May 21, 2011, 11:00 AM EDT
What has made the Western Conference Finals so compelling, especially when compared to years past is the simple fact: we don’t know who’s going to win. In years prior, we flirted with the idea that San Antonio, Denver, or, sure, maybe Phoenix could knock off L.A. but in our heart of hearts we knew it was only a matter of time before the crushing weight of championship experience and unfathomable talent advantage overwhelmed the other team. It was a constant fight to see how far one team could push L.A., how lazy L.A. would be, thinking maybe the favorite could screw around long enough to allow the series to get away from them. But in reality, we were talking ourselves into those ideas, while knowing full well it was only a matter of time before the Lakers did what they do. Win.
But this series, with the Lakers at home wondering how it wall went wrong? This series is great sport, because the markets may not be as glorious and shiny, filled with as many bandwagon fans waving purple pom-poms, but it’s more competitive because we have no idea who’s going to win. And after two games, we still have no idea.
Yes, Oklahoma City took a game in Dallas, stealing homecourt from the Mavericks. But to do so, they needed their bench to produce half a hunny, and for James Harden to spontaneously transform himself into a slighter Scottie Pippen in his second year. Did we mention Jason Terry had to go frozen in the fourth quarter,where he usually dominates? Everything had to go right for Oklahoma City, and even then it was close down the stretch. So you could easily say the Mavericks let one get away and they’re still in the driver’s seat even with the loss at home…
Until you realize how much Dallas needed in Game 1. Oh, just the greatest shooting efficiency performance in NBA history. That’s all. Oh, and Russell Westbrook had to have a terrible game at the rim where he’s strongest, and even then it was a scrapper. Even Rick Carlisle admits the Mavericks needed a number of things to go their way just to stay 1-1. Oklahoma City has no reason to believe they’re not the ones in full control of this series.
Neither team knows entering Game 3 who’s the better squad. Dirk Nowitzki could pummel the Thunder with another all-world performance and no one would bat an eye. Russell Westbrook could respond to adversity by taking over and there would be no reason to be surprised. This series could go long or short, nothing would shock us, because we’re not aware of what we’re seeing. We’ll have to establish the narrative afterwards, which is the worst way to formulate such, but also the most fun. Because for the moment, we’re just seeing two phenomenal teams pummel each other offensively while the exact same happens in the East with defense.
Game 3 is always pivotal. But in a series where both teams are trying to make sense of who they are at this point and how far they can go, it’ll say more than usual. The Thunder crowd will be louder than ever, while Dallas will come out fully aware that a loss pushes them to the edge of the cliff. The Mavericks could heat back up from the perimeter, the Thunder could finally play some consistent defense. James Harden could play like an All-Star again or crash back to Earth. We’re just along for the ride, as two truly great teams battle it out to determine who’s driving this crazy ship.
In short, Game 3’s going to be fun. Don’t try and expect things. Just come along for the ride.
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