With all respect to Mike Bibby and Brian Cardinal, the Rock and Usher, they will determine very little in the 2011 NBA Finals.
It’ll come down to the usual suspects, and their battles within themselves and with each other. Here are five of the most compelling storylines that’ll be anything but suspect in their impact.
*** *** ***
LeBron vs. the 4th Quarter
Remember back when everyone said LeBron couldn’t finish? Couldn’t make the last shot? Couldn’t be the next Kobe, let alone MJ? What was that like four weeks ago? Yeah, he shut everyone up with the way he killed Boston for good and then shouted gimme that at an unsuspecting Derrick Rose holding his Larry O’Brien.
It’s good to be LeBron James. But if he screws up the Finals, we’ll again resort to the same headlines for another 12 months. It’s downright stupid how much emphasis is placed on one series. But that’s the way it is. If James falls apart in the fourth quarter, Dan Gilbert gets to laugh that sinister laugh and throw his scratched-up LBJ bobblehead around the room some more.
Fourth quarter. Tie game. It’ll be LeBron’s ball. LeBron’s choice. LeBron’s world. There are a lot of players in this series who will deal with pressure. What will you do to help us win? But that’s all elementary. For LeBron, it’s more. What can you do about a legacy?
Rick Carlisle vs. Erik Spoelstra
One guy looks like a balding, whitening version of Jim Carrey. The other looks a little like Kumar. But for the next two weeks, they’ll be locked in a tussle together, a journey with their personal struggle at the very center. And we ain’t talking about a search for weed. How will Spoelstra respond to the scrutiny of the Finals? This season was one of the most overlooked coaching seasons in NBA history. For someone of his caliber to coax the best from three All-NBA players while under ball-shrinking pressure is beyond amazing. It’s almost unprecedented. But the Finals is a different beast. How will Carlisle unleash his vaunted small lineup? Who will Spoelstra stick on Dirk? Who will be reacting? Who will be attacking?
There are so many questions to ask, and these coaches have to solve them all in the next two weeks. Legacies rest at their feet…yeah not too much pressure. Carlisle looks like he could be Spoelstra’s father. By the end of this series, we’ll see who daddy is.
Shawn Marion vs. Chris Bosh
No, they probably won’t match up too often. Marion will have his hands full checking LeBron while CB will be counted on against Nowitzki or Dallas’ centers. But they are the x-factors, the two forwards who could significantly tilt the series in their respective team’s directions. Bosh’s takeover in the Eastern Conference Finals – 23.2 points on 60 percent shooting – was the difference. Nevermind LeBron’s late-game theatrics or Chicago’s overreliance on one Rose, it was Bosh finally standing up to his criticisms and overcoming them that ultimately won it for Miami.
Marion reloaded the Matrix in the Western Conference Finals, putting together a replica of the versatility that used to make Steve Nash look so good.
As the third offensive options, each game will swing with their pendulum. If Bosh plays big, Miami is in the driver’s seat. If Marion goes wild, Dallas has it. Neither is at the center of the firestorm, but they must make the most of their opportunities. Finally, their defense on LeBron and Dirk is pivotal.
Dallas on the road vs. Miami at home
Interestingly, Dallas hasn’t lost on the road since the game that was supposed to ruin them, the 23-point meltdown in Portland over two months ago. Miami hasn’t lost at home with their trio of monsters in the lineup since March 16. It’ll come down to these first two games. The Mavs have to win one. MUST win one. No exclamation mark can accentuate that any further. If they fail to end that South Beach win streak, it’ll be all over. The Heat at home are like a pack of wolves, seeking and destroying, tearing apart opponents with crafted pre-attack strategy followed by vicious death blows.
Throughout the playoffs, no one has been as efficient on the road as Dallas. Their antennas must be all the way turned up starting tonight.
Desire vs. Pressure
There’s a fine line that ballplayers fight with all the time. When you get to a championship stage, it’s so easy to go overboard, start forcing shots and playing with a reckless abandon that ends up swallowing your energy and creating more problems than solutions. Balancing that urge can be the difference between Reggie Miller and Nick Anderson. Dallas might be here for the last time. They might not admit it, but it’s on their minds. That’s pressure…to live before you die.
Miami withstood a hurricane of hate to make it to this point. LeBron put his name on the line with future promises of championships. This is their first chance. They’ll be excited, and they’ll be ready to jump through the roof. The “want” is there. Now can they control it? Will the moment be too huge? The pressure on LeBron is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
Who will walk that tightrope between using pressure and fighting it? Who will bake their desire up and use it to fuel smart basketball rather than energy? That’ll be the difference in a game of small bounces and big consequences.
What is your most compelling storyline?
Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.