Miami wins series 4-1
|Game 1: Tuesday, June 12th|
|Recap »Boxscore »|
|Game 2: Thursday, June 14th|
|Recap »Boxscore »|
|Game 3: Sunday, June 17th|
|Recap »Boxscore »|
|Game 4: Tuesday, June 19th|
|Recap »Boxscore »|
|Game 5: Thursday, June 21st|
|Recap »Boxscore »|
9:00 PM ET, June 12, 2012
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Either could make a case as the best player in the NBA.
Neither is interested in anything beyond team accomplishments.
One of them is about to get the only crown he craves, their head-to-head duel the leading story line of the NBA finals that begin Tuesday night when Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder host James and the Miami Heat.
"I think it's going to be a great matchup," Miami's Dwyane Wade said Monday. "I think it's going to be two players that's going to be tough to guard each other, that's going to have to guard each other."
Both insist the series is more than an individual matchup and the All-Star talent around them supports the claim. But the focus will be on James, the three-time MVP in his third shot at a championship, and Durant, the three-time scoring champion who is playing for his first at age 23.
"Everybody is going to make the most out of the matchup of me versus LeBron, but it's the Thunder versus the Heat," Durant said. "One guy versus another guy, it's not going to be a 1-on-1 matchup to win the series, it's going to be all about the team."
They are friends and workout partners, play the same small forward position and are blessed with unlimited basketball talent. After years of waiting on a James-Kobe Bryant finals matchup that never materialized, the league gets one that's perhaps even better, if not quite as sexy, to wrap up a successful season after the lockout.
"It's great for the NBA," Miami's Shane Battier said. "I anticipate record ratings, which is great, so maybe we can get some of the escrow check back from the owners. First and foremost, that's why I'm excited to see Kevin Durant versus LeBron James. But selfish reasons aside, it's just a great matchup.
"There's so many young, great players in this league and established players and All-Stars. If you're a basketball fan, you're missing out if you're not watching this series."
Both have sworn off Twitter, at least for the time being, James posted his last message on April 27 and Durant on May 1.
For now, KingJames and KDTrey5 will stick to making their statements on the court.
"Kevin is locked in on what he needs to do to help the team win," Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook said. "It's going to be a great series for both teams and hopefully we can come out with the win."
James is back for a third crack at his first championship, his Cleveland Cavaliers swept aside by San Antonio in 2007 just a couple of weeks before Durant was drafted by the then-Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick in the draft.
James fell short again last year in his first season with Miami, then carried the Heat to another chance with victories in the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, starting with a sensational, 45-point, 15-rebound Game 6 performance in Boston.
"You know, third time in the finals in nine years, there's a lot of guys who don't get there once," Wade said. "Of course, that right there in itself is an honor. But you want to win one. You want to get there and win one. Obviously, LeBron wants to win a championship. I can't say that he wants to win more than the next man, than anybody on OKC. I can't say that. But obviously he wants to win and get another opportunity. I'm sure he will try to seize it a little bit better than he did the first two times."
A disappointment last year in the Heat's six-game loss to Dallas, James has said he's been in a better frame of mind this season and is looking forward making up for his previous failure.
"I didn't play well. I didn't make enough game-changing plays that I know I'm capable of making and I felt like I let my teammates down," he said.
"I'm happy and I'm humbled that I can actually be back in this position less than 12 months later to do a better job of making more plays, more game-changing plays out on the floor on a bigger stage. So we'll see what happens."
Though their core of Durant, Westbrook, sixth man of the year James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all 23 or younger, the Thunder enter as the favorites in their first finals appearance since moving to Oklahoma City from Seattle in 2008.
With signs backing the Thunder hanging from buildings throughout the city, Oklahoma City has watched Durant grow up from the player who arrived here as the rookie of the year. He received some guidance along the way from James, who reached out to him as a high school and then invited him to his home in Akron, Ohio, to work out last summer.
"For me, I understood what the situation he was getting himself into being drafted as high he was, and the things that came with being drafted to a team that needed a marquee player or superstar," James said. "You know, from Day One I always lent my hand out to guide him if he needed it through anything, and that's on and off the floor, because to that point I seen everything, and I'm still learning but I've seen everyone on and off the floor.
"Our relationship is really good. Our relationship is going to continue to grow and I'm happy to be in this position where I can compete against him."
Only one can be considered the best player in the game, and it's probably the guy who walks out of this series as a champion.
"I think it's going to bring the best out of both of them, and it's going to be the best for the game," Wade said, "and it's going to be a great show."
Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney
Team Stat Leaders
The Thunder are shooting 41.6 percent from 15+ feet in the 2012 playoffs, up from 39.0 percent during the regular season. Oklahoma City's shooting percentage from 15+ feet is the highest in the postseason for any team entering the NBA Finals since the 1997-98 season (Utah Jazz, 44.3 percent).[+]
Highest FG Percentage from 15+ Feet
Dwyane Wade is shooting a career-low 28.9 percent from 15+ feet this postseason. Wade shot 26.5 percent from 15+ feet against Boston, third lowest of any player with at least three attempts per game in the Conference Finals. When the Heat won the title in 2006, Wade shot a career-high 45.3 percent from 15+ feet during the postseason, including 50.0 percent in the NBA Finals.[+]
Lowest Shooting Percentage from 15+ Feet
The Thunder have outscored opponents by 116 points with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden on the court together during this postseason. They are -16 when the Big 3 is not playing together. Offense has been the key. With Durant, Harden and Westbrook on the floor together, Oklahoma City averages 2.4 points per minute, the most by any three-player combination.[+]
Thunder with Durant, Harden, Westbrook on Court
Facing elimination, LeBron James attacked the Celtics' defense in Games 6-7. In those two games, James matched his teammates' production inside the restricted area and outscored them in transition. James also drew 20 of the 43 fouls that the Celtics committed. The Heat are 6-0 in the playoffs during the last two seasons when James draws 10 or more fouls.[+]
All eyes will be on LeBron this series. For his postseason career, James has dominated in the first 3 rounds, averaging 29.4 points. But in ten career NBA Finals games, he's putting up just 19.5 points while shooting 41.7 percent from the field. Perhaps it's due to a lack of aggressiveness, he's drawing just 4.9 fouls per game.[+]
Fire And Ice - Postseason Career
LeBron James and Kevin Durant both rank in the top five in career playoff points per game. In 38 playoff games, Durant has put up 27.7 points per game, which is the highest among any player prior to turning 24 years old. James, meanwhile, has averaged 28.5 points per game in 110 career postseason games.[+]
LeBron James is averaging 9.9 points per game less in the NBA Finals than in all other rounds of the postseason. His decline in scoring is due in part to his inability to get "easy points." James' production in the paint, in transition and at the free throw line has declined during the Finals.[+]
How did LeBron get the Heat here? With a little help from his friends. James put up 31 points in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics and his teammates supported him with 70 points, going 27-49 from the field.[+]
LeBron James' Teammates, Career In Game 7s
From Elias: Among all of the great players throughout the course of NBA history that have won an MVP award, LeBron James ranks fifth in terms of playoff win percentage (minimum 50 playoff games). Now he'll be looking to cash in on a championship - the four players ahead of him have a combined 28 titles.[+]
ESPN Stats & Information