Who knows? Had it not been for Westbrook’s fluke knee injury in Game 2 of the Thunder’s first-round series with Houston last year, or Pacers coach Frank Vogel inexplicably parking Hibbert on the bench late in Game 1 of the East Finals, these two teams could have had the league sweating — and the Thunder salivating — last year.
But maybe a potential Finals series between these two might not be so bad.
Despite their small-market locales — both Indiana and Oklahoma City rank in the bottom third of the league’s media markets — each team fields two All-Stars. The Thunder offers Durant and Westbrook, while the Pacers have Hibbert and George. Durant is the frontrunner for this year’s MVP award, Hibbert is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, George is a rising superstar and Westbrook is as electric as they come.
All four are in pursuit of their first championship.
Meanwhile, the contrasting styles, the Thunder’s high-octane offense versus the Pacers’ rugged defense, would provide another intriguing storyline and perhaps a series-long chess match between two up-and-coming coaches in Vogel and Scott Brooks.
It could turn out as a surprising best-case scenario for the NBA outside of a Finals series featuring LeBron James and the Miami Heat against the Thunder or Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Then again, there’s no telling whether anyone other than hardcore hoop heads would care for a Thunder-Pacers Finals. The public certainly didn’t care for the Spurs-Cavs matchup in 2007, or the Spurs-Pistons series in 2005, or the Spurs-Nets Finals in 2003, all of which delivered record- or near-record-low ratings.
So in this final Sunday showcase of marquee teams, the Thunder could be hoping for one thing while the league looks on praying for another — “just don’t let them meet again in June.”