Game 6 between the Spurs and the Thunder went to overtime, but the former ultimately prevailed with a 112-107 win, clinching the Western Conference title and forcing a rematch of the 2013 NBA finals – although this time the Spurs will hold home court advantage. The finals changes from a 2-3-2 format to a 2-2-1-1-1 format this year to mirror the earlier rounds of the playoffs and to tire out the media crews who will be on the charter flights back and forward from south Florida to central Texas should this series go past 4.
The Courtside Collective will be in attendance at most of the games in San Antonio (all, if my wife will let me), although my own prediction has San Antonio taking the series in game 6 in Miami – in a sense righting the wrong of last year when they really should have sealed the series until Ray Allen’s wonder shot (seriously, one of the all time greatest shots in any sport, I can’t emphasize that enough) brought the Heat back from the dead and put away the security cordon for another few hours.
These NBA finals will be noteworthy for being the first finals since 2011 not to feature the MVP. That season, Derrick Rose became the youngest ever MVP at the age of 22 as he led the Bulls to the NBA’s best record (62-20) but were beaten 4-1 in the Eastern Conference finals by the Miami Heat. This season, Kevin Durant was on the losing side in his conference finals. On both occasions, the MVP award was taken from two-time defending MVP LeBron James, in what you could argue is (and was) simply a case of voters getting tired of LeBron’s sustained excellence.
After Oklahoma lost in overtime to Memphis in game 5 of the first round (100-99), putting them on the brink of elimination, Durant was branded “Mr Unreliable” by the Oklahoman.
Durant responded with 36 points and 10 rebounds in a 20-point game 6 victory, before the Thunder won game 7 by 11, behind 33 points from Durant.
Durant is as popular a superstar as there is in the NBA. His MVP speech, linked here, was perhaps the least egotistical speech in NBA history.
But there comes a point when questions have to be asked about Durant and his ability to lead a team to a title. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016. Russell Westbrook becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Durant earns $17.8m this season, $19m next season and $20.1m the season after before he hits free agency. Westbrook is getting $14.7m this season, $15.7m next, then $16.7m and $17.8m for the remainder of his contract. Just for comparison, LeBron earns $19m this season, and his opt-in contract is for $20.6m next season and $22.1m the season after (although it’s almost certain he’ll opt out and sign for less money to facilitate another title push next season – at Miami or elsewhere).
LeBron James was, and continues to be, criticised for not winning a title in Cleveland. Who was his Russell Westbrook? Mo Williams? Larry Hughes? Who was his Serge Ibaka? Drew Gooden?
(Interesting side note: the season the Cavs made it to the NBA finals – 2007-2008 – their salary list looked like this: Larry Hughes $13.3m; Zydrunas Ilgauskas $9.4m; Drew Gooden $6.6m; Eric Snow $6m; LeBron James $5.8m).
LeBron was 24 the season he led the Cavs to the NBA finals. Durant is 25. True, LeBron had played more seasons at that age, by virtue of being older and having been able to skip the solitary year in college that NBA rules forced Durant into, and it’s also true that Durant led the Thunder to the finals much quicker than LeBron was able to lead the Cavs there.
One interesting thing about Durant’s MVP speech is just how deferential he was. He thanked so many people – emphasizing what a nice dude he really is – but the way that he thanked some of them, Westbrook in particular, betrayed the fact that he is simply not assertive enough. He is better than Westbrook. There is nobody on the face of this earth (aside from an ESPN talking head, perhaps) who would argue otherwise. He is capable of making shots that nobody else on the planet – LeBron included – could make, but there is something about the mix in Oklahoma, alluded to by Bill Simmons in this article on Grantland, that just does not scream “title”. What is clear is that Durant deeply loves his team-mates. Perhaps that will ultimately be what costs him.
TCC will be reporting live from the 2014 NBA finals, follow us on Facebook and twitter: @courtsideco and @sandersandrew
The schedule, from nba.com is copied below (you don’t need to worry about the network, obviously):
Game 1 – Thu, June 5, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 – Sun, June 8, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 3 – Tue, June 10, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 4 – Thu, June 12, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5 * Sun, June 15, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 6 * Tue, June 17, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 7 * Fri, June 20, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC