Friday, June 22, 2012

NBA Finals Game 5 Running Diary: The Miami Heat and LeBron James Are NBA Champions

(At perhaps a seminal moment in NBA history, we here at MAMBINO HQ knew it'd be important to document a minute by minute running diary during Game 5 of the NBA Finals. LeBron had lived up to his various monikers so far this series, but could he close it out in the biggest game of his career? Or would OKC send this back home? Read on for some in-game thoughts)

Pregame Introductions: We've talked for years about how LeBron is some sort of indestructible robot cyborg created to play basketball and assassinate all comers - he actually looks like it tonight. He's stone-faced, walking slowly and with purpose. He's even got a slight tick in his neck, as if part of his cold, mechanical programming is somehow malfunctioning. Despite the connotation of his pistons misfiring, that's not a good sign for the Thunder.
Pregame Shotaround: I see Wade throwing up J's, but Bron is sitting on the bench, fists to his head, mouthing some sort of mantra, which is probably something like "I'm going to murder everyone tonight". I'm a little worried that he might be putting a little bit too much pressure on himself. I feel like he's excelled these playoffs because he's had the mindset of "this is what I do, I dominate", and then gone out there and done just that. Obviously the gravity of the situation has affected his play, but he seems almost silently angry rather than stoic. Curious.

11:23: Chalmers steals, followed by a LeBron dunk that screamed "We are not losing tonight". Uh-oh.
10:48: Sefolosha fouls LeBron mid-jump. LeBron shakes it off with that robotic tick. He's like a black T-800 with fewer weaknesses and bad facial hair.

10:27: Westbrook jumper clangs hard off the iron. At least we know he isn't wilting to any criticism.
9:32: Westbrook has taken 3 of the team's 4 shots and hasn't even looked for his teammates. It's either stupidity or extreme confidence.

8:42: After getting doubled in the lane, Westbrook forces the ball to Ibaka for an easy bucket.  A really difficult pass right past Battier's outstretched fingertips. Say what you want about his gaffe at the end of Game 4, he's playing phenomenal, CONFIDENT basketball right now.
8:14: KD with his first bucket of the game, 18 feet from the basket. He's looked a little passive early.

7:43: Interestingly, the Heat are leaving all the OKC shooters wide open to try and stop Westbrook. Luckily for Russ and the servers at Twitter, he's making these baskets.
7:09: Pretty oop from Chalmers to Wade, who finger-rolls it in. A lot hasn't been mentioned about Wade, but he's really been locked in for the past 3 quarters. Say what you will about his off the court attitude, but despite stupid sound bytes comprising 65% of his speech, he gives 100% full effort every night on the hardwood.

6:02: James Harden's first hoop barely touches the rim. Not a great sign for the Thunder  who desperately need his production tonight. Not just the points, but a spark off the bench. OKC hasn't displayed that fire they showed in the first quarter of Game 4 since, well, that first quarter of Game 4.

5:14: Ibaka gives Wade a wing 15 footer, and he puts it in his face. No preening, no trash-talking and most shockingly of all, no complaining to the refs. Wade, like James, is all business tonight. Uh-oh.
4:34: Perkins nice put-in around the hoop. With this team, it's amazing that Perkins ever gets touches. I mean, sometimes plays are designed for him. How is this possible? Three of the best offensive players in the league, and he's taking 3 or 4 shots a game on POST MOVES.

3:40: Bosh leaves Perkins 3 feet deep in hardwood with a head fake and drives to the hoop for a bucket. If Bosh is going to be getting his own shots like that, call the game right now for the Heat.
3:23: Derek Fisher coming in. What's the over/under on how many minutes he plays? 22? I think Scotty Brooks' job should be the wager.

3:10: Harden makes his first genuinely confident move in about 2 1/2 games. Good for you!
1:44: Mike Miller makes two consecutive three pointers, on the next position fouls Durant and then keels over in pain. Pretty much a microcosm of Mike Miller's season.

1:13: A wild drive by Harden right into Norris Cole for an offensive foul. It's still the first quarter and he already looks rattled like the Heat beat the crap out of him, took his lunch money and called his beard stupid. Norris Cole responds by knocking down a three. Him and Mike Miller at 3 for 4 from distance. The Thunder are 0-2. Just like everyone thought it would happen.
0:21: Durant with a rim-shaking jam after Harden hesitates with the ball for a few too many seconds. 31-26 Heat. LeBron misses a 3 pointer at buzzer, so momentum, I suppose, is on the Thunder's side. Kind of.

End of Quarter: Miami looks locked-in. Contrary to pre-game indications, they're simply stone-cold and confident, rather than tight. Leadership is a trickle-down proposition, which seems to have taken hold of the young guys in Cole and Chalmers. OKC hasn't been terrible, but they certainly look much less aggressive than the Heat. To be honest, it just doesn't look like Miami feels like losing this one tonight. There's a sense of urgency there that I didn't think they'd have. LeBron James is 36 minutes away from a championship.

2nd Quarter
11:50: Westbrook scores on a open drive to the hoop. He gets hit by Norris at the rim, and shoots his 7th free throw. Out of everyone on OKC, he's really the only one who's looking aggressive and confident. 

10:49: Derek Fisher hits the Thunder's first three pointer with a man in his face. Already he's having a better game than the last.  All of the sudden it's 34-32 Miami.

Texts from Thunderstolt: Derek Fucking Fisher
10:07: Westbrook misses his 18th dunk of the series, which leads to a Wade transition putback. It's like we're watching the same type of two-star relationship on both ends of the floor: LeBron dominates, while Wade picks his spots. Oddly enough, the second-best player in the world, KD, picks his spots while Russ is the aggressive, dominant one.

8:46: Fisher hits his second shot, a leaner from the elbow. 38-34 Heat. But the momentum feels like it's swinging towards the Midwest.
7:08: 41-34 Heat. The Heat look like their executing an offense, or some sort of plan. OKC on the other hand looks like they're working around Miami. Huge difference, as LeBron drives to the rack and shakes off a roadblock in Kendrick Perkins.

6:47: Harden drives to the basket and draws the foul. OKC is really trying to put pressure on the Miami interior, but the truth is that they're losing this game because of pretty lackadaisical defense.
5:48: 48-36 Miami. Bosh with an easy lay-in after a series of 4 swing passes around the perimeter. The Heat look more and more confident with every drive down the hoop. Every Miami possession, you get the feeling of an Eli Manning drive down the field - there's only one inevitable conclusion. The Thunder need to grab control of this game, and soon.  

Texts from Thunderstolt: Apparently Scott Brooks doesn't believe in adjustments anymore.
5:25: Why is Nick Collison just not in Scott Brooks' rotation? Did he Delonte West someone? He couldn't buy time in this series. Kendrick Perkins is giving them damn near nothing.

4:55: Miller hits another three and after a Norris steal, Bron takes it full court for a lay-in. A 53-36 lead, and a sometimes dormant Miami crowd sounds like they're doing their best Oklahoma City crowd impression. This is the time where Durant HAS to stop the bleeding. He's been relatively quiet all game.
3:53: Harden going to the line for his 6th and 7th free throw tonight and it's looking like he's slowly starting to build confidence. Kendrick Perkins is STILL in the game.  53-40 Heat.

Texts from Thunderstolt: Mike Miller has 12 fucking points and he can't walk. 

E-mails from AO: It's cool how at the highest level effort really means nothing. Both these teams are playing balls out.  Who can execute.  Who can knockdown shots. This Miami barrage of threes won the series.
3:18: LeBron drives to the rack AGAIN for two more free throws. He's got 11/5/5 so far and hasn't settled for a shot yet. He's going to make the Heat win or lose on his shoulders, which is all we've ever asked of him, isn't it? 55-40 Miami.

3:03: JVG affirms what I've been saying - the Thunder are just giving the Heat everything right now. They're shooting 57% and Shane Batter just drove to the basket for a lay-up. That last fact might be more offensive than the first.
2:02 LeBron settles for his first jump shot of the night and misses. He's daring the Thunder to make this interesting. The only shots that the Heat have consistently missed tonight are elbow jumpers, but everything else is falling. It's almost as if the Heat looked at their shot charts from the past two years and decided to just, you know, not do that anymore. 57-45 Miami.

Texts from Thunderstolt: Perkins impacted the game negatively/drink
1:22: A rebound by Durant turns into a transition basket by Ibaka, via KD. OKC is using their athleticism a little to take advantage of the Heat, but sparingly. They have to push the pace.

Westbrook with the ball on the final possession. He tries to split two defenders but loses the ball in the lane. 59-49 Miami.
End of half: The Thunder are playing pretty well offensively, despite shooting only 37%. They're getting to the line rather effectively (18 times up until now) and have thrown down 49 points on one of the best defenses in the league. Westbrook started off hot, but the Heat have started to lock down to prevent the one confident OKC shooter from beating them. Defensively, they're getting eaten up by the Heat, but truly, I'm not sure what they can do. LeBron is determined to put pressure on every facet of the Thunder defensive scheme, penetrating the lane and causing seemingly four out of five OKC defenders to crash the lane. The sometimes inept Heat role players are hitting their shots, which in turn is giving Bron the confidence to keep on crashing the boards. I suppose the solution is to keep James on the perimeter, but...can they do that? The feeling of inevitability is starting to sink in. LeBron James is 24 minutes away from a championship.

3rd Quarter

11:41: Durant sinks a long three-pointer. Let's see if they can stop this at the other end. 59-52 Miami.
11:12: Ibaka gets fouled on a pretty pass by Durant. Deficit is at 5, 59-54. The Thunder have missed just 1 free throw tonight - other than LeBron, I don't know what else the Thunder could do to win this game.  That's not a good sign.

10:04: On a chance to cut it to three points, Durant fumbles the ball on a behind the back move, and Chalmers hits a massive fall-away three to stop a mini OKC run. 64-56 Miami. Chalmers might be an actor and a flopper supreme, but he's got balls of steel. What a huge swing.
9:32: Battier joins in on the fun and sinks his shot from the corner. 67-56 to put the lead back where it was. Miami is taking every single punch Thunder are throwing at them and returning with a Shaq-size haymaker on Brad Miller. Except this time, Brad Miller is taking it on the chin, thus suffering a quick demise.  His headband dies just minutes later.

7:52: LeBron only has 15/7/7 right now. He doesn't have the type of dominant stat line he already had garnered by this point in Game 4, but his fingerprints are all over this game. They are winning this game right now because of him.

7:28: Durant scores a pull-up jumper in the lane. 69-62 Heat. Perhaps the Shaq haymaker has only grazed Brad Miller.
I hate country music, but I'm pretty much a lock to watch this "Nashville" show. I would sell my father down the river just to be able to tell Connie Britton I love her.

6:59: Miami is 10 for 17 from three-point land with another Battier triple. What is happening? Are we in Phoenix in 2006?
6:12: The OKC runs are coming fewer and farther between. There's only 18 minutes left and the Thunder look absolutely powerless to stop whatever Miami is dealing. 75-63 Miami.

5:25: Bosh goes to the line after another aggressive move to the rim. He's got 15 and 5 on 6 for 9 shooting, and when a guy can do that and be almost unnoticeable, your team is pretty damn good.
4:46: The Thunder haven't scored a field goal in nearly 3 minutes, and have barely even gotten a shot off. The Miami defense has been swarming, and the Thunder look scattered and confused. LeBron puts the icing on the cake during this lifeless OKC run, as Derek Fisher gets a Flagrant 1 for a BS foul on James that was merely a block. However, I can't begin to say how impressed I am that Fisher took a 3/4-speed LeBron charge and barely moved. Derek's core strength is just ridiculous. I felt a little of my manhood slipping away when I typed that.

3:55: LeBron makes a damn-near impossible lay-up after being hit 12 times on the same jump. Pat Riley is sitting down, emotionless, as a sea of white shirts rise in unison around him. He looks like Robert DeNiro in Goodfellas and somehow is even scarier than a world-renowned mob boss. Good God. The game is getting out of hand, 82-63 Miami.
Texts from Thunderstolt: Well shit.

3:29: 85-63 Miami after Bosh hits a corner three. Ibaka responds with an offensive foul. The ship be sinking.
3:06: The Miami crowd becomes...unhinged (?) when Mike Miller sinks a contested three pointer. This is like shooting practice.

Texts from Thunderstolt: Haha, ok.
1:54: Westbrook scores to stop a ridiculous Miami run, but the score is 90-67. Wade quickly responds with an and-1 hoop. Still Dwyane and LeBron are stoic in their concentration, with James stopping Chalmers from making gestures to the crowd. So much time left, and he knows it.

0:32: The Thunder keep throwing up 3 after 3, and clanging all of them. Such a sign of inexperience that they aren't just willing to slowly chip away rather than try and rush it.
End of quarter: 95-71, Miami. All Heat. LeBron concentrated on getting all of his teammates involved early, and it seems to be paying off. Every player on the court seems to be feeling it right now, with Bosh the high man at 22, Wade with just 13/5 and Battier, Miller and Chalmers chipping in a combined 38. Wow. Bron's line is at a sublime 19/7/11, and while he's not scoring on every drive, he's making plays happen that he's not even a part of. What a game for the best player in the world. LeBron James is 12 minutes away from a NBA championship.

4th Quarter

11:38: Mike Miller has now hit 6 three pointers. Did he even make that many this year? 98-71 Miami.
10:56: This is getting silly. Another Mike Miller three. 101-74 Miami. These 7 threes are Miller's first of the entire series. I can't even make a stem cell or steroid joke. Have they been secretly keeping Peja Stojakovic in deep freeze for a year, changed his hair, surgered his face and applied bad tattoos on him just in preparation for this game? The Heat have tied the record for most threes in a Finals game with 14. My God.

10:00: The Heat are scoring on every possession now. It's 103-79 Miami. Pat Riley is still not smiling, and I'm not sure he even has control of his arms at this point.
8:48: 106-82 Miami, and the whole team still looks somewhat ambivalent. You have to love the respect they have for the Thunder in not underestimating their opponents.  In the face of such a historic victory, it's amazing how calm the Heat are remaining.

7:46: Durant has 32/11 tonight. Amazing how such a massive performance can be underplayed when the opponents are dominating the entire game. I hardly noticed he had ticked past 30.
6:24: The Heat are still contesting every single shot, despite leading 109-89. They're treating this like it's a 2 point game, not a 20 point game. Such a sign on how much they've grown in just a year.

4:49: James gets his triple double with an putback and a foul. Do you think he'll get any votes for Finals MVP?
4:43: Durant and Westbrook are on the bench and so is their counterpart, Mike Miller.

3:28: James Harden makes his first basket in June. Miami 116-96.
3:01: James starting to show a little emotion, crashing into the chest of Chris Bosh. Wade looks at the crowd, and gingerly raises his arms. We are watching a seminal moment in NBA history.

1:29: Harden is on the sidelines, with his arms around Westbrook and Durant, as the two All-Stars stare blankly onto the court. Meanwhile, the reverse mirror image is on the other side of the court, as LeBron finally shows the childlike enthusiasm that he's bottled up for the entire Finals. I don't think Pat Riley is standing yet.  LeBron James is one and a half minutes away from a NBA championship.
0:29: You can hear LeBron's bellows from the sideline. Erik Spoelstra finally smiles. Pat Riley just stood up. The end is nigh.

0:00: Miami Heat 121, Oklahoma City Thunder 106. The NBA title will reside in South Beach.
Lebron with a gigantic bear hug on Durant, saving his celebration for after he serves up the class. Extremely proud of LeBron for putting his own personal agenda on hold when he has every reason in the world to do so and honoring the tradition of the league. This is juxtaposed with Wade, who's on a table cheering and gesturing to the crowd. Bron continues to hug and talk to every member of the Thunder. He knows this isn't the last time he'll see them in June.  

We'll have more MAMBINO reflections later on in the week, but this was a historic moment in NBA history. LeBron has taken a step towards greatness - just like MJ and the Bulls over the Lakers in 1991 and Timmy and the Spurs over the Knicks in 99, the Heat win the series 4 games to 1. History echoes loudly. 

LeBron James was the best player on the floor tonight, with his fingerprint over every single Miami Heat possession. He was a deserving unanimous Finals MVP, and has just finished one of the most astonishing seven-game runs we've ever seen. Whether you know it or not, we'll remember this as one of the most important moments in this great game. Congratulations, LeBron. This was on you, and for the first time, that's a good thing.

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