oh snaps not at the crib.....

Kevin Durant and the Thunder let one slip away

You may have noticed that Mark Lisanti’s weekly Mad Men Power Rankings never posted after Sunday’s season finale. Our readers felt confused, outraged and even a little abandoned. Did Lisanti get fired? Did he quit? Did a disappointing final episode infuriate him to the point that Lisanti said, “Matthew Weiner can go screw himself, I’m not handing anything in”? Did he have so much trouble calculating Don Draper’s fingerbang level after the last scene that his carefully groomed beard exploded?

As it turned out, Lisanti got married last weekend and left for his honeymoon, leaving behind a gaping Power Rankings hole on Grantland. Before you bitch about Lisanti taking the week off, know this: I wrote a column during my honeymoon (in 2003) and my wife is still bitter about it. She brings it up at least twice a week. We couldn’t let that happen to Lisanti. At the same time, we couldn’t let Grantland’s potentially historic streak of “52 straight weeks running a column with the word ‘power rankings’ in it” just slip away. We were four away from DiMaggio! That’s why I broke out a “2012 NBA Finals Power Rankings” two games into an increasingly fascinating series.

1. Kevin Durant

Fact: Two hours before Game 2, Durant finished warming up, then wandered into the stands and signed autographs for 20 minutes. I’m starting to wonder if he’s being CGI’ed by Pixar.

Fact: Durant scored 68 points combined in Games 1 and 2. Only Iverson (71), Jordan (69) and Wilt (had a 69 with … wait, what list is this again?) scored more in their first two Finals games.

Fact: Durant dropped 17 fourth-quarter points in Game 1 and 16 in Game 2. According to Elias, he’s the first player to score 14-plus in consecutive fourth quarters in the Finals since the ABA and NBA merged. When did the ABA and NBA merge? Exactly. It’s been a long time. Thirty-six years if you really wanted to know.

Fact: Any Durant junkie1 knows he’s just scratching the surface in this series. He played well in Game 1 — efficient, in control, got better when it mattered — but you wouldn’t say he went bonkers or anything. He stunk (for him) in Game 2, picking up a couple of dumb fouls and nearly fouling out twice down the stretch before getting saved by the little-known NBA rule, “We don’t foul out future Hall of Famers on borderline calls in big playoff games … unless they’re named ‘Paul Pierce.'” There’s a monster Durant game coming. Probably in Game 4, maybe even in Game 3. Just know that it’s coming. Unfortunately …

2. Tony Brothers

You may have noticed that Durant got fouled by LeBron James on the biggest play of Game 2 — a little baseline drive/jumper in the last 10 seconds that LeBron foiled by grabbing Durant’s left arm — only Brothers wasn’t close enough to make the call. Oh wait, he was five feet away and looking right at it? My bad. You know what happened next — Durant missed the bunny, Miami got the rebound after clobbering Russell Westbrook in the head (the refs missed that, too), then LeBron iced the game with two freebies. Even though Miami deserved its Game 2 victory, I detested that no-call for a variety of reasons, including …

• We were robbed of Durant making two pressure free throws to tie the game (a game that Oklahoma City had no business being in, by the way).

• We were robbed of Miami’s final game-winning play, which undoubtedly would have been LeBron settling for an off-balance 25-footer over driving to the basket, followed by Twitter venomously exploding for about six minutes.

• We were robbed of the most precious of commodities: an NBA Finals overtime.

• That no-call just about guaranteed a seven-game series, which means Game 7 will happen on Tuesday, June 26 … just two days before the 2012 NBA draft. Two days???? That’s not nearly enough time for me to prepare enough sarcastic Andre Drummond material, watch YouTube clips, break down Chad Ford’s Mock Draft 19.0 or talk myself into the Celtics taking a flier at No. 21 or No. 22 on The Guy Who’s Afraid To Fly! THIS IS BULLSHIT! How could this happen? Why didn’t the NBA push the draft to Sunday night? They didn’t see this coming? The NFL spends six weeks hyping its draft — the NBA couldn’t carve out four days?

(Fine, fine … the previous paragraph wasn’t totally honest. I’ve already talked myself into The Guy Who’s Afraid To Fly. He’s the rich man’s Boris Diaw! I’m all in! We could just play him 55 games a year — all home games and any East Coast game that he can get to by train. In the playoffs, we’ll just roofie him before every road trip. This will be fine. Give me The Guy Who’s Afraid To Fly!)

3. Shane Battier

His splits for his first Miami season along with Pat Riley’s internal dialogue …

Pre All-Star Game (34 games): 22.3 MPG, 4.5 PPG, 38.9% FG, 36% 3FG

(Riley: “Well, a lot of guys start out slow on new teams. We still signed the right guy.”)

Post All-Star Game (32 games): 23.9 MPG, 5.1 PPG, 38.5% FG, 32% 3FG

(Riley: “Shit, did anyone scout Battier before we signed him? Were we looking at his 2007 game tapes?”)

Round 1 vs. Knicks (5 games): 27.6 MPG, 6.0 PPG, 34.6% FG, 32% 3FG

(Riley: “How healthy is James Jones? Can he play 30 minutes a night?”)

Round 2 vs. Pacers (6 games): 29.3 MPG, 3.8 PPG, 21.2% FG, 27% 3FG

(Riley: “Well, at least we’re saving money on the fork that Battier and Mike Miller are passing back and forth to stick in their backs during games.”)

Round 3 vs. Celtics (7 games): 38.0 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 36% FG, 35% 3FG

(Riley: “That guy is kinda sorta starting to vaguely look like Shane Battier!”)

Round 4 vs OKC (2 games): 42.0 MPG, 17.0 PPG, 71% FG, 69% 3FG

(Riley: “If you remember, I was the one who wanted Shane Battier! I knew he’d come around!”)

Anyway, I don’t see Battier making 70 percent of his 3s for the entire Finals. That’s my expert opinion. (I’m glad I’m here.) But I don’t think those first two games were a total fluke, either — there’s a really good chance that Battier needs extended minutes to immerse himself into the nuances of a game. The longer he’s out there, the more comfortable he feels draining open 3s, taking annoying charges, doling out sneaky screens, shielding a shooter’s eyes, tripping them as they’re coming down from a jumper and everything else that makes Battier one of the ultimate “You love him if he’s playing on your team and hate him if he’s playing for someone else” role players. If you wagered on Battier at 15,000,000-to-1 to win the 2012 Finals MVP, you have to feel fantastic right now.

4. LeBron James

The averages for LeBron’s last 10 playoff games (dating back to Game 6’s clincher against Indiana): 45.4 minutes, 32.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 51.3 percent shooting, 3.1 turnovers. Oh, and he submitted one of the single greatest modern playoff performances ever (Game 6, Boston, while facing just about as much pressure as any basketball player has ever faced in a single game, no less); came through down the stretch of the decisive Game 7; and in last night’s semi-must-win-game, he notched typical LeBron numbers (32-8-5), outplayed Durant and got him into foul trouble, made that dagger banker with 85 seconds to play (ridiculous angle, by the way), settled for a game-clinching 3 with 14 seconds left (and missed it — no surprise since he’s missed 40 of 53 3s dating back to the Indiana series), got away with a sneaky-smart foul on Durant on the game’s biggest play, then drained both free throws with the crowd screaming so loudly that (a) one of my contact lenses almost fell out, (b) I couldn’t hear my friend Chen even though he was two feet away from me and (c) Jimmy Goldstein actually moved.

Will LeBron get credit for these things today? I spent the morning writing this column and didn’t have time to watch the talking head shows or surf the Internet, so I don’t know … although I’m sure there’s at least one visible “LeBron almost blew Game 2 with his heroball 3-point miss!” post lurking out there. I can only tell you this: LBJ was the best player on the floor last night. After watching three of his last four games in person, I can safely report the following things:

• You’re only allowed to compare him to Durant if the debate is “Who’s a better offensive player?” If you’re comparing the entirety of their games, it’s no contest.

• He’ll never be perfect for us, but nobody is, right? We’re in the era of Picking Nits. You know what LeBron’s smartest career move is right now? Win the 2012 title and immediately retire from basketball to play football for the Browns. Oh, you can’t stop picking me apart? You’re going to blow everything I do out of proportion? You’re not going to appreciate me at all? Watch this … I’m going away. [Extending middle fingers.]MJ showed how it’s done. He took his ball and went home. If LeBron followed suit and added a “Good luck in the Olympics without me,” we’d be more pissed off than OKC fans were at the referees last night. Eventually, we’d miss him and want him back. And yes, LeBron would never do this. I know. But you have to admit … it would be pretty savvy. Especially the Browns part.

• I wrote this in our Shootaround Finals preview and I’ll write it again: If the greatest player of his generation loses his first three Finals, it’s a historical fluke. Not saying it can’t happen … just saying, again, it would be a historical fluke. Everyone who poured dirt on Miami after Game 1 and tried to figure out how Oklahoma City could keep Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka AND Harden for their new dynasty needs to gulp a big sip of Settledown juice. That reminds me …

5. Dwyane Wade

After about the 27th straight hour of the media blaming Dwyane Wade for Tuesday’s Miami loss, wondering if he was finished and goading him into those There’s no question I’m not the same guy I was when I was 24 answers, it became pretty clear that Wade would play significantly better in Game 2.2 If you were making a Pride Power Rankings of NBA players, Wade and Kobe would be 1-2 in some order, then there would be a massive dropoff to no. 3 (maybe Chris Paul?), and then you’d keep going for about 400 more players until you got to Vince Carter. Alpha dogs are wired a certain way — they think they’re the best in any situation, whether it’s a basketball game, a poker table, a nightclub, or even an NBA labor meeting. In the past 20 years, only four players could complain about a blown call, walk over to the offending official, debate the blown call with one of those sarcastic “you know you messed up, right?” looks on their faces, then walk by the official and give him a totally condescending slap on his behind. Those four players: see full story

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