MIAMI -- This is my first time covering the NBA Finals in person, and there was no better initiation than walking past center court an hour before tip-off and seeing David Stern, Charles Barkley and Shaq sitting around the Larry O'Brien trophy. I've covered the All-Star Game a few times, but this was my reality check. There is no Larry O'Brien trophy hanging around at the Dunk Contest.
Another difference: All-Star Weekend is the funniest 72 hours in sports. NBA players are hilarious, in general, so when you put everybody in one place for an entire weekend, comedy's inevitable. But the Finals don't seem so funny. The reporters, the players, the commentators ... everyone's more serious this week, and if the Finals are a lot like the family reunion that is All-Star Weekend, the mood's totally different here.
Which isn't to say we can't have fun anyway.
So without further ado, here are a few leftover notes from Game 3 in Miami.
MIAMI FINALLY FANS UP, SORTA
You can't help but feel bad for Heat fans. Err ... actually, it's really really hard to feel bad for most Heat fans. Miami must lead the country for "sunglasses worn indoors" per capita. And yet, the Heat fans know they have a bad reputation, the team knows they have a bad reputation, and everyone's trying really hard to not suck at this. As an interloper watching it all happen, it's hard not to feel a little bad.
For instance: 20 minutes before tip-off, an MC came on the jumbotron, and to fire up the crowd he said, "People say Miami cannot get loud ... People say we're not the cheering type of crowd ..." Then on he went. The problem was that the stadium was like, maybe 15 percent full for this fiery pep talk, so he was pretty much addressing a stadium full of t-shirts.
Later on, the crowd was trying to chant "Let's Go Heat!" only apparently parts of the crowd were off-beat -- because a Heat employee turned to me and said, "it's so embarrassing, they can't even get 'Let's Go Heat' right." See how you can start to feel bad?
On the other hand ... for as much ridicule as Miami fans take, the crowd was surprisingly solid Sunday night. Not totally insane, but engaged for the entire 48 minutes, much louder than I expected, and loudest at all the right times. They still looked kinda ridiculous in all white ("WHITE HOT"), but at least the shirts were pretty cool!
PHIL COLLINS NEVER GETS OLD
The pregame music consisted of Jay-Z and Kanye's "Gotta Have It" (name-dropping LeBron and D-Wade) during layup lines, a Phil Collins "In The Air Tonight" montage (the video above, but with 2012 highlights), and the beat from "N***as in Paris" during player intros (where the words "Miami Heat Ball So Hard" ran on a ticker across the top of the jumbotron). You know, just in case you forgot that the Heat were the most ridiculous team on earth.
As for the game, here are a few observations.
THANK GOD FOR JAMES HARDEN'S BEARD
One quiet story from the first three games? James Harden hasn't really played that well outside the first half of Game 2. In Game 1 and the second half of Game 2, he was quiet, and in Game 3 he was a complete mess on both ends of the floor, especially in the second half. (Granted, guarding LeBron makes anyone look like a mess, but that doesn't explain the offense).
Anyway, while he was struggling Sunday, I realized that if it weren't for his stupidly awesome beard, he might be one of the most hated players in the NBA. He flops more than just about anyone in the league on defense, he draws a constant dream of questionable fouls on offense, and for all the talk about his passing, he still takes a lot of horrible shots. Or maybe it all looked worse in Game 3, and he's not usually that bad. Either way, no matter how bad he plays, I just can't be mad at him. The beard buys him lifetime immunity. Speaking of lifetime immunity ...
DWYANE WADE IS THE THUNDER'S BEST WEAPON
I know everyone has criticized Wade over and over again, but it just seems like he makes things so easy for the Thunder defense. When the ball's been in LeBron's hands the past two games, either LeBron's attacking himself, or he's drawing a double team and someone's getting an open look.
When Dwyane Wade has the ball, everything stops for 5-7 seconds, and (usually) it ends with a missed jumper near the top of the key. Does Erik Spoelstra see this happening? It's not that Wade doesn't come up with big plays here and there, and he's definitely handed over control to LeBron recently. But he still shouldn't be anchoring the offense nearly as often as he has been. Right?
ALSO, DEREK FISHER PLAYED 28 MINUTES SUNDAY NIGHT
That's way too many.
THINGS YOU MISS WHEN YOU DON'T WATCH ON TV
This GIF of Kevin Durant talking trash to D-Wade. So awesome.
THINGS YOU DON'T MISS WHEN YOU DON'T WATCH ON TV
NOTE: SHANE BATTIER IS THE GODDAMN DEVIL
You know how Leonard Washington says that about Grits N' Gravy? That's exactly how I feel anytime Shane Battier hits a three or (especially) whenever he takes a charge. He hit a few more in Game 3, and judging from the Miami crowd, it's gotten to the point where every shot he puts up feels like it's going in. Not sure how we got here, but it makes no sense.
And two post-game notes:
IT'S ALL FUN AND GAMES
... Until NBA players tone down all the crazy fashion.
Now Russ just looks like he's on the way to Nantucket after the press conference.
The two best players on the planet have been going back-and-forth for three games now, and the series has been every bit as good as we could have hoped. A security guard at the arena Sunday was shaking his head at halftime, saying, "It's like an Ali-Frazier fight."
We're not quite there yet, but OKC and Durant will bounce back after Game 3. Even on an off night for both teams, the game came down to final 30 seconds, and the Thunder were one Russell Westbrook miss away from giving us overtime. Here's to hoping for more on Tuesday.