Wednesday, June 20, 2012 at 3:12 p.m.
There was supposed to be a team in this year's NBA Finals with a top heavy roster of superstars and a bunch of supporting players who looked like they were lucky to even be on an NBA roster, let along the finals. That team's star player was supposed to shrink in the spotlight and find himself too often deferring to the second best player on his team. That team was supposed to be showing up to the arena with man purses, and leaving with sourpuss facial expressions with whispers that they just didn't have the hearts of champions. That team is in the Finals, but to have heard the media tell it for the past two years that team was supposed to be the Miami Heat. It's not. It's the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The sports media at large has been busy crafting narratives around the Miami Heat for over 23 months now, and they've become so widely accepted from everyone from ESPN analysts to your casual sports fan grandmother that you would have thought they were actual facts carved in stone. The Heat have been busy this post-season knocking down every single one as fiction.
Narrative #1: LeBron Can't Play in the Fourth
Reality: Kevin Durant Forgot How to Play in the Fourth
It's not so much that LeBron James has become a fourth quarter monster that's making the difference in the finals. He's averaging just below 7 points in the fourth quarter this series. Though, in last year's finals he only scored nine points in the fourth quarter in all six games combined. So he's improved. What's more interesting, though, is that Kevin Durant is quickly losing his fourth quarter mojo. In Game 1, Durant scored 17 points in the fourth and led his team to a win. In Game 2, he scored 13 in the fourth and the Thunder took their first loss. Game 3 saw him scoring just 4, and last night he only scored 6. What's going on here? Well, LeBron has been taking over Durant defensive duty since Game 2. So Give LeBron credit for not only improving his own fourth quarter game, but diminishing Durant's. Now, let the talk commence about how Kevin Durant ain't clutch.
Narrative #2: LeBron Defers Too Much
Reality: Kevin Durant is In Danger of Being Out-shined by Russell Westbrook
If things had played out just a little bit differently last year and the Heat took home the championship, there's no doubt in most people's minds Dwyane Wade would be taking home his second Finals MVP award. Of course, the problem was LeBron James was not playing like a Finals MVP. This year that award is James' to lose. You could still make the case Durant is at least the Thunder's MVP this series, but its not open and shut. Russell Westbrook has bested or tied Durant in rebounds in 3 of 4 games. He has more assists in all four games. And while Durant has outscored Westbrook in the first three, their series point totals so far are 121 for Durant and 111 for Westbrook. In terms of overall play, you could make a strong case for Westbrook. His performance last night was certainly better than any Durant has given so far.
James meanwhile has outscored his second-best player by 24 points over the series. LeBron has out-rebounded Wade in all four games, and the two are trading off roles as to who is racking up more assists.
What's interesting here, and a symptom of LeBron media derangement syndrome, is the fact that its Westbrook getting criticized for playing too well and not, like it was last year, Durant taking the flack for letting him.
Narrative #3: The Non-Big Three Member of the Heat Suck
Reality: Anyone not named Durant or Westbrook on the Thunder Have No Offensive Power
This has been the media narrative that has always irked me the most. It's not that the rest of the Heat suck, its just that they're inconsistent and unpredictable. Yet time and time again throughout the past two seasons, we've seen guys step up and catch fire. Last night it was Mario Chalmers, who had what will likely go down as perhaps the defining moment of his NBA career, or at least one of them. Rookie Norris Cole, meanwhile, channeled the power of the hi-top fade and helped turn his team around. In Games 1 and 2, Shane Battier shook off the dust and was playing like he was ten years younger. The Thunder's supporting player (most noticeably James Harden) have just seemed to have gotten worse and worse. The Thunder were a two player team last night, and it showed.
Narrative #4: The Heat Dress Weird
Reality: Two Members of the Thunder Showed Up with Man Purses Last Night
This is the stupidest narrative, and shows that people just like to pick on the Heat. Remember back in March when LeBron got blasted for carrying a man purse? Well, hmmm, what is that Russell Westbrook walked in with last night
? What about Kendrick Perkins' Louis Vuitton number that he matched with his pink pants?
This has always been the low hanging fruit of Heat haters trying to find something to make fun of, but they're far from the only offenders. Then again, Dwyane Wade did raise the bar last night with those glasses
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