The Miami Heat lead the Oklahoma City Thunder 3-1 in the NBA Finals with a chance to close the series out tonight at home in Game 5.
Coming into the NBA Finals, the Thunder were favored to win a rightfully so. They had home court and were playing the better basketball in the playoffs.
But things change in the NBA Finals. They always do. Some players rise to the occasion and some wilt.
Things changed for both the Thunder and the Heat in this series. Here’s a look at some of those changes:
The Thunder were the best isolation team in the NBA this season and they carried that over into the playoffs. OKC’s isolation-heavy offense was always one of the knocks against them but it didn’t matter until now.
The Heat are the best defense the Thunder have faced so far in the playoffs and it is most evident in the isolation numbers. The Thunder are being forced into more isolation plays in this series and they have become less efficient.
The same can be said for Miami’s offense although their drop in efficiency isn’t as drastic.
Kevin Durant and James Harden have significantly become less efficient in isolation plays in this series.
Durant has been isolating more often which really isn’t a good idea and it has played right into Miami’s hands. Harden’s isolations are usually not planned and come after switches but he has been unable to take advantage of that in this series.
Dwyane Wade is the only player to have improved in this department in the Finals. Wade has come through with some big shots in the past few games in the fourth quarter on iso plays.
The Thunder relied on their pick-and-roll game more than anything else and anyone else before this series. Miami’s defense has limited these opportunities in the Finals.
The Thunder are getting much fewer scoring opportunities in the pick-and-roll in this series and reverting to more isolation. This has happened because Miami has focused on taking the ball out of the pick-and-roll ball handler’s hands and forcing the Thunder to their second and third options.
The Thunder are actually more efficient scoring in the pick-and-roll in this series. If we see OKC come out and get looks within the pick-and-roll, it will really improve their chances at extending this series.
Miami has been largely the same with their pick-and-roll game. Oklahoma City isn’t the best in the league at defending it and it has really cost them in this series.
We see that Durant and Westbrook have been great when they get looks in the pick-and-roll, mainly Durant. The Thunder need to go to their Durant-Westbrook pick-and-roll more in Game 5 instead of simply isolating Durant so much.
Harden has really struggled in this department. He isn’t creating as many assists in the pick-and-roll or scoring. This was a huge weapon for the Thunder all season and suddenly not having it in this series has made it extremely difficult for them to win.
Once again, we see Wade has improved in this series in the pick-and-roll game. Wade hasn’t been extremely effective in this series but taking a closer look it is clear that he is coming through in some important situations for Miami.
In the post
Both teams have posted up slightly more in this series. The Thunder still rarely do it and haven’t been too effective when they have.
The Heat were scoring in the post before this series but the Thunder have actually contained them pretty well in this series.
The Heat have scored a lot from offensive rebounds and cuts in the paint in this series which isn’t represented in this chart.
There has been a lot of attention surrounding LeBron James’ improved post game in the Finals and in this season in general but as you can see, he’s still not dominant there.
In Game 4, the Thunder went to double LeBron a lot while he was in the post and he made them pay by finding open shooters for threes. The Thunder really don’t need to do that as much however much they feel the need to.
One thing that changed as this series went on is Durant guarding LeBron less. Scott Brooks took Durant off LeBron at the start of Game 4 to avoid foul trouble and LeBron responded by taking the smaller defenders into the post.
Durant may need to guard LeBron more in Game 5 for the Thunder to extend this series. A lot of the fouls Durant picked up came in transition and on bad decisions to reach. In one-on-one situations in the post, Durant has been fine defending LeBron.
Amazingly, Wade has not scored on a post-up all series.
You guessed it, the Heat have been better than OKC in this department. The Heat really improved in this series at hitting spot-up shots while the Thunder got worse.
This has certainly been one of the X-factors and if the Thunder are to come back, having an advantage here will be crucial.
Shane Battier is literally off the charts this series as a spot-up shooter and it’s no surprise to anyone. He scored 17 points in each of the first two games and helped change this series in Miami’s favor.
Durant has also been fantastic as a spot-up shooter and always is. But Harden’s drop off from “off the charts” to completely ineffective has also hurt the Thunder.
Harden who makes a living from being an efficient player, has been so inefficient in this series in every way. If there’s one thing that needs to change in Game 5, it’s him having a big game for the Thunder.
The Heat are up 3-1 in this series but every game has been very close. The consensus is that the Heat have shown more poise down the stretch and come up big when they have needed to.
The Heat have effectively taken the Thunder out of their comfort zones on offense and exploited their weaknesses on defense.
Give Erik Spoelstra a ton of credit this series. Using Battier in the starting lineup and attacking Durant as a helper on defense has really been big for the Heat.
The Thunder can still win this series though and at least take it back to OKC. If they can find offense earlier in the shot clock and on their first options, they will be in good shape.
But if Game 5 looks like the last few with a little too much isolation for OKC and them not getting the looks they want, we could be talking about LeBron winning his first title tomorrow.
Tags: Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade Erik Spoelstra Game 5 James Harden Kevin Durant LeBron James Mario Chalmers Miami Heat NBA Finals NBA Playoffs Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook Scott Brooks Shane Battier