Fourth and Long

Published 11:24 am Wednesday, June 6, 2012

If you haven’t been paying attention to the NBA playoffs then you have been missing something special.

I have chronicled the path to the eastern and western conference finals for some time now, but even I have to admit that I didn’t quite see it going like this.

While I thought that Boston and Miami would eventually meet in the east I would not have guessed that after five games that the Celtics would find themselves one win away from the NBA Finals.

The Heat won the first two games of the series and despite never really being in control of game two Miami appeared set to end the series in Boston.

The Celtics, however, had another plan entirely and have since won the last three games to take a one game advantage heading into game six Thursday night.

We all knew Miami would miss Chris Bosh, but I don’t think anyone expected that the Celtics would be able to take such advantage of his absence. The truth is, we all should have known. While both teams have a tremendous amount of talent there is no question as to which team has the better coaching.

Erik Spoelstra may be a nice guy and I don’t think he is a bad coach, however, he is outmatched against the more savvy and experienced Doc Rivers.

Rivers made great adjustments after being blown out in game one and despite losing game two we all should have seen how much more prepared Boston was to face Miami’s dual threat of Dwayne Wade and Lebron James.

I did not give Rivers and his team enough credit. The Celtics have shown a lot of pride over the last four games. Rajon Rondo has played with an energy and tenacity far surpassing anyone else on the court.

Kevin Garnett had focused on being a bigger defensive presence in the post while Pierce has found other ways to contribute despite not always finding his shot.

Combine that with solid bench play and it looks like Boston just might have what it takes to once again end Miami’s season and earn themselves a spot in the finals.

The Western Conference Finals has played out much like their eastern counterpart, with a few key exceptions.

Like the Miami Heat, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves one game from elimination despite winning the first two games of the series.

In this case, however it is the more experienced Spurs that find themselves reeling after losing three straight. Spurs coach Greg Popovich is one of the most underrated coaches in the game, Tim Duncan is one of the best to ever play it and Manu Ginobili is playing his best basketball in years, but the Spurs have found no answer for how to stop a young and confident Oklahoma City squad.

The Thunder’s trio of Kevin Durant, Michael Westbrook and James Harden has been tremendous, but it has been contributions from role players that I think has made the biggest difference.

Oklahoma City has is the number one scoring team in the league, but ranks near the bottom defensively. Shot blocking, or at least the threat of it from Serge Ibaka has made post scoring for the Spurs much more difficult. When San Antonio does miss Kendrick Perkins has done a god job of cleaning up glass and passing the ball up court to start transition offense.

If Oklahoma City gives half as much effort defensively as they do offensively then I would not at all be surprised to see them win tonight (Wednesday) and earn a chance to play for the franchise’s first NBA Championship.

Regardless of who plays in the NBA Finals it will be difficult to match the intensity and drama shown in the conference finals.


David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e- mail at