The Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games, but the series really was a lot closer than it seemed. Games 2, 3, and 4 all came down to a couple 4th quarter possessions and the Heat came out on top in every single game. Had the Thunder made one or two plays to turn the tide in just one of those games they have gone back to Oklahoma City to hold home court and have a chance to take the series. Below are the summary stats for all 5 finals games: see the full spreadsheet here
compiled from ESPN.com box score data
There were two major advantages for the Heat that showed up in the stats and were also clearly evident watching the games:
In Game 1 the Heat chose to use LeBron James as an all-purpose defender. He spent time guarding Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha, and pretty much anyone on the Thunder besides Kevin Durant. The idea was that he would be able to switch onto Durant when the Thunder ran a pick and roll or a pin down screen. This really wasn’t a bad strategy. The Heat led for the first 3 quarters of Game 1, but the Thunder simply got hot on offense at the end of the 3rd quarter and continued their run in the 4th. The Thunder on the other hand used Kevin Durant on LeBron James almost exclusively the entire game. Durant definitely did not shut James down (and actually got blown by several times and made it worse by committing a weak reach-in foul), but overall he handled James by himself.
After Game 1 the Heat adjusted and put James on Durant for most of the series (with Shane Battier helping out when needed). Durant still scored 30 points per game, but he rarely created anything for his teammates. For the entire series Durant only recorded 11 assists. The Thunder are clearly a better team when Durant gets his teammates involved. On the other hand, Durant got into foul trouble in Game 2 and it happened again in Game 3. The Thunder could not afford to sit Durant so that meant they could not afford to allow him to guard Lebron. The rest of the series the Thunder tried a mixture of Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden (and sometimes Durant) on James. James overpowered every single one of them so they decided to start double teaming James whenever he caught the ball in the post. Lebron responded perfectly to the extra pressure. He consistently found the open man and got the Heat role players open looks. Lebron had 37 assists to Durant’s 11. That leads me to my next point…
2. Heat Role Players Delivered
This was easy point to make if you watched the games. It seemed like every single three pointer that Shane Battier, Mike Miller, or James Jones took went in. That was only a slight hyperbole. The Heat role players (excluding the Big 3 of James, Wade, and Bosh) shot 35 of 72 from beyond the arc: a 49% rate. The Thunder on the other hand only got 9/25 three pointers from their role players. In fact, the role players for the Heat outscored the Thunder role players by 41 total points in the series. The aggregate score was only 20 points in favor of the Heat. Even though the Thunder’s Big 3 outscored the Heat, the role players got the Heat an extra 8 points per game. The Thunder’s Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden were only 4 points per game better than James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh so the 8 points from the role players swung the series by 4 points per game in the Heat’s favor.
This was a fascinating series and a great way to cap off the 2011-2012 finals. I’m looking forward to Heat-Thunder rivalry for years to come.