The Heat finished off the Celtics to set up what should be a pretty entertaining NBA Finals against the Thunder. Let’s take a quick walk back through the playoffs and head towards my pick for the series.
The Heat started with a five game win over the Knicks. While the Knicks, as usual (or usual for any time they manage to be somewhat good), were something of a trendy upset pick, they weren’t actually in the same neighborhood as the Heat. The Heat won their first game by 33 and the other three by 10, 17, and 12 while the Knicks won their one game by two points.
After that the Heat faced a pretty game Pacers squad that seemed intent on making things physical. The Pacers did win two in a row, one in Miami and one by about 20 points in Indiana, but the Pacers also are not quite top-of-the-league talent. They also had an advantage when Chris Bosh was injured partway through the first game of the series and the Heat had to make adjustments. But the Heat still got their four wins by 8, 9, 32, and 12.
Finally, the Heat just beat the Celtics. The Celtics were in rare form, with Garnett playing like it was the 90s and Rondo averaging a pretty ridiculous 21-7-11 for the series. Things looked bleak for the Heat after the Celtics won three games in a row, including Bosh’s return for about a half game, but the Heat won the last two games to take the series. Two games went to overtime, with the Celtics taking one by a basket and the Heat winning the other by four. The Celtics won their other two games by 10 and 4 while the Heat won their games by 10, 13, and 14. So overall the Heat are 12-6 in the playoffs, broken down into 8-2 at home and 4-4 on the road. Their wins are by an average of 14.5 points while their losses have been by 6.7 points on average for an overall point differential of 7.4. That’s fairly impressive given that their season differential was 6 and playoff competition is tougher in general. And a number you will undoubtedly see a few times between now and tomorrow night is that the Heat are 7-2 in the playoffs when Chris Bosh gets on the court.
The OK City Thunder started their playoff run by sweeping the Dallas Mavericks. While the Mavericks have championship experience, they were not especially good this year. The Thunder won their games by 1, 3, 16, and 6, seeming getting better as the series went on.
The Thunder then took on the Lakers, another team with a championship pedigree. They also have, like, the best player in the universe, Kobe Bryant. Somehow the Lakers still lost in 5 games; perhaps because they weren’t that great this year. The Lakers won a game by 3, but the Thunder won by 19, 2, 3, and 16.
Finally, the Thunder beat the Spurs. This was something of an upset as I’ve mentioned before. As my ESPN app is fond of telling me, the Spurs are the first team in NBA history to follow a 20 game win streak with a four game losing streak. The Spurs took the first two games in San Antonio by 3 and 9, then the Thunders rattled off wins by 20, 6, 5, and 8. So overall the Thunder are 12-3 in the playoffs with an average win of 8.75 points compared to an average loss of 5. That’s an overall differential of 6, or just under their regular season differential of 6.1.
So now we get to the Finals. The Heat have taken a couple more games to get here than the Thunder. The Thunder have the slightest edge in regular season point differential while the Heat have a better differential in the playoffs despite missing one of their big three for a few games. The Thunder have probably had the harder road in the playoffs, and they have home court. The Thunder have the best offensive rating in the playoffs, four points higher than the number three Heat, while the Heat’s defensive rating is nearly six points better. The regular season numbers give the Thunder a 3 point edge offensively while the Heat get those points right back on defense. In short, both teams have things going for them. I expect the series to be fairly close and pretty entertaining. But in the end I give the Thunder the edge. I think they’re a tiny bit better and, perhaps more importantly, they have home court. Personally, for some reason, I find myself hoping the Heat win. But the model says the Thunder take it 61% of the time, winning in six games.