I wrote a week ago that Oklahoma City 6th man James Harden would be the key player in the NBA finals, and that is proving to be correct. Just not the way I imagined.
Each team goes 2 deep in superstars--LeBron James and Dwayne Wade for Miami, and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City. They, I thought, would pretty much cancel each other out. Well, not quite.
James and Wade are scoring 52 points per game with 16 boards and 12 assists. Durant and Westbrook are scoring 62 points per game, with 12 boards and 9 assists. So how can they lose?
The Thunder can lose, and Miami can win, because James' and Wade's much-maligned support in Miami has played much better the past week than OKC's.
For Miami Chris Bosh has bounced back from an injury (he did not start in game 1 of this series) to score 12 points with 10 boards so far in the finals. Mario Chalmers scored 25 in game 4 and is averaging 10.5 with 4 boards and 3 assists. Most surprisingly, Shane Battier has scored 12 ppg though his production has dropped from 17 to 9 to 4 was the finals have worn on. That's 34 ppg from the Heat's other 3 starters.
OKC has no such story to tell. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins have had their games--Ibaka with 10 and 6 in game 1, Perkins with 10 and 12 in game 3. But nobody has produced consistently alongside Duirant and Westbrook. Least of all--relative to expectations and relative to the regular season--like James Harden.
Harden busted loose for 21 points in game 2 but in his other 3 games he has scored 5, 9 and 8 points on 6-for-26 (23 percent) shooting. Across the 4 games the averages are 11 points, 5 boards and 3 assists on 35 percent shooting. Hardly the performance that made him the NBA's 6th Man of the Year. The fact is that Shane Battier is playing him to a standstill.
Well, Miami is going to win the Chris Bosh-Serge Ibaka match-up, and Mario Chalmers wins his match-up more often than not. If OKC has any shot at all of coming back from its 3-1 deficit, Harden has to be a plus match-up for the Thunder. He hasn't been that so far.