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1. The potential, inevitable, blowout
NBA orthodox demands a blowout, at some point, in a seven-game series. Even if the thing goes just five games, and no matter how equally paired the teams are, you have to get a blowout tossed in there, righto? Because five close games, games that could have gone either way down to the final minutes even if there weren't any chilling game-winning shots to reflect upon, that just doesn't happen.
There should be a blowout in Game 5. Everything points to it. The Heat get fat and sassy, and can't beat a great team four times in a row, or the Thunder come out dispirited with their backs against the wall and watch as the Heat roll right over them. That's what's supposed to happen.
It might not happen, though. Nothing in this series has gone according to plan, or orthodoxy, so even if we're sticking with the return to the mean and what we've witnessed for years in these Finals, why expect anything now? As it is with anything in this year's Finals, in game or out, you have to think on your feet and appreciate just one play at a time. Because the 2012 NBA Finals haven't taught us anything save for the fact that the typical storylines just aren't going to show up, this time around. And that the Thunder and Heat are two very, very good and championship-worthy basketball teams.
Even if one of them loses in five games. Even if, days from now, we watch another one give up a 3-1 series lead and fall short again. Remember the place we're in now, heading into Game 5.
2. Chris Bosh, rolling instead of popping
With LeBron James on the bench in the final minutes of Game 4, suffering through debilitating cramps, the Miami Heat went to a series of screen and roll plays featuring Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. And, unlike what we've seen from Bosh throughout the postseason, the big forward actually rolled to the front of the rim instead of popping backward to take his (admittedly, quite dangerous and potent; whether on a shot or drive) spot up position on the perimeter. Though the Heat didn't score much off of the play, it completely shook the OKC defense, and created all sorts of fantastic spacing and Thunder worry.
We're not going to tell you that this was some instance of Chris Bosh manning up or "finally" playing like a tough dude, because that would be daft. Although, along those lines, he did struggle to finish on the play while still working through that abdominal strain. Still, it's good to see the Heat take a page out of Boston's playbook, on a play they once ran incessantly for Paul Pierce and now (to a lesser extent, with more misdirection) run for Kevin Garnett.
If re-applied in Game 5, it can do some nasty stuff to the Thunder D. Heads up, OKC. Because you know Chris' is.
3. Oklahoma City, zone busting; not busting out the zone
Of course, you can't easily run a pick and roll against a zone defense, not with all those extended arms and decreased emphasis on staying with a particular player. Don't expect nor ask the Thunder to run more zone, defensively, in Game 5. The team isn't all that great at it, I can't recall the last time I saw them work a zone in 2011-12, and the Heat employ a very underrated zone-busting offense.
No, what we're more concerned with is Oklahoma City's work in transition. Even off of missed shots or turnovers, the team has had significant troubles working against Miami's zone-ish transition defense, as the Heat have done a fantastic job of both getting back on D and sending various defenders early as a shot goes up to deny the defensive rebound and run out for the Thunder.
The Thunder, through better decision making or straight-up shot making, have to improve here. The "easy" points have to return, because there needs to be some payoff for working that well defensively.
4. LeBron James in the post
When you start a possession from the post, you have already accomplished what dribble-dribble-dribble guards are attempting to do and often failing to accomplish — getting to a spot to make a decision some 14 or so feet from the hoop. Put the ball in the hands of one of the better passers in the NBA, working with size over an opponent and the strength to just about get what he wants? It's just about unstoppable. It's LeBron James in the post, and it's something we've been begging for since the time when your tax dollars actually went to fund Donald Rumsfeld's salary.
It's too destructive a force for Miami to go away from it, again, returning to that isolation play that destroyed James' time in Cleveland and handed the 2011 NBA title to the Dallas Mavericks. Going back to that attack will come down to James' mindset in Game 5, and considering his increase in pointed aggression during this postseason, one has to expect we'll see plenty of it all over again. Sweet.
Not so much for the Thunder, who have to prepare for this reality without letting James use OKC's aggression against itself. The team has to swarm, but smartly, because James would have no qualms finishing with 18 assists and half as many shots if it means his first championship. The Thunder have to front on defense, clearly, and they have to minimize the amount of possessions that result in James Harden attempting to check LeBron in any capacity.
5. The fallout
Whatever happens on Thursday, we need to take a measured and steadied approach to a Finals that has been decided by the slightest of alterations throughout. Even if this ends in just five games, this has been a classic series that has featured clear and systematic growth from two of the most intriguing outfits we've seen in this generation. There have been missteps — LeBron in Game 1, Russell Westbrook's boner in Game 4 — and we've been able to pick apart just how and why the Thunder have lost the three games they have thus far, and why Miami lost Game 1.
That's what you do, when things go correct 95 percent of the time. You pay attention to the five percent, and attempt to dismantle it. This doesn't mean we're being overly negative, it just means we assume you're going to be sick of all the fawning.
So let's continue to fawn after Game 5, and act aware of the series as a whole and not a set of numbers that results. Because if this series continues at its current pace, it would be no great shame if the Heat take it in five games, or if the Thunder roar back to take it in seven contests. Because, at this pace, it would only mean a certain team won a few more coin flip games over a five-to-seven game span.
Once again, lucky us.
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