Sports
5:47 am
Mon June 11, 2012

Thunder Plays Host To Heat As NBA Finals Open

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 10:11 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's a busy week in sports beginning today in Paris, with the conclusion of the rain-delayed French Open. Then, tomorrow night it's basketball in Oklahoma. A highly anticipated NBA finals gets underway between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. NBA's sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us now to update us on all of this. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And let's start with tennis. At the French Open today, Rafael Nadal does it again.

He sure does. He won his record seventh French Open title, breaking the tie he held with Bjorn Borg. The match was suspended yesterday with Nadal trailing in the fourth set, but ended today with him coming back and winning that set and the match 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. And the win also denied Djokovic's quest for history. He was trying to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four Grand Slam titles in a row.

And the next major in tennis is Wimbledon where these two players met in the finals last year. So what is your prediction, Tom. Will we see a rematch?

GOLDMAN: Oh, that's quite possible. It is the rivalry in men's tennis right now. Nadal, for the moment, has the upper hand. His win today was his third over Djokovic since April, but all on clay; not Djokovic's best surface, but definitely Rafa's best.

MONTAGNE: OK, to basketball - the NBA finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder are well rested, or some might say stale after clinching their spot in the finals last Wednesday, because just two nights ago, the Miami Heat won its seven game series against the Boston Celtics. And now, Miami is back in the finals for a second year in a row. So, I mean, there's a lot of excitement about this series.

GOLDMAN: Oh, absolutely. These are two really good teams playing really good basketball. At start of the season, they were picked to meet in the finals, and here they are. There are star players galore - a big three for each team. Of course, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for Miami. For Oklahoma City, three-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant, the explosive point guard Russell Westbrook and the best non-starting player in the league, sixth man of the year James Harden.

Both teams have high octane offenses, often punctuated by rim-rattling dunks. Both are very athletic and can play suffocating defense that can lead to steals and fast breaks. So, Renee, this will not be dull.

MONTAGNE: Well, and you mentioned star power, but one player in particular seems to get all the attention, and that is LeBron James. I mean, these finals are billed as his chance for redemption. He had a disappointing performance in last year's championship round when Miami lost to Dallas. So is there more pressure than others?

GOLDMAN: Always. You know, he's the only one whose performance, or shall we say underperformance at key moments in last year's finals, prompted jokes. Such as: Why can't LeBron James give you change for a dollar? Because he's only good for three quarters.

But there have been no jokes in these playoffs. James has been magnificent. In games six and seven, when the Heat faced elimination against Boston, he was absolutely dominate. In the fourth game of the conference semis versus Indiana, he had another transcendent game when the series seemed in danger of slipping away from Miami, but he carried the Heat.

MONTAGNE: Although LeBron James' critics might point out that these games aren't finals.

GOLDMAN: Well, very true. And that's how he'll ultimately be defined. But he has sent a very strong message this postseason that he's in full control of his game and his emotions. He has a calm about him. He's not tweeting or watching a lot of sports. He's reading books. He seems to have responded to last year's disappointment by strengthening himself mentally. Renee, the Heat still may lose to a very talented OKC team, but the consensus growing is that it won't be because LeBron James didn't deliver.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thank you.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

MONTAGNE: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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MONTAGNE: And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.