team. Whatever it is, it can’t be anything good for the other 29 teams in the NBA.

Advantage: Heat

Battle of The Coaches

And what was previously mentioned also links in to the role Erik Spoelstra played in the Heat’s Championship success. He had been more criticised than any other coach in the league. Can he make adjustments? Why hasn’t he perfected the rotation yet? Why is it this team still lacks an identity? These were all frequently asked by people questioning Spoelstra’s coaching ability. But with one series, all of those questions were put to rest. He made all of the right adjustments; playing small ball whenever necessary and giving Lebron a much-needed rest whenever it looked necessary are just two of the examples. The fact of the matter is, Spoelstra made fantastic adjustments at opportune moments.

With the return of Chris Bosh, the second question was also answered. Spoelstra finally found a way to utilise Chris Bosh at the center position, and with his superior athleticism at the position, and his ability to spread the floor, everything else fell into place. Now Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and even Mario Chalmers could drive to the basket at will, whilst also obtaining the ability to kick it out to the perimeter to players like Shane Battier or even Chris Bosh to hit open 3’s. And with that, Spoelstra manged to perfect his 8-man rotation.

This all enabled the Heat, to establish an identity on offense. Pick and roll, drive to the basket, kick the ball out to the perimeter, ball movement. That is the process behind the Heat’s offense. And in most of those categories, the Heat were far superior to the Thunder. The pick and roll between Lebron and Wade was unstoppable. Wade, Lebron and Chalmers driving to the basket with Bosh’s ability to spread the floor, was unstoppable. The Heat’s 3 point shooting, was unstoppable. And the ball movement.. oh the ball movement. Is it ok to label the Heat the best passing team in the league? I would guess so.

And with all the positives that Spoelstra’s coaching had brought to the Heat, I almost completely forgot about Scott Brooks. I am not going to be too critical as it became abundatly clear by the end of Game 4, that the Thunder just weren’t ready yet. But at times he did make costly decisions, with the most evident being when he chose to rest both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when up by 10 at the end of the third quarter… That lead soon evaporated. But this was ultimately a very well-coached series. A series in which everything clicked into place for Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat.

Advantage: Heat

Battle Of The Role Players

This one is fairly self-explanatory. The heat established a game plan that was virtually unstoppable, and it allowed the Heat’s role players to thrive. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and (In game 5) Mike Miller all caught fire, whilst James Harden went cold turkey. A major question going into the Finals, was how the Heat were going to compete with a team with far-superior depth. Ultimately, by the end of the series, we were questioning where the points were going to come from the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both clearly had great statistical series, but so did Wade and Lebron. It would come down to who’s role players could produce the remainder of those points. Unfortunately for the Thunder when you start a game with 3 defence-first players, there is always going to be a lack of scoring options. It just so happens that during this series, those flaws were highlighted by a Heat Bench that exploded.

Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

The marquee match-up of the series. The two best players in the world, playing the same position, competing in a finals series that most of us thought would be decided by the outcome of this match-up.  And Lebron James decided, that the outcome would favour the Heat. Sure, Kevin Durant put up his 30 points a night but he ultimately just didn’t do enough. For a guy with his length, why isn’t he rebounding more? Why isn’t he contributing more on defence? Yes he’s still very young, and has plenty of time to mature, and develop his game. Lebron after all, only just figured everything out and he is 27. Kevin Durant will get his time, if the Heat let him.

Advantage: Heat

5 keys, all of which were dominated by the Heat, and all of which would be necessary components in the Heat’s eventual success. As much as this series will be remembered as the series where Lebron ‘figured it out’, the Heat needed every single component to secure victory. The role players, Dwayne Wade, Erik Spoelstra AND Lebron James were all needed for the Heat to secure that ring. Because where would Lebron and Wade be if they kicked the ball  out to perimeter players who couldn’t shoot? And what would those role players do, if their two superstars didn’t rip apart a defence by driving to the basket, obtaining open looks on the perimeter in the process?

The decision was two years ago, it is time to move on. Because this TEAM is everything you could hope for. This is a TEAM who enjoy playing team ball. A TEAM with an unselfish Star who enjoys playing team ball. A TEAM with 12 players, and one very talented coach, who pride themselves, on team ball. Lets embrace the Heat, because I have a feeling they might be around for a while.

NBA Finals – Heat vs Thunder: 5 Keys to the Series

It’s not often in an NBA finals where the two greatest players in the world are playing on opposing teams let alone playing the same position, but that’s what we have been gifted with this years finals, as the Scoring machine Kevin Durant and his Thunder team match up with the ‘Freight train’ Lebron James and the Heat. It’s a salivating prospect, and with both of these teams stars, still very much in their prime, we could be getting treated to this series for the next decade. Here are the 5 keys to the remainder of the series.

1. Russell Westbrook’s decision making

Let me just make something abundantly clear, Russell Westbrook is a fantastic point guard. My criticism doesn’t occur because he’s a terrible player who needs to dramatically improve, this is just one aspect of his game that needs to be slightly improved to ensure that he can maximise his contribution for Oklahoma City.

Let me hit you with some stats. In game 1 Russell Westbrook went 10-24 for 27 points with 11 assists. In game 2 he went 10-26 for 27 points with 7 assists. Now if you were to analyse both of those stat-lines without any contextual knowledge, you would find very little disparity between the two games. And yet he only draws criticism from Game 2, the game in which his team was defeated, even though his performances were essentially identical apart from slightly fewer assists. Now this isn’t me defending Westbrook, this is me saying, that this has been a problem with Russell Westbrook for far too long now. So Why must it take a Thunder loss, to make people realise that, that is the case?

And that’s not even the worst part about this. In both games, Westbrook took more shots than Kevin Durant, who has only taken 20 shots per game, at a much higher field goal percentage. Kevin Durant, You know, that scoring machine who has been essentially unstoppable in the play-offs so far. Come on Russell, you are a very talented point guard who is at his best when you are using your athleticism to drive to the basket, not pulling up to take Jumpers. Drive to the basket, if the rim is being defended, kick it out to a Kevin Durant or whoever, on the wing. If he does that, the Thunder instantly get a significant increase in production from not only the point guard position but also their entire team.

2. Dwayne Wade’s continued Production

When Lebron James joined the Miami Heat, it was for one reason only, to win championships. He knew during the 08 Celtics series that he couldn’t carry a team on his own, he would need numerous pieces in place to help him achieve his main goal. So when he joined up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, that was exactly what he was expecting. Unfortunately, Chris Bosh has been injured for almost the entire playoffs and Dwayne Wade’s production has been rapidly declining, thus Leaving Lebron to carry a Heat team that he joined in the first place, to avoid that exact scenario.

But now Chris Bosh has returned and has almost instantaneously emerged as his All-Star self and Dwayne Wade finally had a big game, in Game 2. Guess what? The Heat won. Now it’s time for Dwayne Wade to continue that production level, because if that continues and Lebron continues to put up 30 points per night and SHANE BATTIER is shooting 70% from 3-point range, the Heat are almost unstoppable.

3. Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

THE story of Game 2, was Kevin Durant getting into foul trouble, and that was for one reason alone, Lebron James. A lot of people have been anticipating this finals series because of this very-matchup and if a theme has been established from the first two games, it’s that whoever gets the better of this matchup generally secures the victory for his team.

In Game 1, Durant blew Lebron out of the water in the 4th quarter, and in Game 2 Lebron returned the favour. In game 2, Lebron took it upon himself to guard Durant, and his incresed aggression ensured that Durant got into very early foul trouble. Did it ultimately affect the outcome of the game? Maybe not, as Durant was very sensible with the way in which he handled playing almost the entire 4th quarter with 5 fouls, but it must have been in the back of his mind.

And even the defining shot of the game with 10 seconds left on the clock was defined by this crucial match-up. Durant seemingly had the advantage over Lebron who seemingly fouled Durant, before Durant missed the easy shot. Yes it should have been a foul, but Durant still should have made the bucket. Then with 5 seconds left on the clock, Lebron hit two CLUTCH free-throws to secure the victory for his team. In Game 3, I expect another game that replicates the close nature of this one. Ultimately it is going to come down to which one of these two superstars gets the better of his rival. Everything so far has been pointing towards a series decided by a Game 7, and if we get to see these two go at it for four more games, then count me in.

4. The Battle of The Role Players

I feel like I am being highly disrespectful by referring to James Harden as a role player, but for the purpose of this point, I am going to go along with it. Usually when James Harden comes off the bench and ignites his offense, The Thunder win the game. In Game 2 James Harden put up 21 points, so you would expect the Thunder to win right? But they didn’t. And that’s because the Heat role players managed to match the performance of James Harden. Shane Battier continued his unbelievable resurgence with 17 points, shooting 5-7 from 3-point range, and the Heat won the game.

Shane Battier scored 17 points in Game 1 aswell, so Why did that not play a contributing factor to a Heat Win? Because the Thunder ‘bigs’ showed up in a major way. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined for 23 rebounds and 8 offensive rebounds most of which came off the bench with Nick Collison having a massive impact. He had 5 of the offensive rebounds, and unsurprisingly the Thunder’s ability to crash the board was one of the main reasons why the Thunder came away with the victory.

Expect the same to happen for the rest of the series. Both team’s role players are going to have to step up because whoever gains the advantage, is more than likely going to contribute to a victory for their team.

5. The Coaches

This has been a very well-coached series so far. BUT CHRIS, ERIC SPOELSTRA IS COACHING, YOU HATE THAT GUY!!” I have admittedly, been very harsh on Spoelstra throughout his time as the Heat coach, but it was for good reason. But in Game 2, he finally did something that he hadn’t done for his entire time as the Heat Coach, he made fantastic adjustments.

He finally decided to start Chris Bosh which was a good decision albeit way too late, thus spreading the floor for players like Dwayne Wade and Lebron James to drive to the rim. And what do you know.. Dwayne Wade had one of his best performances of the playoffs so far. But that’s not where it ended, as the entire complexion of the heat’s half-court offense adapted, with multiple pick and rolls being run through Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. This also links in with the Chris Bosh move, as by having a big that can shoot jumpers or drive to the basket, you immediately make it easier for those pick-and rolls to work efficiently. And with those changes, the Heat secured a victory. Now Spoelstra has to continue to make those adjustments, if he wants his Heat team to secure victory.

A guy that hasn’t drawn as much criticism for his coaching is Scott Brooks, who has done a fantastic job in Oklahoma City. And it was once again a major contributing factor in why his team won Game 1, and also came very close to making a comeback in Game 2. With Game 1, he recognized that James Harden was having an off-night and that his bigs (plus Thabo Sefolosha) were having massive games. So instead of reverting back to his usual ‘small ball’ in the fourth quarter, he played his defensive lineup. This allowed Sefolosha to continue to contain Lebron James, where on numerous occasions he was able to give Lebron very difficult looks and it also allowed his team to continue to dominate the glass, resulting in a major turn-around as the Thunder continued to put up big points (thanks to Kevin Durant) whilst his team still managed to restrict the Heat’s offense very effectively.

Even in defeat, Brooks did a fantastic job considering the start his team made. In the fourth quarter, down by double-figures, the Thunder’s star was on 5 fouls. But instead of subbing him out of the game, Brooks recognised that his team wasn’t going to get back in the game, with his star on the bench for the majority of the quarter, so he decided to put his trust in Kevin Durant, and played him for the entire fourth quarter. The end result? Kevin Durant went off, reducing the lead to as little as 2 points before a bit of unfortunate luck on a foul call ultimately resulted in defeat. In game 3, Brooks is going to have to keep adapting, to ensure his team has the best possible chance to succeed.

So if you have learnt anything from this article, I think we can all agree… This series is going to be fantastic. That is all.