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NBA Finals: Thunder, Heat have interchangeable parts

Defensive assignments for both teams can change in a blink. The playground playbook of “take who takes you” apparently will not exist in this series..
By John Rohde Published: June 13, 2012

There were some intriguing matchups in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night and, according to the combatants, these likely will continue throughout the series.

Miami Heat forward and league Most Valuable Player LeBron James began the contest defending Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.

Much to the chagrin of OKC coach Scott Brooks, Perkins inexplicably has played point guard on several fast-break occasions this season.

Once he noticed James was defending him, was Perkins' first instinct to demand the ball at the top of the key and go one-on-one?

“I thought about it,” Perkins deadpanned on Wednesday, “but then I had to think about it again. That's not my role.”

For James to defend the opposing center is not totally shocking. The 6-foot-8, 260ish-pound James can play all five positions, which is why Heat coach Erik Spoelstra often refers to James as “One Through Five.”

What was shocking is that Kevin Durant was assigned to defend James from the outset, but not vice versa.

Shane Battier instead guarded Durant and Serge Ibaka defended Battier.

Russell Westbrook defended Mario Chalmers, who defended Thabo Sefolosha, who defended Dwyane Wade, who defended Westbrook.

Perkins defended Udonis Haslem, who defended Ibaka.

All this on the game's first possession.

The playground playbook of “take who takes you” apparently will not exist in his series.”

By the fourth quarter of the Thunder's 105-94 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Sefolosha was defending James, and doing so beautifully; Battier was still doing his darndest to defend Durant, who had 17 points and in the quarter and finished with 36, although there was a lot of switching taking place for Heat defenders; Westbrook was defending Wade; and 6-foot-1 Derek Fisher persistently kept an elbow in the chest of the 6-foot-8 Haslem.

The defensive assignments in Game 1 might not match the assignments in Game 2 on Thursday at 8 p.m. Then again, who could keep track?

No need to question who, why and when in all this.

“You coach the game as you see it,” Brooks said of starting Sefolosha on Wade and closing him on James. “We have some very good defenders, and we have guys that can guard multiple positions, and Thabo can guard one, two and threes … Kevin will guard ones, twos, and some threes and that's a good luxury to have, and throughout the game we can switch them off on different players.

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