Finals matchup a dream for NBA, fans
Give the People What They Want was the title of a 1981 Kinks album. It's also what the NBA has delivered for the Finals.
All season, the June pairing fans have wanted to see has been Oklahoma City against Miami. The Thunder have young stars and the Heat have more established ones.
Both teams play an exciting brand of ball. And there is the continuing quest of Miami forward LeBron James trying to win his first title while this time going against Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant, attempting to end King James' reign as the best player in the game.
"Everybody was waiting," Thunder forward Serge Ibaka said of the anticipation having led up to Tuesday's Game 1 in Oklahoma City. "Everybody was saying the Finals should be Miami and OKC. And now we're here."
It all starts with stars, and each team has a trio. James is joined by guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh. Durant has sidekicks in guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
All six of those players are among the 18 finalists for Team USA. It's not out of the question half this summer's Olympic team will have played in these Finals.
"It's good for the fans and it's good for basketball," Heat swingman James Jones said of the star power on hand. "I expect it to be a very good series. I expect it to captivate basketball fans around the globe."
That wouldn't have been the case had ratings-killing San Antonio advanced to the Finals in an attempt to win a fifth title in 14 years. But the Thunder won the final four games of the Western Conference finals to oust the Spurs 4-2.
And while Boston made a gallant run before losing 4-3 to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, the aging Celtics would have had circles run around them by the athletic Thunder. So the Heat should give the Oklahoma City upstarts a much better series.
"That's a good team," Westbrook said. "It's their second year in a row in the Finals. It should be a good series… If I was a fan, yeah (this is the most desired Finals pairing)."
It's hard to complain about a Finals featuring the MVP in James and runner-up in Durant. It's the first time the two two finishers for the award have met in the Finals since MVP Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls beat runner-up Karl Malone's Utah Jazz in 1998.
Durant led the NBA in scoring during the regular season with a 28.0 average. James was third at 27.1.
Making the battle between the two small forwards even more compelling is they are good buddies. Before there was a settlement to the NBA lockout, the two worked out together last fall in James' hometown of Akron, Ohio.
"I envisioned it every day we worked out," James said about the possibility his Heat and Durant's Thunder would see each other in June. "I understood what his passion was. I understood what his drive was. We pushed each other every single day. That four-day span, we called it hell week,"
It really might be hell week for James later this month if he again comes away without a title. This is the nine-year veteran's third trip to the Finals, having lost 4-0 with Cleveland to San Antonio in 2007 and falling 4-2 with the Heat last year to Dallas.
To win his first title, James will have to do it without home-court advantage. Both teams are No. 2 seeds, but the Thunder had a 47-19 regular-season record to 46-20 for Miami.
So the Heat will have to win in Oklahoma City at least once in order to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy. At 8-0, the Thunder is the NBA's only remaining undefeated team at home this postseason.
The teams split their two games during the regular season, with Oklahoma City winning 103-87 at home March 25 and Miami victorious 98-93 at home April 4. The Thunder have more depth but the Heat have more experience.
"I think it is our year," said Heat guard Mario Chalmers, confident his team will win.
The Thunder faithful obviously feels differently. Regarded by many as the loudest fans in the NBA, 18,000-plus will be out in full force Tuesday.
The cheapest seat being offered Sunday on Stubhub.com for Game 1 was for $300. And $300 is a lot more in Oklahoma City than in most places.
Then again, a spectacle of this nature never has come to Oklahoma. It's the match-up the people want.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson