Thunder eye revenge from Finals loss to Heat
MIAMI — Chris Bosh didn’t need a snooze button on his alarm clock in the summer of 2011.
When the buzzer sounded, Bosh was up. All he could think about were a bunch of guys in blue and white dancing around on his team’s court.
Bosh’s Miami Heat lost the 2011 NBA Finals 4-2 to the Dallas Mavericks. Making up for that spurred him on.
“Losing in the Finals, all I could think about was that,” said the big man. “That was my fuel. Every time I felt tired during the summer and I didn’t want to get any more shots up or run and sprint when I was sore, I would think of that moment and I would say, ‘One more.’ (The Mavericks) were our motivation… It gets you out of bed.”
So Bosh just might know how the Oklahoma City Thunder feel heading into Tuesday’s marquee Christmas Day game at AmericanAirlines Arena. It’s their first meeting this season with Miami, and it comes one year to the day in which the Heat got their first crack at the Mavericks after the devastating Finals loss.
That Christmas in Dallas had the Heat really salivating since, due to the NBA lockout, it was the regular-season opener. So the Heat had to be around for the Mavericks’ raising of their championship banner, and they responded with a resounding 105-94 win.
“It was a lot that was built up in that, knowing that we lost to them in the Finals and also coming off the lockout,” remembers Heat forward LeBron James. “Guys were excited and hungry.”
That’s usually how it is for a team that lost the Finals when it faces the victor the next season. And the Heat will be ready for that from the Thunder.
“I’m sure they’ll be motivated. I’m sure they still remember the sights and scenes of the 21st of June,” said Spoelstra, having no long problem recalling the exact date the Heat eliminated the Thunder.
Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant is trying to downplay the meeting, calling it “just another game on the schedule.” But nobody believes him, not even his coach.
“There’s no question that playing them for the first time, there’s something there,” said Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks. “There should be. They beat us and they took what we wanted to get. We wanted to win a championship.”
Brooks has been a part of one of these revenge games before, although he was on the other side. In 1993-94, Brooks was on a Rockets team that beat New York 4-3 for the NBA crown. The next season, the Knicks got some measure of revenge, winning resoundingly 93-77 at Houston in the first meeting.
Including that game, teams seeking revenge after a Finals loss have won 11 of the 18 initial games the next season. That includes six of the past seven.
In June 2007, James’ Cleveland Cavaliers had been swept in the Finals by San Antonio. The next season, even though the Cavaliers were en route to a 45-37 record and the Spurs to a 56-26 mark, Cleveland won 90-88 at San Antonio in the first meeting.
“I get amped to play against the best teams,” James said when reminded of that win.
It’s no surprise the team that lost the previous Finals often is more hungry. Just as that was the case with Miami last year against Dallas, it was with the Mavericks in 2006-07 against the Heat.
Dallas had suffered a devastating 4-2 Finals setback to Miami in June 2006. The Mavericks led 2-0 and were up by 13 points midway through the fourth quarter of Game 4 before falling apart.
When the teams first ran into each other the next season, the Mavericks were ready. They won 99-93 at Miami.
“Of course, you want to beat the team that beat you,” said Josh Howard, a forward on that Dallas team who was waived last week by Minnesota after suffering a torn ACL. “There are a lot of emotions running through you. We beat them. At least you get some kind of satisfaction at the end of the day.”
Rick Adelman felt the same way in 1989-90. Then coaching Portland, his Trail Blazers lost 4-1 to Detroit in the previous season’s Finals. But they got some revenge by winning 113-101 in the next meeting.
“It’s just natural,” said Adelman, now coaching Minnesota. “You might say it’s just another regular-season game, but your guys really get fired up. When you get beat by a team in the Finals, you remember that.”
The buildup actually begins when the schedule comes out about 1 ½ months after the Finals. When it was released in the summer of 2009, there was no question what forward Rashard Lewis, who was then with Orlando and is now with Miami, did.
“It’s the first game that you look for,” Lewis said about checking when the Magic would play the Lakers, who had just defeated them 4-1 in the Finals. “That’s the team that you want to beat. That’s the team that put you out.”
Lewis’ Magic lost their revenge game 98-92 to the Lakers on the road but did come back to beat them 96-94 later that season at home. Most interesting about that first game — and a sign of the lack of respect Orlando commanded — is it was played in January.
Big-time Finals rematches are usually reserved for one special day. So there was little suspense when the 2012-13 schedule came out.
“We all knew that it was going to be a Christmas game,” Miami guard Dwyane Wade said of Tuesday’s rematch.
At least there is one difference between the wait by the Thunder to get some revenge and the one Miami had last year. Because the Heat lost in the Finals on June 12, 2011, they had nine extra days to stew.