Last night’s stirring come-from-behind victory by the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder over the once-inevitable San Antonio Spurs in the NBA’s Western Conference finals was a thing of beauty. It was also further proof that a lockout-shortened and injury-riddled season has been saved in the end by the unexpectedly great match-ups among the last four teams standing. Tonight the Boston Celtics have a chance to finish off the formerly favored Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, an outcome that would not only produce an underdog sweep of both finals series, but would also thrill legions of LeBron James haters.
James, who famously gave up on the Cleveland Cavaliers…and who even more famously earned the enmity of fans everywhere outside of South Beach with his splashy announcement that he was forming a Dream Team in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh two years ago…may be the best player in the NBA. But its brightest star is the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, a lanky 23-year-old whose exuberance and guile and killer instincts on the court contrast with James’s grimness and frequent unwillingness to take the shot at the end to win a game. That Durant has accomplished so much in a market even smaller than Cleveland only adds to his luminescence.
The Celtics, having found some youthful spring in their steps up and down the court would make an entertaining opponent for Durant and company. The kids from Oklahoma will arrive in the finals with lightning in a bottle, and seeing them against Boston’s silverbacks could be electrifying, especially with the knowledge that Mr. James has to watch it all on TV. But if you like basketball more than schadenfreude…and maybe remember or have heard about the great match-ups of the past…we’re talking Larry vs. Magic in the Celtics/Lakers series of the mid-80s…then you might be pulling for the Heat to get past Boston.
Durant and James, mano-a-mano? Bring it.