Minor Stories of the NBA Finals

The 2012 NBA Finals features the match-up that everyone has been waiting for since last year’s NBA Finals. The ink was still wet on the papers across the nation of the 2011 NBA Finals depicting how the Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat, and analysts were already salivating over the possible match-up of the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. After the possibility of having no season at all and going through a shortened season of 66 games, everyone got the match-up they were waiting for, Kevin Durant, the scoring champion of the past three years, and LeBron James, the MVP three of the last four seasons. It is definitely a dream match-up, and so far it has been very entertaining. The Durant v. LeBron match-up has been riveting all series, but there are other key things going on in this series you should really start to pay attention to.

Let’s start with the play of Shane Battier. Shane Battier is best known for being a great collegiate basketball player at Duke University. Battier has spent most of his NBA career with the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets, and last year with Memphis he had his worst year of shooting statistically as a pro. This is his first year the Heat and it became the second worst season shooting statistically with them as the regular season goes. As the Finals have drawn on though, Battier has proven to be a sharp shooter who is invaluable to the Miami Heat. All year the Heat have lacked any performance outside of their big 3 aside from an occasional big game from Mario Chalmers. Battier has been the guy open on plays where the Thunder’s defense breaks down and must rotate from player to player. Serge Ibaka is the Thunder player that drew the match-up of Battier, and Ibaka, being the league’s leading shot blocker, has the instinct to protect the basket first from any lay-ups or floaters that he could put in the second row. With Ibaka a step back, guarding the paint, Battier has the space he needs in order to knock down open shots, something he hasn’t been able to do consistently the past two years.

The second minor story I think deserves to be talked about is the poor play of James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden had been dominant throughout the Western Conference portion of the playoffs. He’s been a knockdown shooter who was unstoppable driving to the lane, and rarely missed a free throw. Harden shot 50% from the field in the San Antonio series, 37% in the Laker series, and 46% in the Dallas series. Even after shooting 64% in game 2 against the Heat, his shooting percentage is still only 39%. Even more shocking is the 71% free throw percentage from a player who was an 85% free throw shooter throughout the regular season. If the Thunder are going to beat the Heat they need James Harden to be himself and flat out start shooting well. He doesn’t look like the same player of the previous three series. He seems to be lacking the confidence he had against the Spurs, Lakers, and Mavericks when he knew he could get to the rim whenever he wanted. The Heat may have a better defense, but Harden has to play better if he wants to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The third thing that’s been on my mind is the officiating. The thing seems to be now is that if you go to the basket hard and there is any kind of contest, then a foul will be called. I see this the most with Dwyane Wade, who, by the way, should never complain about a foul call after the 2006 NBA Finals against the Mavericks where the Mavs were playing 5 on 8 in a series where I have never seen more phantom calls against a team; although, this does happen on both ends of the floor though. The referees assume that contact is about to be applied and then blow the whistle. It’s impossible to get every call right, but these guys are in the NBA Finals for a reason. They are the best of the best and deserve to be scrutinized just as much as LeBron James and Kevin Durant. They have a job to do and it should be done correctly. I just hope they study tape just as the players do so they can refrain from making the same mistakes game after game.

The last thing I want to touch on is the Heat’s number one fan. He tries to be unbiased the best he can, but it really is no use. This of course, is Jeff Van Gundy. It’s as if he knows if the Heat don’t win there will be a vacant coaching job in Miami, and if there is, his resume will be the first of a very large stack of applicants. The way Van Gundy talks about the Heat and LeBron James is like how a dad discusses players of the past with his son. Every little thing they do is ground breaking and proves that they are the best ever. Again, Van Gundy can’t be perfect, but he is announcing the Finals which puts him up to be scrutinized along with the players, coaches, and referees in a great basketball match-up between the scoring champ and his respective team against the MVP and his.

With the series at 2-1 in favor of Miami I’m still not sure which way this series will go, but I do know that it is far from over.

Day to Day Sports Contributor


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