Perhaps the shortened regular season had something to do with it, but the NBA’s hierarchy of power officially shifted to the next generation of stars after the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs tussled in an epic Conference Championship round for the ages in 2012.
What began as a seemingly straight forward progression for the Spurs and Heat, each in command of 2-0 series leads, quickly twisted and escalated into a concise prologue of how Kevin Durant and LeBron James would claim ownership of the league.
The Spurs rode a freight-train 20-game winning streak to Oklahoma City and were promptly derailed by Durant’s gang in a stunning four-game counter-sweep.
Incredibly, by defeating the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs, the Thunder displaced the three previous Conference Champions to be the first team outside of that elite trio to represent the West in the Finals since 1998.
We witnessed the evolution of Durant, as he rapidly morphed from an already established superstar into the game’s predominant player, punctuated by a virtuoso performance to close-out Game 4 where he somehow produced 16 straight points down the stretch to level the series.
Remember Christopher Wesson Bosh?
The Heat coasted during the opening two games without Bosh, as the lifeless Celtics appeared out-matched, out-classed and ready to keel over.
A string of three wins placed the Heat firmly on the back foot, at times James and Dwyane Wade resembled Mikey from Swingers trying to understand how to kill a bunny with his claws and fangs.
However, with his back against the wall, James began to discover his inner apex-predator instincts behind a 45-point (19-of-26 shooting) outburst, before Bosh rediscovered his niche during a classic Game 7.
Garnett appeared to run out of NZT-48, as he and the veteran Celtics were left looking more like Grumpy Old Men destined to be disbanded.
With Rajon Rondo at the helm, the Celtics seemed disjointed at times and playing with two identities, one initiated by Rondo’s creative uptempo playmaking and another based on everybody else’s ability to adapt to their maestro’s style.
As for the Heat, their coach Erik Spoelstra is now clearly in a lose-lose situation, where he is instantly scapegoated as being out-coached when his team losses, but overlooked by the individual brilliance of the Big Three when they win.
Despite reaching the Finals for the second consecutive year, Spoelstra’s future could be determined by how his team fairs on the ultimate stage, and while a championship could save his job it won’t win him much of the credit already set aside for James and Wade.
The era that was once dominated by Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett is over, the league now belongs to Durant and James.
One of these guys is about to win their first championship at the expense of the other, but it won’t be last time the title will go through The Big Friendly or South Beach.
11 Junio 2012