It ended how we all expected. True, there was some drama in both the Thunder and Chicago series, but both ended in five games with the fifth games not being all that close. Credit to Chicago for fighting hard even with all their injuries, and credit to Kevin Durant and the Thunder for battling without their second superstar. Really though, neither team stood much of a chance in their series.
The Thunder probably had the best chance of sending their series to six games. They had the best player in the series, which usually counts for something, but as covered earlier this week on the blog, Kevin Durant just had too little help without Westbrook. Along with that, it didn’t help that Memphis was a team built to beat the Thunder. Memphis was able to play their style all series, slowing down the game and keeping the Thunder out of transition. Once in the half court, all the pressure was on Kevin Durant to create for himself and others while playing heavy minutes (he averaged 44.1 minutes per game this postseason). As a result, his shooting suffered. Durant shot just 45.5% in the postseason compared to 51% in the regular season, when he had Westbrook. If anything, this postseason should silence all the Westbrook doubters. This team needs him in order to make the finals, and Kevin Durant is not better without Westbrook on the floor.
As for the Bulls, they faced an even tougher battle. Joakim Noah had foot problems, Luol Deng got very ill after having a spinal tap gone wrong, Kirk Hinrich hurt his calf, and they have been without their best player all season. Not to mention they were going up against the favorites to win the NBA finals. The Bulls play a style similar to Memphis where they slow it down, and that kept them in games against the Heat. Everyone knows the Bulls are one of the best defensive teams in the league, but they struggled to score against the Heat, who are also an elite defense. It was painfully obvious the Bulls were done after shooting just 25% in game four. The Heat again ratcheted up their defense in the fourth quarter of game five, holding the Bulls to 14 points while scoring 25 themselves. This was a case of a team simply being overmatched. The Heat were able to suffocate the Bulls offense when they wanted and they have the playmakers on offense to score against even the best defenses. I hope the Bulls can come back healthy next season and give fans the great series they have been waiting for.
Bonus Section: Heat Defense
The Miami Heat seem to have gotten back to the level they were at last postseason defensively. In the fourth quarter of game five they were using aggressive traps and flying all over the court. The Heat’s ability to move and recover quickly on defense make them an ideal roster for today’s defensive strategies, in which coaches want aggressive help defense to cut off all drives. With Dwyane Wade’s health concerns (although he looked great in the fourth last night) the Heat will need to rely on great defense to avoid any upsets. They will likely play the Pacers next round, a good defensive team, but one that struggles to score at times. This can play into the Heat’s hands, as they have shown the ability to win ugly with their defense. When two teams play to a standstill defensively, the team with the most playmakers tends to win, and the Heat have two great ones in Lebron James and Dwayne Wade.
– Jay Bowne