OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JUNE 14: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat plays defense on Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the third quarter in Game Two of the 2012 NBA Finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 14, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
LeBron James had 32 points and a little help from the refs, and the Heat survived another Thunder comeback to tie up the series with a Game 2 win. The NBA Finals can't get much better than this.
The Miami Heat got out to another big lead, the Oklahoma City Thunder got within striking distance again, only this time Miami kept hitting shots and saved its lead as both teams went back and forth ... until the final minute, when all hell broke loose and OKC nearly made up seven points in 30 seconds. The Thunder didn't quite finish, so the Heat won, and the series is tied.
Two games in, the 2012 NBA Finals have been pretty much perfect.
Throughout the first half, even when Miami was up 15, I had a feeling it would end that way. When Michael Wilbon announced on ESPN's godawful halftime show that "There's not gonna be a comeback tonight" ... well that pretty much sealed it, didn't it? And it was beautiful, just like Game 1.
The Heat deserve a ton of credit here. Not only did they explode in the first quarter exactly as they did in Game 1, but when OKC started clawing back, they didn't blink this time. Even with OKC fans going insane and Durant hitting every shot he took. There were no prolonged scoring droughts this time, and every time the Thunder got close, either LeBron or Dwyane Wade would come through with a big shot that felt like a backbreaker.
The defining play for the Heat was late in the fourth, where they ran a perfect pick-and-roll with LeBron screening for Wade, and then Wade driving the lane, drawing the extra defender, and dishing to Chris Bosh for the easy dunk. Isn't that play exactly what everyone feared when the Heat first got together? It's kinda incredible that it's news when the Heat's Big Three actually function coherently, but here we are. And there they were, coming through when they absolutely had to.
Wade was worlds better in Game 2 than he was on Tuesday (24 points on 50 percent shooting), LeBron attacked early and then attacked late, too, and finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Even Chris Bosh got in on it; he had 16 points and 15 rebounds, including seven on offense. This was the sort of performance that championship teams put together. On its own, that'd be fun.
But the Thunder made it so much better, because they refused to lose. First with James Harden exploding in the first half, then with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant trading the baton in the second, and finally, with Durant taking over the fourth quarter for the second game in a row. Per Elias, no player since the NBA/ABA merger has scored more in the fourth quarter of consecutive Finals games.
The point is this: What we saw in the second half of Game 2 was the best teams in the league at their absolute best, and the last few minutes were every bit as insane and beautiful as you'd expect given the ingredients. Now the series is tied going to Miami, and we have absolutely no idea what happens from here. This is the NBA Finals we dream about, and there's a good chance it all gets better over the next week.
As for the rest of the talking points after Game 2 ...
THE DURANT NO-CALL
I hope we don't spend too much energy arguing Durant's game-tying shot. He was definitely fouled, but it wasn't an easy foul to spot. Jeff Van Gundy watched a replay on ABC immediately afterward and said it was the right call. Only later did he and Mike Breen see another replay -- with a different angle -- and realize that Durant got fouled. Which ... Yeah, if it takes two replays to notice a foul in the final seconds, it's probably not an outrageous blown call. Especially in the final minutes, you'd rather the refs err on the side of caution there.
Think of it this way. If LeBron had been fouled in that situation, millions of people would say he got bailed out by the refs. Or if that LeBron had missed the game-winner and didn't get the foul, we'd say, "This is the playoffs, you can't depend on calls in that situation." Just because it's Kevin Durant doesn't mean we should all look at this differently.
KD, to his credit, didn't complain afterward. Even when a reporter asked, "Are you saying you don't think you got mugged by LeBron on that last play? You don't believe you were fouled?"
Durant: "I missed the shot, man."
Hopefully we can just end this there.
(But if you must read more about it, we have a feature on the topic.)
JEFF VAN GUNDY: STILL THE ABSOLUTE BEST
"You can't co-opt Dikembe Mutombo's finger wag just because you're both from Africa."
SHANE BATTIER: STILL THE WORST
If the Heat win the NBA title and Shane Battier plays this well for the rest of the series, then I suppose after it's all over we'll have to say something nice about Battier and how awesome he's been. Until then, he's still the most obnoxious player in the NBA, and every time he hits a three I can't help but wince a little bit. And every charge he takes makes we want to throw something at my TV. So the first two games have been pretty tough for me to stomach. On the bright side, I'll be in Miami for Games 3-5, so maybe I'll be able throw something at him in real life!
SPEAKING OF SCORN
Mario Chalmers is Jerry/Gerry Gergich. EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE NOW.
WHY DOES SCOTTY BROOKS KEEP PLAYING KENDRICK PERKINS?
Don't get me wrong. Perk is the best. Remember that Deadspin feature on him and those two white guys? Remember his son, Perk Jr.? I love Perk. But Perk is playing way, way too much. As Royce Young explains at CBS Sports:
The area Brooks whiffed in Game 2 though was with his in-game adjustment in his secret weapon smallball lineup. Instead of subbing out Thabo Sefolosha in the first quarter for James Harden with about five minutes left, Harden checked in for Serge Ibaka. And then Brooks pulled the same move with five minutes left in the third. Brooks went small, but he did it with the wrong big.
Perkins has a lot of value to this Thunder team, but it's primarily in his post defense against interior focused scorers. Like Andrew Bynum, for example. The Heat though, are playing Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem as their 5. Which minimizes Perkins' value. And yet Brooks is sticking with his scowling big man, for reasons unknown to many.
Especially with Miami going small for pretty much the entire game, Perkins is a liability. It would be one thing if OKC had limited options, but with Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison sitting there, playing Kendrick Perkins is even more in explicable. He makes you slightly better on defense, but nowhere near as dangerous on offense.
I love Perk, you love Perk, we all love Perk. But ... yeah.
Probably time to stop playing Perk quite so much.
Everything has to fall in place to get a truly classic Finals. The best teams have to avoid injuries, a few plays have to go their way just to survive the journey to the Finals, and then even when they get there, a few bad bounces can sink a team before a great series ever really gets going. That almost happened to Miami Thursday night, but just when it looked like the Heat were going to give it away, a blown call bailed them out.
It was anti-climatic at the time, but it sorta saved the series. Going back to Miami down 2-0, having to win three straight games, the Heat would've been screwed.
Instead, it's tied up, LeBron and Durant are averaging better than 30-a-game, and Thursday's fourth quarter had them both at their best. Wade and Westbrook have both been just inconsistent enough to keep the rest of us guessing. The coaches are adjusting and then adjusting to each other's adjustments. Bosh and Harden both came up with big games in Game 2. Role players like Thabo Sefolosha and Battier have been stepping up ... on and on.
You never want to jinx a series by expecting too much, so instead all you can really ask for is that everybody plays well. And that's what's happening so far. Now it's back to Miami, the NBA title's up for grabs between the two best players and the two best teams, and we all get to sit back and see who takes it. Doesn't get much better than this.