Notes on Conference Finals

Last night I watched the Spurs beat down the Thunder.  Even though it ended up being a 9-point game, for the most part the Spurs did whatever they wanted to do.

On Monday I watched the Heat beat down the Celtics.  Even though the Celtics went on a second quarter run that tied the game at the half, for the most part the Heat did whatever they wanted to do.

So now, with the Spurs up 2 – 0 on the Thunder and the Heat up 1 – 0 on the Celtics…is it already over?  Are we looking at two lopsided series that will soon give rise to a Spurs/Heat Finals?  Is there any reason to keep watching?

On the one hand it’s hard to question the Spurs and Heat, as they were already favorites coming in and have looked very strong so far.  But on the other hand, "old adages" become "old adages" for a reason…there is truth in them.  And in this case, I’d say that the applicable "old adage" is that the series doesn’t truly start until someone loses at home.  Yes, the Spurs and Heat are up a combined 3 – 0…but all three games so far have been played at their homes.  They’re SUPPOSED to be up a combined 3 – 0.  So no, I wouldn’t say that these series are decided yet.  Maybe by the weekend we’ll have a better idea, but right now it’s still very much game on.

That said, the one commonality I’ve seen so far across all three games is that the team that plays the most like a TEAM is the one that wins the games.  Last night the Spurs put on an absolute clinic of teamwork…every pass led to another pass which led to another pass which led to an easy shot.  Tony Parker was magnificent as an individual, but the reason that he scored so many points was because so many of his shots were wide-open based upon the work of his teammates.  The Thunder, on the other hand, looked like three REALLY talented individuals all doing their things as individuals.  Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden combined for almost 90 points, but so much of their action came off the Iso.  Even with three guys that are THAT good, if they run into a team playing at a level as high as the Spurs it just isn’t enough.

In the other bracket, the Celtics SHOULD resemble the team-work of the Spurs while the Heat SHOULD resemble the super-talented individuals of the Thunder.  Ironically, in Game 1 the reverse was true.  LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were dominant, but they were also able to open up the court for Mike Miller and Shane Battier to be strong contributors.  Meanwhile, on the Celtics’ side, there were entire stretches of the game where the only semblance of offense seemed to be to let Kevin Garnett go to work 1-on-1.  I don’t know if the Celtics’ injuries have finally caught up to them…I don’t know if Eric Spoelstra really has upped his coaching to allow LeBron and Wade to play off of each other instead of competing with each other…I don’t know.  But what I DO know is that the Heat already have the talent advantage at the top, so if they ALSO play better team ball then this series really will end quickly.

So.  I’m not going to make any predictions here…the Spurs and Heat came in the favorites, and right now they’re playing like it.  And it’s up to the Celtics and Thunder to prove that they have something in the quiver that will change the dynamic.  I’d say the odds are certainly in favor of a repeat of the 2007 Finals, but I still think the Celtics and Thunder have it in them to make these Conference Finals more interesting.