Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Five Reasons To Root For A Thunder/Celtics NBA Finals

If your team is still alive in the NBA playoffs, then a) bully for you and b) you're exempted from figuring out precisely which potential Finals match-up is most aesthetically appealing to you.  You want whatever opponent will be most advantageous for your team to face, and while that choice may be debatable from a tactical standpoint, that sentiment governs your wishlist for the last series of the season.  For the rest of us, I suspect what pairing we desire depends on exactly what type of NBA fans we are.  (Note: I am not endorsing or deriding any one of the first three philosophical outlooks presented here.)  In no particular hierarchical order:

Thunder/Heat.  If you love star power and welcome the potential for explosive lunacy running rampant, this is your series.  This is also they way to go for those who hope to witness the young, humble, "built-the-right basketball way-through-the-draft-and-smart-trades" kids from OKC smoke those egomaniacs from South Beach.

Spurs/Heat.  If you enjoy LeBron and D-Wade (and maybe if he's healthy Chirs Bosh) doing their thing in transition, hucking oops and rocking rims, you want this to go down.  San Antonio is still a formidable defensive team, but they're not the lockdown kings of Spurs iterations past.  The Heat would put on a show in the open floor.  Conversely, if the Spurs could knock off Miami via Tony Parker righting his personal ship and by unleashing a deep bench (who really need to start playing better if they want to even make the Finals), there will be a deal of jubilation from those who can't wait to point of how a sound team concept and superior coaching can trump supernova-bright stardom.

Spurs/Celtics: For the nostalgia set.  Veteran squads, last hurrahs, and the two best coaches left in the playoffs.  This would be the ultimate slow-to-a-crawl, defense-first showdown.  And the NBA Marketing Team's worst nightmare incarnate.

Undoubtedly, any of those matchups would provide plenty of compelling basketball, and a few additional story lines to those mentioned above would emerge as they do over a finals series.  But the most compelling possibility by far, in my humble opinion, is Thunder/Celtics.

This would be my preference for a number of reasons which I will now enumerate in depth. 

1. Perk.  When the C's traded Kendrick Perkins at the deadline two seasons ago, they could not possibly have foreseen Jeff Green's heart troubles or how badly they would miss his scowly interior presence, but suffice it to say the Thunder got the better of this trade by an Oklahoma farm-country mile.  The chance to go up against his old cronies, with the potential to wind up with more titles than at least three future Hall-of-Famers, might propel him to even more incredible heights than his 15-point, 9-rebound WCF Game 4.

2.  The Great PG Battle.  Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook are undeniably two of the best young point guards in the league, albeit in entirely different ways.  More than that, though, they are eerily reminiscent of one another in temperament.  In many respects, Westbrook is almost a reverberation of Rondo's past, an echo from four seasons ago being sonically re-imaged into the now, but slightly distorted from its original waveform.  Think about how we describe the Thunder's dynamo PG: Good kid, interesting skill set, but somewhat problematic.  Petulant, erratic, and unpredictable.  Inexplicably lapses into deep funks, but can also carry the team.  Not the best player on the floor, but the linchpin off of which everything else is keyed.  A study in contradictions, given to sullen fits and non-replicable displays of genius.  Isn't that essentially a carbon copy of our perceptions of Rondo a few years back?  This matchup would be utterly fascinating; watching Rondo stare down his own ghost would be a delight, and if that ghost can evolve along similar lines and up the ante, so much the better for the rest of us.  

3.  If the Thunder can advance past San Antonio, much will be made of the torch-passing, old-to-young theme.  If they can beat the Spurs and Celtics, they will have knocked off the winners of every Finals since 1998 save the '04 Pistons and '06 Heat ... in a single postseason run.  It's difficult to envision a more declarative way of announcing the league's New Undisputed Alpha Dogs.  They have to actually pull it off first, but still. 

4.  You want to watch Paul Pierce give Kevin Durant firsthand basketball lessons of slickest, super-craftiest variety, right?  Of course you do.  It'll be like Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh, only with the desire to hoist the Larry O'brien Trophy coming between them instead of a Poetry and English Composition professor.  "This is how you draw contact, Kevin.  Jot this down ..."

5.  The oldest franchise in the league against the youngest, and I don't mean the median age of their respective rosters.  I am literally talking about The Celtics, the winningest and most storied team in professional basketball history, playing opposite a team that essentially manifested overnight in a fly-over state because some wealthy people decided they didn't give a damn about the city of Seattle.  (You know, where Ray Allen used to play.)  Oklahoma City is still, collectively, a new-born, wide-eyed, punch-drunk basketball entity, from the ownership  to the players to Scott Brooks to the fans to the folks who work concessions at an arena the likes of which they probably never thought they'd see in their town.  Stepping into the NBA Finals for the first time against Boston, where they've bled hoops for generations compared to OKC's few seasons, will make for an interesting contrast. 

No matter what, we should soak up the basketball we have left before it goes away until November, but if the sports gods are feeling benevolent, I hope they grant this humble request: Thunder/Celtics Finals, seven games (pretty please), and all the drama and pyrotechnics we can stand.  It's not too much to ask, right?  Now, let us pray.

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