2012 NBA Finals: Game 5 Preview

There is no secret the Oklahoma City Thunder have their backs against the wall down 3-1 to the Miami Heat. They have competed every step of the way, but find it very difficult to stop LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and company. Do I think it’s over?? No I don’t, there are things that the Oklahoma City Thunder can do to change things up and make it difficult on the Heat and I will discuss them right now. Some of the items may be out of the box, but most are simple changes.

Take Russell Westbrook off the Ball
Westbrook isn’t a point guard today, he wasn’t one yesterday, and may never be one and that’s ok. Westbrook is a dynamic athlete that can score points by using his strength and athletic abilities to create opportunities. He shouldn’t have the ball in his hands because it takes the flow out of the offense and leaves the Thunder with a lot of under 10 second decisions to be made. Kevin Durant is the best scorer in this series and needs the ball in his hands. Having a score first guard dominate the ball and then try to get into something is very hard even for them. The best playmaker in the roster is James Harden. I know he’s a shooting guard and has a great flow coming off of the bench, but you need someone that can make plays for others running the point. If Eric Maynor was healthy I would say put him on the ball and keep Harden off the bench, but with Maynor out, Harden would do a very good job getting the ball to both Westbrook and Durant as well as being an extra scorer in the game. What about Sefolosha you ask? Keep him in the starting lineup and go small with Durant at the 4 and Serge Ibaka in the starting lineup. Having Westbrook at the point has its advantages as far as a guy who can change the game, but he shoots them out of games too much especially in the half court variety.

Change the lineup
Go small, with Harden, Westbrook, Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka. Miami has made a living going small on them all series and this is where it needs to go. Take advantage of their young legs, fire power and ability to switch on almost every pick and roll combination. Perkins doesn’t fit for this matchup. If you are facing Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, or Roy Hibbert that is one thing, but you are facing a light center in Bosh. Serge Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the league and constantly protects the rim with his shot blocking and mobility. By starting two big men they are slow and bulky. Offensively Perkins doesn’t give you any advantages besides for deep post touches and his lack of athletic ability makes it tough for him to consistently finish and be a factor. A smaller more hybrid lineup will make them faster, allow them to matchup better with Miami’s smaller lineup, and give them more fire power. With Harden starting at point guard it takes scoring from their bench, but they are young and can handle the overload of minutes. Their backs are against the wall. Nick Collison needs to come off the bench and they need to bury Perkins, again it’s not anything against Perkins personally just a bad match up for him. This will also enable them to play Daequan Cook more coming off of the bench. Cook can spread the floor with his shot making ability. He’s been buried n this series but can provide a spark off the bench as well as Derek Fisher. Fisher can provide backup minutes at the point and then you can put Harden back at the shooting guard spot, take Westbrook out and then go back to Westbrook at the point guard spot for limited minutes. A lineup shake up will be the big key in changing this series.

Change the way you use Kevin Durant on Offense
Right now he’s primarily getting used in isolations and post ups. This makes it easy for LeBron James and the Heat to load up and guard him. Run him off multiple screens and force LeBron to move on defense to tire out. If they over play Durant on pin downs then they can roll their big men like the Bulls do with Kyle Korver or how the Celtics use Ray Allen. Kevin Durant isn’t a great isolation player. He’s a shot-maker with the ability to go off of the dribble. You need to force LeBron to work on defense as well as the Heat. You can just give Durant the ball 30 feet and expect him to perform consistently against this Heat defense and one of the most dynamic athletes ever to play pro sports in LeBron. Take Durant off of the ball and run plays away from him and then send him into it late to force Miami to over rotate. This scheme will work well and open up opportunities to manufacture points in other ways.

Utilize their big men
I know that none of the Thunder big men are scorers on the block and that’s fine. But they need to have more of a roll in the Thunder offense. Put them in pick and rolls and have them roll to the rim. Run dribble hand offs and roll them off of them this way it forces Heat defenders to have to rotate off their men on the weak side as well as strong side to bump their big men. They need to score more than 20 points in every game to put pressure on the Heat defense. It can’t just come from isolations on the wing, transition, and jump shots. Again, it is understood that the only way they can score right now is Ibaka jumpers, Collison energy, and Perkins putbacks/deep post touches. But no one will really respect them and foul to send them to the line. This will increase their easy points as well as force the Heat to foul early putting them in the bonus at 7 minute marks or so in the quarter giving them the opportunity to go to the free throw line.

Play more zone
You are playing a team with limited shot making that have two players that can slash your defense to pieces on penetration in James and Wade. Force them to pass the ball and close the driving lanes. This will take away dribble penetration and force them to take perimeter jumpers. We all know what happened in game 1 when James and Wade tried to take a majority of long jump shots. Playing man to man opens up driving lanes even when they shrink the floor. I would sit back in an active zone and make them shoot tough jump shots.

I still think the Thunder have a chance, but they will need to change their game a little bit and come up with something that catches the Heat off guard. It is an uphill battle for sure. None of what I wrote today is anything against Coach Scott Brooks ort his staff in any way. As a coach you have observations and wanted to share them with my viewers and other basketball people. Please email me at info@hoopconsultants.com or tweet us at @hoopconsultants with your thoughts on this post.

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