The Heat's legacy. Get ready for it now. If the Heat make it, most of the attention will be on Miami. Thunder fans shouldn't take it personal. Miami is under heavy scrutiny for how it built its roster and is now facing great expectations to deliver "not one, not two, not three, not four..." championships. Coverage of every game, both during and after the contest, is likely to be geared heavily toward the Heat. Win or lose, the Heat will continue to be a big story.
THE THUNDER-CELTICS REGULAR SEASON SERIES: The Thunder won 2-0.
GAME 1 MONDAY, JAN. 16: The Thunder won 97-88 inside TD Garden, taking advantage of a Celtics team that sputtered out of the gate and fell to 4-8. It was Oklahoma City's 12th win in 14 games. Westbrook stole the show in this one, canning two 3-pointers in the final two minutes before finishing with 26 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Durant added 28 points as well as seven rebounds and four assists. Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 24 points, but Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all struggled, combining to score 30 points on 13-for-48 shooting while turning it over 12 times.
GAME 2 WEDNESDAY, FEB. 22: Oklahoma City won with ease, taking a 119-104 victory over a still struggling Celtics squad. The loss was Boston's fifth straight. But the Celtics played without Rajon Rondo as he sat out the second game of a two-game suspension. In Rondo's absence, the Thunder led by as many as 27 points before going on to notch its 11th straight home victory. All five Boston starts scored in double figures, including 23 apiece by Pierce and Garnett, but it wasn't enough to overcome a 31-point night by Westbrook, 28 points by Durant and 17 points by Daequan Cook.
Consider it a potential battle of big fours. The Thunder's foursome includes Westbrook, Harden, Durant and Ibaka. The Celtics would counter with Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett. Boston's has been there and done that. The Thunder is now looking to do the same. The two most intriguing matchups would be Rondo against Westbrook and Pierce against Durant. Each player is among the top five players at their respective positions and all four have the ability to take over a game.
What hurts Boston and helps the Thunder, however, is the Celtics' severe lack of depth, which has been brought on by injuries. The Celtics are missing Avery Bradley, Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O'Neal and former Thunder forward Jeff Green, all of whom were lost to season-ending surgeries. The Thunder has the clear edge from a depth standpoint, but the question is how much can the Celtics' experience make up for it?
THREE THUNDER-CELTICS STORY LINES
Old versus young. Boston's roster has an average age around 32 years old. The Thunder's counterparts are, on average, about four years younger. The difference is significantly great if you count just the core guys for each team. Thus, once again, it's a test of the age-old argument that old beats young in the NBA. The Thunder took out old in its first three rounds. Can they do it once more, or would the Celtics' experience thwart the Thunder's exuberance?
Royalty versus novelty. The Celtics have won 17 NBA championships, the most in league history. The Thunder is just making its first trip to the Finals. But it's a challenge the Thunder will gladly accept. On the road to the Finals, the Thunder took out the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs, three franchises with a combined 20 titles. The Thunder won't have any trepidation against the tradition-rich Celtics. But the series could complete the changing of the guard that's taking place in the NBA and the Thunder's coronation as the heir to the throne.
Rondo versus Westbrook. We didn't forget about Perkins possibly playing against his old mates, the same ones he one a title with in 2008. It's just that that is much more of a sentimental sidebar in this clash. Rondo against Westbrook would be much more significant in deciding the 2012 champion. The dueling point guards are flat out two of the fiercest players in the league. They take every challenge personally and simply don't like the player put in front of them. That makes for a dogfight over a seven-game series, one you will not want to miss.