SALT LAKE CITY — If the NBA really does manipulate which teams play for the title, it certainly has me hooked.
Miami vs. Oklahoma City?
There hasn't been a better paring since Bogie and Bacall.
Last time I was this focused on the league's showcase event, I was covering a Jazz team that was bent on upsetting the Chicago Bulls. But that never happened, and afterward I sort of checked out. It's not that I was a Jazz fan per se; I was a journalist. It's just that since I didn't have to work the Finals, I didn't necessarily want to watch them.
Thanks to the miracle of high definition, I'm back, mentally if not physically. I was sitting in the best seat in the house for Tuesday's 105-94 Thunder win — on my couch.
I won't say I ignored all the NBA Finals since the Jazz were there in 1997 and 1998, but I'm definitely more interested. As a certain wise, wordy coach might say, I'm fully invested.
Because there's finally an NBA Finals featuring the best players and best athletes. That doesn't happen every year. It certainly didn't occur in any of those seasons the Spurs won the championship. I know purists will claim there's nothing better than seeing Tim Duncan working the angles, banking the ball off the glass, but let's be frank: It's about as interesting as watching him trim his beard.
So here comes Game 2 on Thursday: 'Bron, Bosch, D-Wade, Durant, Westbrook. And of course, there's that guy with the beard. (Watch out, they could lose the basketball in there.) To break it down further, you have the game's two finest players, often guarding one another: Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Miami's LeBron James, who scored 36 and 30, respectively, on Tuesday. One of them is a three-time MVP, the other a three-time scoring champ, both of them full-time alpha dogs.
Look out, Bird/Magic. These guys could be crashing your party one day.
Talent is a highly subjective thing. If you love the Spurs, you probably think Tony Parker is a transcendent talent. I think he's just a very good player who has learned every clever trick. But put him in a closed space with Russell Westbrook and he'll likely lose a limb.
Basketball fans should be watching this series for the very reason people loved the NBA (and ABA) in the first place: At its best, it includes shrieking dunks, sailing 3s, standing o's. In Tuesday's opener, there was all that, plus Westbrook getting 27 points and 11 assists. Oh, and guest appearances by players such as Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Nick Collison.
As the commercials say, it gave us what we wanted, when we wanted it.
It's been awhile since this sort of mega-pairing took place. Dallas-Miami last year wasn't even close. Any team that plays 98-year-old Jason Kidd the second-most minutes isn't going down as an all-timer. What about the 2008 and 2010 L.A.-Boston series? Even back then, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were getting a little long in the tooth. Although Bryant might have been the game's best player in '08, none of Boston's players were close.
At any rate, last time I paid this much attention to the Finals was when the Jazz were at their best. Yet even then, they weren't terribly innersting, as Jerry Sloan would put it. Too methodical. Too earthbound. Coaches might love that stuff, but I want my movies action-oriented, my books fast-developing and my basketball over the speed limit.
You'd have to go back to the 1996 Finals to find a series in which the best talent was all there. Chicago won 72 games that year, Seattle 64. The Finals featured Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen vs. Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. No. 1 vs. No. 1-A.
So if you want to reach me in the next two weeks, make sure it isn't during one of the games, because I won't be answering. I'll be hunkered in front of the TV, remote on my right, Slurpee on my left. I might even watch all the commercials.
For something this good, even the timeouts should be great.
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