For now, whether the Heat or Oklahoma City will win this championship is still far less knowable (even Miami’s opening loss) than the fact the league and this sport already have won with this contrasting, exciting matchup and the two young superstars driving it, pedals down.
Beyond the civic disparity of Oklahoma’s prairies vs. the glitz of South Beach, the Thunder is organically grown, borne of the draft and homegrown development, vs. Miami’s spending hugely in free agency to add James and Bosh to Wade.
What sells the series nationally, though, is James vs. Durant. These two, on full display and at full speed, is the best advertisement this sport has had in a long time.
You can have Derrick Rose. Keep Dwight Howard. Thank Kobe Bryant for the memories. Give respect to this series’ secondary stars, Wade and Westbrook.
Then just sit back and enjoy as the two best basketball players on Earth, friends but not right now, spin their personal highlight reels while trying to carry their team as far as a team can possibly go.
Give Game 1 to Durant over James, though narrowly. It was Durant who came on late, with a 23-point second half, on a night when the game gradually slipped away from the Heat.
Miami led by as many as 11 in a first quarter marked by Oklahoma City’s skittish, rim-clanking shooting against Miami’s more confident strokes. It looked like what it was right then: A young Thunder team in the Finals for the first time against a veteran Heat squad accustomed to this biggest stage and its searing lights.
By halftime, the Miami lead had been carved to seven.
After three quarters, the Heat trailed by one, OKC seizing its first lead with 16.4 seconds left in the quarter on Westbrook’s three-point play.
The Heat had led throughout right until then, and yet right then it felt like Miami was hanging on. The decibel levels in the place were head-banging again.
Even losing the Finals opener, the lessons of premature panic are fresh for Miami and its fans, like wet paint.
Wasn’t it just the last series when Boston led by three games to two heading back up there and even many Heat fans weren’t waiting for a cold body to start spading dirt on the team?
The series before that, Indiana led by two games to one heading back up there and Wade was screaming at his coach on the sideline and South Florida panic was going full-bore.
Miami recovered both times.
Oklahoma City is different, though.
The Heat still has a great chance, but only if Dwyane Wade rediscovers his greatness.