By Jay Webster
It’s the matchup that most people expected, and almost everyone wanted: the two best basketball players on the planet squaring off for the NBA championship.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant lead their respective ‘Big Three’ constellations as the Miami Heat take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in the best-of-seven NBA Finals, with Game 1 tipping off late tonight.
Oklahoma City stonewalled a San Antonio Spurs team that had won 20 straight, running off four consecutive wins after dropping the opening two games of the Western Conference Finals. All told, the Thunder have lost just three times in their three play-off series to this point, and not once on their home court.
The Heat, meanwhile, lost three games in the Eastern Conference Finals alone, needing all seven games to hold off a determined Boston Celtics team.
While Miami’s Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and Oklahoma City’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook will all provide plenty of star power, the fireworks in this series will come from three-time league MVP James and three-time scoring champ Durant.
James’ shortcomings in pressure situations have been highlighted throughout his career, though never more glaringly than last year’s NBA Finals against the Dallas Mavericks.
James put the Heat on his shoulders in the final two games of the Boston series, however, racking up 76 points and hauling in 27 rebounds in two must-win games. But regardless of how good he has been in the regular season or early play-off rounds, nothing short of a title will do at this stage of King James’ career.
Durant is making his first trip to the NBA Finals. While James may be the best basketball player on the planet, Durant is the best scorer. His range is astronomical, and his length and speed impossible to contain near – and on the way to – the hoop.
Bosh feeling the strain
For the Heat, Bosh has been battling an abdominal strain which has limited his playing time and effectiveness. He was a difference maker in Game 7 of the Celtics series, scoring 19 important points and draining three three-pointers.
He will have to prove he is healthy and able to contribute for the Heat to prevail. Wade has also been ineffectual at times in the play-offs, and he will have to be at his slashing and driving best as well.
With the Thunder rolling in the play-offs, and the Heat running hot and cold, Oklahoma City opens as five-point favorites on their home court in Game 1, and 8/13 favourites to win the series.
Whether fair or not, all of the pressure will fall on the shoulders of one LeBron Raymone James in this series.
Wade has his ring, Bosh was always just along for the ride, and Durant and Westbrook are just getting started.
No, it’s ‘The Chosen One’, he of the ‘taking my talents to South Beach’ television special, the ‘not one, not two, not three, not four…’ chant at the pep rally upon arriving in Miami, and the disappearing act in the pitiless glare of the spotlight a year ago, who has the most to lose, as well as the most to gain.
Two forces of nature will meet as the Heat and Thunder, LeBron and Durant, collide in the basketball universe. Something’s got to give. It’s going to be a great ride, and it starts tonight. Hold on to you hats.