Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heat 104 Thunder 98 Heat lead 3-1

6 Thoughts

1) Really?  Let's go.

2) Shane Battier just made one of the best basketball plays I've ever seen, and no one's ever going to talk about it.  Everyone is going to talk about the play that followed, an absolute brain fart by the completely unlikable Russell Westbrook, but Battier created the situation.  With Miami clinging to a 3 point lead with about 15 seconds to go, KJ James clearly done for the night with severe leg cramps, and 5 seconds to go on the shot clock (on a reset from .8 due to a tie up), there was a jump ball at Miami's offensive free throw line.  James Harden vs Udonis Haslem.  There was a reasonable expectation that UD would win that jump ball, so Battier lined up on the far right side of the circle, trying to create a crease for UD to back-tap the ball to Dwyane Wade, who would then have only 5 seconds to create a play to put the game away, and keep OKC from getting one last chance to tie the game, send it overtime (remember: no KJ), and get even in the series.  The ball went up, Harden and UD both jumped...and almost completely whiffed on the ball, UD may have gotten a slight finger on it.  As the ball came back down, Battier, in the insanely quick kind of nerd-like calculation he is best known for, realized that if Harden got to the second tip before UD, there was only one place he was going to tap it, which was back to the left-bottom of the circle to Kevin Durant.  As the ball dropped, Battier darted across the lane, anticipated the flight of the ball, leaped, and fully-outstretched, got up over the top of the longer, more athletic Durant, and batted the ball out to Almario Vernard Chalmers on the left wing...What followed was a bit of a fiasco for OKC - Westbrook could have forced Chalmers into an extremely difficult shot, but instead had somehow lost track of the score, or the time, or the shot clock - it's probably most likely he never looked at the shot clock, only the scoreboard - and took a foul intentionally, giving Miami's best shooter two free throws.  Ballgame.  As thoroughly reprehensible a personality as he possesses, Westbrook played one of the best games ever in the Finals - he scored 43 points on 20-32 from the floor, and had 7 rebounds and 5 assists.  It was absolutely painful to see him make a boneheaded play like that to cost his team a final chance, and by "absolutely painful," I mean, of course, "I could not have been more delighted!"  Couldn't happen to a nicer guy!  And the guy who played 40 minutes, and only scored 5 points - Shane Battier - made the whole thing happen...

3) He can't run very fast.  He can't jump very high.  He isn't a good passer, nor a solid decision-maker, and he can not distinguish the difference between "a solid contest" and "careening full-speed into an off-balance jump shooter at the end of the shot clock."  But all Almario Vernard Chalmers do do is what he do.  That's all: he doesn't do anything else, other than do what he do.  And what he did tonight was win this game down the stretch.  He scored 25 points, and 12 in the fourth quarter alone.  He made two incredibly large baskets in the final two minutes: the first on a scramble-drive to the hoop when he got around Nick Collison's Bosh-esque statute contest for a spinning layup, and the second when he beat Russell Westbrook off the dribble, then finished high off the glass over the NBA's leading shot-blocker, Serge Ibaka, with 44 seconds to go to put Miami up 5.  Both were just the kind of gyroscopic forays towards the rim that often end up in disaster for Almario, but in the biggest of moments, he made them both.  Almario has always been a unconscious kid, but he's our unconscious kid.  Everyone always dumps on him, yells at him, blames him for everything that goes wrong - most of all his teammates!  But he just keeps winding his way around the court, fouling a dude here, making a three there - he's totally unfazed by past mistakes, or criticism, or everyone in South Florida's total lack of confidence in him..And tonight he won a Finals game down the stretch.  Feel so good for him.    

4) Hard to believe you get down to #4 and you haven't even really talked about KJ James' night yet.  I don't know that it is possible to quantify how good he was in the second and third quarters.  Miami came out and clearly were in "KJ and Dwyane are going to try to pace themselves through the first half, stay close, and then turn it up a gear or two in the second half" mode.  They've used that technique effectively quite often in these playoffs.  Problem: OKC was in "absolute desperation" mode, and blew Miami off the court from the jump, getting ahead by as many as 17.  That when KJ went to Plan B:  Ball. So. Hard.  He went down to the block, and he went the freak to work.  It wasn't the scoring as much as it was the passing.  He backed in Sefalosha, he backed in Harden, he backed in Durant the few times KD guarded him (they took Durant off KJ to keep KD out of foul trouble - had him guard Chalmers), made a second, and sometimes third, defender come to help, and then found open shooters.  Norris Cole banged in two quick triples to start the comeback, then KJ found Playoff James Jones for another triple.  By the time Dwyane Wade stepped into a triple and drilled it off the dribble, Miami had erased the entire 17 point lead in just under four minutes.  At half KJ had 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists - that's a lot of assists in one half for a guy playing on the block.  He continued pouring it on in the third quarter, including one beastly back-down-and-spin-over-the-left-shoulder-for-the-jump-hook-off-the-window over Harden.  For two quarters, I really thought that was about as well as he could play.  By the start of the fourth quarter, with Miami pushing out to a 7 point lead, you could see he was running out of gas - he stopped going to the rim, and settled for jumpers.  Finally, with 5:30 to go, he literally just collapsed on a drive, totally cramped up (although he somehow managed to get up and make a short floater on the ensuing possession).  He sat out about a minute, then came back in limping like Mike Mil-lar.  Unable to move at all, with the game tied, the shot clock running down, and about 3 minutes to go, he rose up and stuck a triple to give the Heat the lead they wouldn't relinquish.  Big-time: 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 12 assists for KJ - all with maximum effort.  He literally played himself to exhaustion.  Ball so, so hard.  Sooo hard.  He came out after that, crouched in agony on the sideline, and watched Chalmers bring him home.  Just a performance you don't see every night (in a game filled with them).

5) Say what you will about Dwyane Wade: he's inefficient, he's hobbled, he's arguing too much, he's taking bad shots, he's making too many live ball turnovers - he was huge down the stretch.  First, subtly, with KJ out of the game, and OKC trapping him down the stretch, he did what he almost never does in situations like that: he got off the ball, moving it to Bosh for one key layup, and allowing Chalmers opportunities to get to the rim (Chalmers' forays were successful in large part because of the attention Dwyane demanded).  Even more importantly, with Miami up 3 and a minute to play, OKC ran a pick-and-roll and forced Wade to pinch in hard to cut off the path to the rim.  The pass by the driver - I think it was Westbrook - went to a wide-open Thabo Sefalosha, spotting up in the corner for a three-pointer.  Look, Sefalosha's not a great shooter, and maybe you just live with that shot, even up 3, especially since Westbrook had gotten to the rim over and over and over.  Except Dwyane didn't live with that shot.  He turned, jetted out towards the corner, and coerced one epic Dwyane Wade-type leap out of that ailing body, sailing towards the lanky Sefalosha, and getting just enough of the ball to steer it out of harm's way.  Best shot-blocking guard ever, by any measure.  Shane Battier grabbed the rebound, setting the scene for Chalmers' final big hoop.  At times he was inefficient, he is hobbled, he did argue, he took some bad shots, and he made some bad live-ball turnovers...But he also scored 25 points, had 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a couple of steals, a couple blocks, two big triples, and he made the most important defensive play of the game.  If Miami gets one of these next three games, his career resume is going to look pretty good.

6) Dallas tomorrow night at 9 o'clock.  Don't you dare even think about DVR'ing - you sit there and watch it live-action, jerky...   
Well, Miami has three shots to get this done.  Man, I hope KJ is good to go on Thursday - there's only one night off, and he was cramping really, really badly.  I've cramped hard, and it can be sore for a couple of days.  It would be a good idea to try to get this done on Thursday, because going back to OKC for the last two games, even up 3-2, is a little bit daunting.  And the reality is, Miami needs KJ to grind on the block to win these games - we'll have to see how capable of that KJ is on Thursday.  If you need me before then, I'll be in the oil business!  Yee-haw!