Roundtable: Assessing a 1-1 Finals
LeBron James has looked good in the Finals, while OKC's slow starts are troubling
Forward Shane Battier has unexpectedly given the Heat a big boost on offense
Both teams have reason for optimism as the series shifts to Miami for Games 3-5
The NBA Finals are tied 1-1 after the Thunder and Heat split two games in Oklahoma City. With Game 3 set for Sunday night in Miami, five SI.com writers analyze the biggest storylines and surprises so far, examine which team is in a better position and take issue with the criticism of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.
1. What is the biggest development from the first two games of the series?
Ian Thomsen: You could say it's LeBron James' proving that he's going to be far more aggressive and productive than he was in the Finals one year ago, though that should not have been such a surprise after seeing how he finished off the Celtics in the last two games of the Eastern Conference finals. For me the biggest story is that it's so wide open. Both teams have strong reasons to believe they should be up 2-0. Kevin Durant could get hot and win two of the next three in Miami, or the Heat could squelch the Thunder's fast break to dominate the home court. Miami and OKC have each developed a foundation for the next few games, and now we'll see who can make the most of those opportunities.
Zach Lowe: The way both teams have shaped (or in the Thunder's case, not shaped) their rotations, and the connected return of Chris Bosh to Miami's starting lineup. The Heat have embraced small-ball, playing with only one big man for about 39 minutes of Game 2. It's a move that makes sense in this series, considering Miami's need for clean driving lanes and good three-point looks, and the lack of any scoring threat from Oklahoma City's big men. The Thunder have stuck with essentially their normal rotation, with some tweaks to get Thabo Sefolosha more time and generally respond to the rhythms of each game. Miami has torched the Thunder's plodding starters, and if Game 3 starts badly, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks might have to use a quicker hook with one of his big men. Also big: LeBron's nailing a huge jumper and two big free throws in crunch time of Game 2. James' alleged clutch limitations in general have been hugely overblown, but his issues at last year's Finals were real and crippling to Miami. Turning the page early in this series is important.
Lee Jenkins: Miami's blistering starts and Kevin Durant's unbelievable finishes. The Thunder will have to change their approach early in games, whether they insert James Harden earlier, or use Nick Collison more often. The Thunder have wiped away so many double-digit deficits in the playoffs that they are starting to get comfortable in a hole. They have to raise their intensity in the first quarter and the Heat have to do the same in the fourth. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra must continue to get some contributions from his bench, and breaks for James and Dwyane Wade, so they can hope to weather Durant's last-minute surges. Durant and James have been equally spectacular, but at different times, in different ways. Like their teams, James has dominated early and Durant late, with both sides searching for a balance.
Chris Mannix: The Thunder's issues opening games -- they have fallen behind by double digits in the first half of both games of this series and trailed San Antonio by 18 late in the second quarter of Game 6 in the Western Conference finals -- are becoming a problem. They are sloppy and undisciplined and look like a young, nervous team, as opposed to a confident one in the second half. Maybe it's playing at home; maybe the Thunder are so eager to deliver an early knockout blow in front of the Oklahoma City crowd that they overplay. Whatever it is, the Thunder better fix it, fast, because Miami is not the team against which you can fall behind that much and hope to win more than you lose.
Michael Rosenberg: LeBron's playing like he usually does. He was the best player on the floor in Game 2 and the best player on the floor for most of Game 1, until Kevin Durant went all Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City is deeper than Miami, and the Heat could not afford a repeat of James' tentative 2011 Finals performance. He may yet have a bad game, but I expect him to explode for at least 40 points in one of the games in Miami. The Thunder cannot keep him from getting to the rim.
2. What has surprised you?
Thomsen: It's that Miami isn't the most explosive team in the Finals. When the three stars came together before last season, the Heat were going to become the most dangerous team in the open floor. But here they are now trying to slow the game out of rightful respect for the Thunder's speed in transition. It's amazing how the identity of Miami has been altered from its original intention.
Lowe: Shane Battier, scoring machine, has to top the list, right? Battier has scored 12 or more points in the last three games after reaching that mark only twice in 65 regular-season games, and his 34 points combined in the Finals represent a huge reason this series is tied. Miami's small lineups (and the resulting increase in minutes) are getting Battier good looks because power forward Serge Ibaka and center Kendrick Perkins are not used to tracking shooters. But you never expect anyone to shoot 9-of-13 from deep over two games, and Battier is 8-of-11 on non-corner threes after shooting just 26.6 percent on those shots in the regular season, according to NBA.com. And those off-the-dribble floaters? Let's just say those aren't part of Battier's day-to-day arsenal. I would hate to think Battier is headed for some (as he likes to say) "regression to the mean," but that's probably on the way.
Jenkins: Battier. The other day, I asked Battier about clutch performance, which is obviously a major theme in playoff series. He said, "I don't prescribe to the hot hand theory. I believe in regression to the mean. A guy is going to be who he is. You are who you are." According to his rationale, then, he can't possibly sustain the streak he's on right now. Battier, who averaged 4.8 points in trudging through the worst offensive season of his career, has suddenly emerged as the outside threat the Heat are always so desperate to find.
Mannix: Two words: Shane Battier. He is a pesky defender even at 33, and his three-point shooting has been an unexpected boost to Miami's attack. Getting many of his minutes at power forward, Battier has held his own against Perkins and Ibaka while changing the game with his perimeter shooting. If he can keep up this pace for the rest of the series, Miami will be tough to beat.
Rosenberg: Battier's performance. The Heat had the right idea when they signed Battier, but for much of the season he looked spent. Now he is hitting most of his three-pointers and looking like the pesky defensive genius we have seen since his days at Duke. The key for Miami is to keep the ball moving to create open shots for Battier (or Mike Miller, should he suddenly get real minutes).
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