Quick, besides 2010's Lakers-Celtics series, what is the last NBA Finals to go seven games?
Surprised to learn that it was all the way back in 1994 when the New York Knicks bowed to Hakeem Olajuwon's Houston Rockets?
Well clear your schedule for Tuesday, June 26th, because that's when the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat will be playing Game 7 of the 2012 NBA Finals.
For much of the last 20 years, the NBA Finals were an after-thought. The series were generally decided before either team stepped on the floor. Whether it was Jordan's 6 title runs, Kobe's 5 or Duncan's four, what was supposed to be a struggle became more of a elongated coronation ceremony.
Lambs like the Pacers, Nets, and others were simply trotted out to be sacrificed.
But we are at the dawn of a new era. In the 90s it was the Bulls and in the 00s it was West. The league is more evenly distributed now and we as fans are left to reap the rewards.
Big 3 vs. Big 3. Who's better?
The easy and quick answer, in terms of raw talent, are the Heat. They have 2 of the top 5 players in the NBA in Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. They have a talented face-up threat in Chris Bosh as a third option, who showed impressive long range ability in Game 7 of the ECF.
However, while the Thunder may not have quite the star power of Miami, their Big 3 coexists far more seamlessly. They each have a unique role, whereas Wade and James are both best as the primary ball-handler.
Westbrook always is the primary ballhandler and distributor. Durant is the scorer and team leader. Harden runs the second unit and offers valuable outside shooting and surprisingly is their best paint player, often making physical drives to the hoop.
They all have their role and thus are much more reliable. Members of the Heat's Big 3 get lost because they do not have a consistent role in the game plan.
The talent of OKC is rapidly closing in on the Heat as their young stars mature. They fit more evenly and that gives them the advantage in the series.
Role Players and Bench. Who's stronger?
When you invest your assets into three superstars, the role players are going to be understandably lacking.
Other than the Big 3, no Miami player has scored more than Mario Chalmers' 14 points in Game 3, in a series where Bosh was basically non-existent (save for Game 7)
What the fuck happened to Mike Miller? The guy used to be a premier shooter in the NBA and is now a professional brick layer.
The Thunder, on the other hand, have the luxury of playing an All-Star caliber guard off the bench in Harden. Harden can easily score 30 points which allows him to run the second unit, allowing Scott Brooks to rest Durant and Westbrook without fear of losing offensive punch.
Aside from Harden, Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher have given the Thunder valuable playoff minutes. Sefolosha is their best defender and it showed during Games 3, 4 and 6. Manu Ginobili was held to 8, 13 and 10 points in those games respectively.
Sefolosha will play a huge role and will be tasked with defending Wade.
So who will win?
Regardless of who comes out on top during the 2012 NBA Finals, its the fans of basketball who will be the real winners. While the Super Bowl has been the epitome of a competive finale, the NBA Finals have come up short in terms of competitiveness in recent years. Finally, basketball fans will have a truly epic clash to get excited about.
The Heat have had their ups and downs during this postseason. Twice, they've fallen behind in their series, only to come roaring back when everyone doubted them.
LeBron stands on the precipice of greatness, needing only a championship to secure his legacy and eliminate all the bad feelings of his "decision."
In his way are a talented bunch of high-energy youngsters who seek their own right to basketball immortality.
While the Heat were able to get by on talent alone during the last two series, the Thunder are able to match them star for star. Combine that with the chemistry and specialization of the Thunder's roster, it will prove to be too much. The series will be one for the history books, but ultimately Kevin Durant's spectacular scoring effort on June 26th, 2012 will earn him his first ring. Thunder in 7.