The 2012 NBA Finals features the two valiant number two seeds: the Miami Heat from the East and the Oklahoma City Thunder from the West. Both teams have had to battle back in the previous rounds in order to arrive here at this point. The Heat trailed 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Indiana Pacers before winning three in a row to wrap up the series. They were also down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics before winning two straight to thrust themselves into their second straight NBA Finals.
The Thunder, after cruising through the first two rounds of the 2012 Playoffs, trailed 2-0 against the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. While many thought this deficit was too much to rally back from, especially considering that the Spurs were sporting a 20-game winning streak at the time, the Thunder won four in a row to clinch a Finals berth.
The Thunder franchise, which began in 2008, has improved its performance significantly from its initial 23-59 regular season record in 2008 after moving from Seattle. After finishing 50-32 during the 2009-2010 turnaround season, the Thunder made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals during the 2010-2011 season, losing to the eventual champions: the Dallas Mavericks. Their rapid success could probably be attributed to their phenomenal draft picks over the years, including Kevin Durant (UT), Russell Westbrook (UCLA), and James Harden (Arizona State), who now form the backbone of the team’s offense.
The Miami Heat, after adding LeBron James to the roster in 2010, heightened their championship-winning expectations, but have not delivered yet. Will this be their year? Will this be the year Wade and James both step up during the fourth quarters of the Finals and display their athletic talents in the clutch? Or will the younger Kevin Durant, who has made so many clutch baskets throughout these Playoffs, find his first ring?
These two teams split their two regular season games, each winning at home. During these games, the notable stars (James, Wade, and Bosh of the Heat and Durant, Harden, and Westbrook of the Thunder) were the prolific scorers. However, success in this series will probably rely heavily on overall team defense. Serge Ibaka of the Thunder will need to have a presence in the paint to deter the penetration of Wade and James, and defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha will need to match the quickness of the Heat. For the Heat, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers will need to keep up with the driving and shooting of the Thunder. Although both teams have stellar defenses, offensive firepower should dominate, and most games will probably be decided in the waning moments. The series promises to showcase some exciting one-on-one match-ups, but whichever squad can figure out how to play efficient team basketball — offensive ball movement and defensive rotations — will find themselves the victors.