The scattered Thunder did anything but make some noise, and the ice cold Heat team, despite a lack of rain, made a storm of their own.
Sometimes I call things perfectly (Cam Newton ROY) and other times I fail miserably (Michael Vick MVP). Thus far in the Finals, my predictions are looking pretty good, as this is the matchup I expected to see in the Finals, and the Heat were my preseason selection to win the Championship. I also correctly called (so far) that each game would be won by whichever team had the player that played better in the matchup of Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook, as far as which one would play better offensively. I also said the Heat would win Games 2,3,5,6, and that is still a distinct possibility.
However, as is most often the case with my predictions, they end up being partially correct or false. Game 3 was a clear example. Yes, Dwyane Wade far outplayed Russell Westbrook, and both teams got fairly even (and minimal) offensive contributions from the bench. With the exception of free-throw shooting, both teams were fairly even in most statistical categories. However, their was a critical difference in the way the two teams played.
The Heat played with a toughness that they have rarely shown, and the Thunder lacked their characteristic hard-work. Although points in the paint were just about even (46-42 in favor of Miami) the number of times the Heat went to the line shows the determination to get to the rim. Dwyane Wade missed a lot of shots at the rim, but he was constantly attacking (something he has not done consistently) and only took five shots outside of the paint. Westbrook took 11. Chris Bosh missed a lot in the paint as well, but he was still taking good shots. Serge Ibaka only took 1 shot the entire game in the paint (and it was a jumpshot; no dunks or layups).
Besides the shot selection, the Heat played tough defense and fought for rebounds, taking in three more offensive rebounds than the Thunder and seven more total. They also came up with some big blocks, including two of Durant in the paint by Miller and Bosh. The Heat played a far from perfect game, and poor shooting was only one of their problems, but they played with the type of toughness that they need to separate themselves from OKC.
However, where I missed when calling this Finals was the matchup between LeBron and Kevin Durant. I thought their play would be all but even, with KD shooting slightly better but LeBron filling the stat sheet in other ways. However, Game 3 came down to the play of those two men. First of all, LeBron played well defensively on Durant (which is a nearly impossible task) particularly in the 4th quarter. Durant was 2-6 in the 4th and only made one basket in the final 9 minutes. Durant also made critical mistakes on defense while guarding LeBron. He had to leave the game with 4 fouls in the 3rd quarter, and it was then that the Heat made their run. While some of Durant’s fouls may have been questionable calls, some of them were also products of not understanding the situation. One play, LeBron was on a fastbreak with a full head of steam and Durant slapped at his arm and gave him an easy and-1. There was a play earlier in the game when Durant clearly fouled under the hoop, but Nick Collison quickly raised his hand to accept the blame. Durant may have shot better than James, but LeBron outplayed him this game, and the matchup of the small forwards was ultimately what decided Game 3.
So far, this Finals has been, to use an effective cliché, like a heavyweight fight, with both teams yet to play their best ball and with all four superstars yet to unleash the inevitable wonder-game. It’s coming though, and I’m looking forward to Game 4.
Don’t worry, more full-length articles are on the way, but this series requires thoughts on each game (and I can’t write 2500 words most days). Comment, subscribe, post to Facebook and Twitter! Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.