Photo: Getty Images/Ronald Martinez
How will Miami stop the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “unstoppable play?”
Those are the big story lines taking over the conversation as we get set for Game 1 Tuesday night.
But the biggest difference maker in this series will be Thunder forward-centre Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka has been mostly unheralded yet solid in these playoffs, averaging 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks per game.
More importantly, Ibaka’s huge presence as a great post and help defender means the Heat will have to seriously alter their offensive strategy.
This means LeBron’s post game and strong moves to the basket won’t be as much of a cake walk as usual. As the guys at Hoop Speak describe, Ibaka is the perfect physical specimen to defend LeBron even if it only takes place on planned defensive switches.
Dwyane Wade, who’s already struggling enough in these playoffs, won’t be able to get to the basket with much ease, either.
And those short jumpers Miami is so good at (40 per cent from 3-9 feet this season according to Hoopdata.com, good for ninth in the league) won’t be falling as regularly with Ibaka manning the paint. Opponents shot an abysmal 32.4 per cent on those close-range shots against the Thunder this season, per Hoopdata.com. Additionally, OKC was fifth in the league in field goal percentage against on shots right at the rim. (We should mention that Kendrick Perkins deserves some credit for this as well.)
Seeing as the Heat tend to struggle when they rely on their outside shooting to carry the load, scoring inside will the key to a Miami win.
What’s more, on the other end of the floor Ibaka has shown he can contribute when needed, having already gone for 20+ points on two occasions during these playoffs.
With the Heat defence having to focus so much on the likes of Durant, Westbrook and James Harden, Ibaka will find a lot of one-on-one matchups in his favour.
Chris Bosh can’t match him physically and Miami would rather he stay out of foul trouble. Udonis Haslem isn’t quick enough to keep up with Ibaka, nor does he have the length to keep him at bay in the post. And it’s not as if Joel Anthony, Juwan Howard or Dexter Pittman present great options either.
Basically, Serge Ibaka is getting little to no pub, but he could be the biggest reason why the juggernaut Heat’s season once again ends without a championship ring.
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