Sunday, June 17, 2012

Bosh Factor Raises the Heat

All of a sudden, the NBA Finals, with the Miami Heat facing the Oklahoma City Thunder, doesn't look like a Thunder stroll.

After OKC, in the cozy confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena, scorched the Heat in the opening game, 105-94, it looked like Miami was cooked. What else can you conclude when a team slips behind by 13 and then roars back to win easily, leaving the befuddled opponent in the dust? Also, OKC had just polished off the San Antonio Spurs, who appeared to be the best team in the playoffs.

The consensus was that OKC, which apparently took the Heat's best shot  in the opener, would cruise at home in the second game. We were getting used to the Thunder format. They'd get off to their usual lazy start before waking up in the second half and going on a tear. Favored by five in game 2, OKC did, as expected, struggle early, trailing in the first quarter 18-2, missing 11 of its first 12 shots.  After falling into that hole, there was the Thunder's typical, furious fourth-quarter rally. This time, though, it flamed out in the final seconds, with the Heat winning a thriller, 100-96.   .

What happened?

Three things. First of all,  Chris Bosh played one of the best playoff games of his career, grabbing 15 rebounds, staking his claim on the middle, which he had timidly surrendered to the Thunder big men in the first game. LeBron James, with 32 points, and Dwayne Wade, with 24, took all the bows for that second-game win, but Bosh was the big difference. In the first game he wasn't a factor in the middle, scoring his mild ten points from the outside and getting bounced around in the paint. In that opening game, it seemed like Bosh, just back after missing three weeks with an abdominal strain, was still ailing,  On Thursday, though, he was a terror. His play in the middle created scoring opportunities for James and Wade.

Other keys to the Heat win. Rocked by the OKC fastbreak in the first game, for 24 points, Miami defended it much better in game two, allowing only four fastbreak points through the first three quarters. Also the Heat, normally a 73% free-throw shooting team, hit 22 out of 25, with James hitting all 12 of his shots, including a critical pair with 7.1 seconds left. Without that dead-eye free-throw shooting, Miami doesn't win.

What happens tonight in Miami? With Bosh playing well and Miami seemingly at full strength, the Heat doesn't look like a pushover any more. Favored by four, Miami, with home-court advantage, does have a slight edge. But the Thunder is a good road team but better, though, during the season, than in these playoffs. Overall, OKC is still the superior team and more likely to emerge as the NBA champ. But, to win, it must cure its first-quarter doldrums.

So who wins tonight? Flip a coin--too many plus factors on each side