Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
It’s funny what one championship ring and four straight wins can do. After game one, the Oklahoma City Thunder were basically crowned champions, LeBron James was again going to be the player who couldn’t get it done over a full game in the finals, Erik Spoelstra was going to be fired, either Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh was going to be traded in order to blow up the Big Three, and the build-a-team-with-three-superstars model was once again going to be called into question. “It just doesn’t work that way,” an ESPN talking head would say, and another would pretend to argue but say the exact same thing.
Now, those same talking heads are wondering whether LeBron James, because he won his first title at an earlier age, is better than Michael Jordan. Answer to that after the jump.
Grading the NBA Finals Prediction
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (2) Miami Heat
Prediction: Thunder in 6
Actual Result: Heat in 5
I’ll admit, I was fully on the Thunder bandwagon. I thought after the way they handled the Spurs and the way the Heat struggled with the Celtics, looking more like the old Cleveland Cavaliers in the days when LeBron was the only real player on the floor, the Thunder would make their way easily through this series and once again we’d be subjected to LeBron is a choker thinkpieces, even though the real letdowns were coming from D-Wade. Instead, what we got was thorough dominance from LeBron James, his dominance such that it rubbed off on his teammates—not Wade and Bosh, though Bosh played well, but role players like Shane Battier (my most-hated Heat teammate, because of his I-went-to-Duke-therefore-when-I’m-touched-and-fall-down-it’s-a-charge defensive style), Mike Miller and Mario Chalmers, who were so open due to double- and triple-teams on LeBron that they were basically allowed to take warmups from the three point line. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that yes, the Heat got all the calls, but that shouldn’t take away the fact that they played great and at most times, everyone on the Thunder but Durant in the first couple games and Westbrook in the last couple looked completely lost. James Harden played awfully, Serge Ibaka did not defend the rim, Derek Fisher should not have been on the floor against the speed of the Heat’s perimeter players, and Scott Brooks got outcoached by the guy everyone’s been clamoring for Pat Riley to replace.
Depending upon how the free agency situation pans out this summer and fall, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll have a matchup other than this one in next year’s finals. The cores of both teams are together through next year at least, and the Heat could easily add another aged perimeter shooter looking to win a(nother) title (looking at you, Ray Allen). The Thunder are young and should only get better, though it’s a worry how poorly James Harden coped with having to defend in both the Lakers and Heat series. Even if Derrick Rose returns completely healthy, it’s hard to imagine the Bulls having enough offense to challenge the Heat in the East once the playoffs start. The Lakers don’t have the cap room to add help for Kobe, Bynum and Gasol, and it remains to be seen what they could get in return in terms of pieces for either of their big men. The Spurs are great but will be a year older, and the Thunder handled them well. The only real challenge for the Thunder in the West could be if Deron Williams and Dwight Howard end up on the Mavs.
No matter, though. I’d be happy watching Thunder-Heat finals for the rest of the decade. Durant is the type of competitor who will work on what he needs to do to try and get to LeBron’s level. As I wrote before, Westbrook is one of the most exciting players in the game. It’s time for some new dynasties, and these should be as fun to watch, to root for and against, as any in a long time.