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Playoff Journal - June 21

   by Larry Ness - 06/21/2012

The Thunder played a great first quarter in Game 4, taking a 33-19 lead over the Thunder. However, it didn’t last long, as Miami opened the second quarter on a 13-0 run and the game was tight throughout. When all the dust had settled, the Heat had a second straight six-point win (won Game 3 in Miami, 91-85) and most importantly, a 3-1 lead in games (more on that later). Westbrook had a terrific game (although some still criticize him), scoring 43 points while adding seven rebounds and five assists. Elias tells us that the only other players to reach all three of those numbers in a single game during the last 25 NBA Finals have been MJ in Game 3 of the ‘93 Finals and Shaq in Game 1 of the ‘01 Finals. Westbrook also joined Rick Barry as the only players 23 or younger to score at least 43 points in a Finals game (Barry reached the mark three times). Seems like pretty good company to me.

If one is looking for some blame, head coach Scott Brooks deserves his fair share and even Durant has been very ‘quiet’ for him, especially in the 4th quarters, where he had previously been a star. OKC’s other three starters (Ibaka, Perkins & Sefolosha) have done little in the two games in Miami, doing almost NOTHING Game 4, scoring a combined 13 points. Then there is sixth-man-of-the-year, James Harden. It’s reported Harden has a bruised left hand and maybe that explains some of his poor play but he’s been AWFUL. He had just five points in Game 1, then was 7-of-11 shooting in Game 2, scoring 21 points. However, in the two losses in Miami, he’s been an identical 2-of-10 from the floor in each game, going a combined 1-of-9 on threes. The man who averaged 16.8 PPG this season, has scored a total of 17 points in the last two games. Finally, let’s note OKC’s three-point shooting in Games 3 and 4, which is 7-of-34, or 21.0 percent. Enough said.

Moving to Miami, LBJ had 26-9-12 in Game 4 and has averaged 29.3-10.0-6.0 for the series. His “partner in crime,” Dwayne Wade, has also come up big. Wade looked old and injured in the final five games of the Boston series but after a mediocre effort in Game 1 of the Finals (7-of-19 shooting for 19 points), has scored 24, 25 and 25 points in three straight wins. LBJ is the team's MVP but Wade has been terrific. Bosh spent Game 1 on the perimeter (shot 4-of-11) but in the three wins, has averaged a double-double (13.0-11.7). That’s a real “Big 3” and throw in some surprising games by Battier (had 17 points in both of the first two games) plus Chalmers’ Game 4 effort of 25 points on 9-of-15 shooting (he was a combined 2-of-15 from the floor in games 2 & 3) and Miami is on the verge of a title.

Naturally, the storyline revolves around LBJ, who is on the cusp of finally becoming a champ. He was swept in his first finals trip in 2007 by the Spurs (his Cavs were woefully out-classed), then he and the Heat fell in the 2011 Finals in six games, losing THREE straight games after taking a 2-1 lead. LBJ took a lot of ‘heat’ for the loss to Dallas and with good reason, as he averaged just 17.8 PPG in that series and seemingly shied away from “taking over” during crunch time. However, it’s been a different LeBron since Game 6 of the Boston series and now, in the 804th game of his career, this could be the contest which ends his title quest.

Then again, maybe not? The Thunder won Game 1 of this series and have “had a chance” in each of their three losses. The key of course, will be if the Thunder can mentally “stay in this one,” after three close losses. Durant MUST return to form (especially in the 4th quarter) and Harden MUST regain his shooting touch. EIGHT teams have overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a best-of-seven series in NBA history, but NEVER in an NBA Finals in 30 previous attempts. That hardly bodes well for the Thunder but in this format (2-3-2), if the Thunder could win tonight, they would return home for Game 6 and if necessary, a Game 7.

That sets the stage for tonight’s game, at 9:00 ET on ABC. Home teams are 55-28 (47-35-1 ATS) this postseason. Tuesday’s game went over and after 83 postseason contests, it’s remarkably 41 overs and 41 unders (one push)! Those following the Zig Zag theory went just 4-7 in the conference finals and are now 1-2 in the NBA Finals, pending a play on the Thunder tonight. It’s 33-34-1 ATS this postseason, or minus-4.4 net games, another losing postseason. The Heat are favored by three points and the total is 193 1/2. OKC opened this series at minus-$1.50 to win it but now, the Heat are the big favorites (as expected, since they are up 3-1), at minus-$4.50

My next journal will be on Saturday by 2:00 ET.

Good luck...Larry

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