It’s a question I’ve been pondering through the entirety of the playoffs and even as far back as March, who would the Miami Heat rather play in the Finals?
Now obviously this is highly presumptuous as the Heat still have a tough job to do in finishing off the never-say-die Boston Celtics, but I think it’s safe to say there are very few of us, if any, that believe anything other than Miami moving into the NBA Finals.
So, assuming that is the case, who would they prefer to play? Who do they match up better against? Whose does their style clash with most? Who poses the greatest threat to the title they so desperately crave?
Before you answer let’s take a quick look at both.
The San Antonio Spurs have a three time championship core with a healthy balance of youth, shooters and invaluable role players to fill out the supporting cast. Whilst Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli have seen better days, both still can return to their glory days on any given night, particularly Ginobli. Meanwhile the other member of their Big 3, Tony Parker, has had the best season of his career, garnering serious MVP consideration.
The surprising trade of George Hill for the rights to Kawhi Leonard has proven to be a masterstroke by the organisation, as he has seamlessly and effectively fit into their offensive and defensive systems. His long limbs, college experience and ability to create his own shot has justified Popovich’s belief that he was as NBA ready as anyone in his draft.
Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw were two other significant and hugely beneficial additions, and the continued growth of DeJuan Blair, Thiago Splitter, Danny Green and and Gary Neal has helped the ageing core maintain a level of excellence that dominated the early 00s.
Their unselfish offense and collective team defense was the key to their second consecutive no.1 seed. As they did during their dynasty years, there is no clear no.1 option on offense, rather they rely on ball movement and efficiency to earn their points. Duncan still gives them a post presence, Parker is perhaps the most lethal pick and roll guard in the league right now and Ginobli gives them a kick off the bench. Surround that with sharp shooters like Leonard, Green, Jackson, Neal and Bonner and you have a hugely competitive team.
Their defense too is a collective team effort as they look to Leonard, Green and Jackson to guard the wings but roll and help as well as any team in the league. Their discipline on defense is key, particularly in the half court. Rarely are they broken down.
That leads us to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The young, flashy, new kids on the block that hold no fear and sometimes no respect for anyone.
They have stocked up over the past 5 or so years through the draft and have hit the jackpot on nearly every choice. It began with Kevin Durant falling to them back in 2007, they then took Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden. Jeff Green was moved to Boston for Kendrick Perkins to stabilise your defense and that right there is the core to arguably the most exciting team in the NBA.
Kevin Durant is the no.1 option and an offensive nightmare. In my opinion he is the best scorer in the league. Russell Westbrook, the dynamic, cocky point guard is a confident mixture of scoring ability and defensive prowess. James Harden adds a combination of the two off the bench, whilst also possessing the best playmaking skills of anyone on the roster. Serge Ibaka has emerged as the best shot blocking big man in the league and Kendrick Perkins is the glue that holds them all together.
Add to that the defense of Thabo Sefolusha, the experience of Derek Fisher and the hustle of Nick Collison and you have a team with frightening potential.
And when they’re rolling they are just that, frightening. If this team smells blood in the water, forget about it, it’s over. They can rack up 40 points in a quarter without breaking a sweat. But as good as they can be, there are plenty of issues plaguing the Thunder. Their inexperience at this point of the post season, their at times clogged, selfish offense and the high turnover rate means they can be extremely fragile at times.
Their style of play is obviously much more similar to that of Miami’s, which can be seen as both a positive and negative for the Heat.
So with all things considered, which opponent gives the South Floridians the best chance of winning their first championship together?
The Thunder play a similar style, with a unlimited potential for scoring, but they play directly into the Heat’s hands with their inflated turnover numbers and at times poor team defense. James can guard Durant, Wade can take either Westbrook or Harden and outside of those three there is not a whole lot of scoring options for OKC.
The Spurs on the other hand really don’t have defenders capable of slowing Wade nor James. They are a much older, less athletic team than both Miami and Oklahoma City and the Heat’s Big 3 are tremendous mismatches for the Spurs’ starters and bench. San Antonio will be unable to run with the Heat, who are more efficient than Oklahoma City in transition situations, and as good as the Spurs have been over the past few months, they haven’t met a defense as good as Miami’s.
Both San Antonio and Oklahoma City are two elite contenders that have a great opportunity to win a championship. Both also offer their own significant headaches for the Miami Heat.
It really comes down to personal opinion, so I’ll offer mine.
I believe the Oklahoma City Thunder have a greater ability to outscore the Heat than the Spurs do. I believe they match up significantly better. I believe their home court advantage is stronger than anyone’s in the league.
I believe the Oklahoma City Thunder pose a greater threat to the Miami Heat winning the NBA Championship.
I believe the Miami Heat will win the NBA Championship regardless of who they play.