LeBron James has waited for 9 years to get his first opportunity to secure an NBA title. Despite all his accumulated accolades with the Cleveland Cavaliers and now the Miami Heat, the most recognized star in the NBA has never had the chance to play for the NBA championship with his team holding 3 games in hand during a finals series. However, after James and the Miami Heat have simply stormed through the NBA Finals series against a seemingly scrappy and well-matched opponent in the Oklahoma City Thunder, there is an opportunity for a long-standing history of disappointment to be broken for the league’s MVP this evening. Carrying with them a 3-1 lead headed into tonight’s clash at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida, with tip-off slated for 9:00 PM ET, look out for the Heat to bring their best effort of the playoffs forward, and for the Thunder to either show up on offense after 3 lackluster performances, or sit in wait for the next opportunity to achieve greatness next season.
As we’ve mentioned before in this series, the Oklahoma City Thunder simply have been unable to put up their big offensive numbers against a highly-improved Miami Heat defense, who over the past 3 victories in a row have held Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the Thunder to under 100 points per game. With an average of just 93 points per game over the last 3 Finals games, Oklahoma City looks off rhythm, and unable to provide the same defensive effort that Miami has achieved, and will now face an extremely tough test of overcoming NBA history to win their franchises’ first title. No team in the NBA Finals has ever mounted a comeback from a 3-1 deficit before, but arguably few teams as talented as OKC, have been in this position. Perhaps thankfully for them tonight, they may not have to face LeBron James at the top of his game, as he’s recovering from cramps suffered in Game 4 that led to him having to be helped of the court. Don’t expect a letdown in performance, but as a tough, physical game wears on you can’t discount that James’ intense style of play could once again see him missing the most crucial point in the game; the final minutes of play near the buzzer.
There once again is no question what the Thunder have to do better in tonight’s game, if they wish to keep on playing for a shot at history, and to break it at the same time. While Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook continue to shoulder the load themselves, there is no way the Thunder can overcome the repressive defense of the Miami Heat without some balanced scoring, and someone stepping up and taking some initiative. One very troubling thing for the Thunder has been the inconsistent play of their Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who despite scoring 21 points in Game 2’s loss, has not managed a double-digit performance otherwise, shooting just 24.3 percent in the other 3 contests, averaging just 7.3 points. With the Thunder basing their entire season around big offense from Durant, Westbrook AND Harden, another poor shooting night from the latter of the OKC Big Three will be the death knell for the Thunder. Harden either finds a way to step up and regain some confidence, or Miami strolls to a championship. Simple as that.
There are certainly other contributing factors for the Thunder that will play a major role in tonight’s game, starting with their presence on the defensive end of the court. Once again, rebounding and points in the paint are going to be critical, as in all 4 games the team that has won both stats lines has gone on to claim victory. Once again in Game 4, the Miami Heat won the battle of both offensive and defensive rebounding, and beat the Thunder in scoring around the basket. Again the focus comes back to the Thunder big men, including Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, who have for the most part been completely ineffective throughout the Finals. Ibaka and Perkins as a tandem were once again outscored by Miami’s Chris Bosh, and nearly outrebounded as well (10 combined vs. Bosh’s 9). We’ll beat this war drum as long as it stays relevant: OKC will not find an advantage around the basket if Chris Bosh keeps outplaying the Thunder’s two biggest inside presences. Serge Ibaka in particular has to be a leader around the basket, having scored less and less points in each consecutive game this series. If Ibaka can match the production of Chris Bosh by himself, just for one desperate game, OKC could find themselves back in the hunt. Without a better effort on both sides of the ball tonight though, Ibaka will become one of people to point fingers at when it comes time to assessing why the Thunder simply couldn’t overcome the Miami Heat in 4 consecutive games.
With harsh judgment placed on the Thunder, that does discount the strong defensive play exuded by the Miami Heat in this series, which no doubt has led to some of the OKC struggles, and which has put the Heat on the brink of their first championship since 2006. The Heat have done a great job of weathering the Thunder scoring attack, taking away small but important pieces of the OKC game as the series progresses. Take Game 4 for example; the Thunder managed to shoot 48.8 percent from the floor, however they only got double-digit scoring efforts from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and were held to just 3-for-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Miami kept pace on offense, shooting 48 percent themselves, but shot nearly 40 percent from 3-point range, and also had 3 players, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Mario Chalmers, score north of 25 points. While there hasn’t been a lot of depth in the Miami attack, it’s been more consistent, and the players who aren’t scoring a lot are providing a boost with their defensive play. The veteran Shane Battier has arguably outclassed the Thunder’s James Harden in this series. Mario Chalmers has stepped up as the point guard the Heat needed him to be, bouncing back from two awful performances in Games 2 and 3 to throw down in Game 4, especially at the most critical time at the end of the game when LeBron James went out. Chris Bosh, while not producing major points, continues to create problems on defense around the basket, and his presence has allowed the Heat to run small and quick against a bigger Thunder team. With confidence booming after every win, Miami now just needs to stick to their game plan. Big efforts from at least 4 players on both sides of the basketball, and a continuation of a frustrating style of defense that keeps OKC pushing the rock into the hands of just Durant and Westbrook, who themselves obviously cannot carry the entire load.
Betting Lines for the Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder at TopBet Sportsbook.
The Miami Heat on home court will be -150 favorites to win straight up on the money line, with the odds pushed their way after 3 consecutive wins, starting with Game 2’s victory at Oklahoma City. The Thunder will be an interesting choice with +130 odds as underdogs, for those that expect desperation play to find them with a victory to push the series back home to OKC.
Against the spread, just 3 points separate the two teams, with Miami needing to cover 3 at -110 odds and OKC getting 3 points to play with at the same odds. As the Heat have rolled through the Thunder in the last 3 contests, the margin of victory has continued to increase in each game, so if you’re counting on a Heat win tonight, it’s worth banking on better odds here against the spread with them also covering the miniscule points. Though a few games in this series have been close, don’t expect the margin to be within 3 points in this finale, as one team or the other should pull away with free throws in the final minute or seconds of play.
For the over/under, the total points line was broken easily in Game 4, and with both games going over the mark in the first two contests of this series at OKC, we’re pushing for the line to be broken through once again. The Thunder will be pushing hard to put up their big numbers on offense tonight, and the pace should be quickened as a result. With -110 odds for both sides of the over/under at 194 points, we definitely like a look at the over wager being the best option in a crucial Game 5 this evening.
Make sure to place your wagers on what could very well be the final game of the 2011-12 NBA season, get set for an exciting showdown tonight either way, and as always good luck when placing your wagers at one of the top reviewed online sportsbooks like the one at TopBet!