The NBA Dribbled Out

Game 1: Miami at Oklahoma City

To start the game, most replays show Shane Battier hitting a few 3-pointers as the Heat jumped out to a double-digit lead. I saw LeBron James start the game off with two long-range two’s that clanked off the rim like long-range two’s are wanton to do when they’re launched from ‘Bron’s awkward, jutted-out right elbow. I turned to my friend and expressed my dismay that he was off, and this was gonna be a long night for the Heat. I was wrong, but not really.

Battier was exceptional in the first half, scoring 13 points, not on his usual 3-pointers—though he did have a couple of those—but on give and go’s and a runner in the lane. It was Shane Battier circa 2001, when he won the National Player of the Year award as a Duke senior (I know, a senior!). Shane was exceptional and the other Heat were playing with the same intensity they had in game 7 against Boston. The Thunder seemed tentative on offense and sloppy on defense in the first quarter. The Heat train was running and slapping balls outta hands and generally being more aggressive on both ends of the court. But Durant kept the Thunder in it in the opening period; he hit some 3-pointers and scored 11 first quarter points to keep it under 10. 

A James Harden jumper as the quarter ended gave the Thunder some momentum going into the second quarter.

But the Heat train kept rolling. LeBron started to hit his stride with a runner in the lane and a couple free throws. Battier worked the pick and roll with Chalmers and dropped a pretty floater from 7-feet out. The Heat built a 13 point lead with 9:13 to go in the second quarter after James intercepted a Durant pass and slammed it home.

But the Thunder started to make some progress after that, and it was obvious they were starting to get into the flow. Russ started to rack up some assists and Harden, Ibaka and Collison (playing huge in game 1 with 8 big points on 4/5 shooting off the bench) all scored to close out the half. The Thunder were only down 54-47. If you were a Heat fan, you had to have known that lead was tenuous at best, and basically nonexistent at worse. The Thunder had gotten over their jitters in the first quarter and I could feel them waiting to explode in the second half. 

Jeff Van Gundy made a good point as both teams came out in the third quarter: a lot of players don’t warm up as well after halftime as they do before the game; they’ll get a lather working for the 1st quarter, but they look rigid in the 3rd quarter because they’ve gotten a bit cold during halftime and they don’t work up that same lather before the third. Well, OKC sure did.

Durant hit a 3 to start things off and Russ started to get in the lane more. LeBron answered with a 3 of his own and the two teams went back and forth as the Thunder chipped away at the rapidly deteriorating Heat lead. After settling for off-kilter jumpers to start the game, LeBron started to explode to the bucket with the ferocity of the league’s regular season MVP. With 2:34 in the quarter, LeBron got bumped by Durant as he started a move to the bucket; he took the contact, but because he’s so strong and his balance is so good, his continuation lead to a dunk over Perkins for a possible 3-point play. 

LeBron—of course—missed the free throw and the Heat lead was still just 5. That’s when Russ started attacking. He split the high screen and rolls and he took advantage of some tentative perimeter defending to get to the bucket and either draw the foul, finish, or draw the foul and still finish. Russ ended the 3rd quarter and put the Thunder ahead for the first time all game with a slashing lay-in and 1 that fired up the crowd and set the stage for an epic 4th quarter with the Thunder leading 74-73. 

Coming into the Finals, the 4th quarter is what everyone was waiting for. LeBron and Durant would be battling to finish games off and take a psychological hold on the series. Round 1 has to go to Durant. He was simply unstoppable in the final 12 minutes, scoring 17 points on a variety of dunks, mid-range jumpers over Wade and longer range 3’s with that fluid stroke.

Instead of playing hero ball, LeBron should be commended for forcing his way into the lane and getting good looks. In a few instances the ball simply rimmed out, but my yelling at the TV to get into the paint wasn’t needed. He was going to go down on the block and force the action to be played with his over-powering strength.  

Despite LeBron’s attempts to get into the lane, Durant simply would not stop scoring, and when Westbrook added his slashing brilliance, it was too much for the Heat to stay with the Thunder late. LeBron had a nice driving lay-in with 1:38 left to cut the Thunder lead to 5, but a couple passes to Collison and Sefolosha answered as the Heat turned the ball over. A pair of Durant free throws with 12 second left sealed the game 105-94 and added 16th and 17th points of the quarter for the league’s scoring champ.

Before the game, according to Sekou Smith, the Thunder were pretty relaxed—even as the biggest game of their careers approached. Besides Durant, the Thunder came out slow, but the rest of his teammates picked up the slack in the 2nd and 3rd quarters and Durant and Westbrook finished them off in the second half. All told, Durant and Westbrook’s 41 second half points out-scored the entire Heat team, who only managed 40. It was a nice end to the game for Oklahoma City and gives the Thunder an important, confidence-boosting opening victory. Keep in mind, though, Miami is playing on the road, and I liked what I saw from LeBron, who was aggressive and didn’t shy away from the ball down the stretch, like he did so many times against Dallas last year. Durant may have won round 1, but you can be sure LeBron and Wade will come out just as tough in game 2 in OKC on Thursday.

All the hype and talk before the series about Durant and LeBron was warranted as both players led their teams in scoring, 36 and 30 respectively. LeBron also had 4 steals. Russell Westbrook almost had a triple-double, finishing with 27 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. Besides LeBron, Battier dropped 17 surprising points (13 of which came in that big first half) and Wade added 19 points and 8 assists. If the Heat are going to win on Thursday to split the opening two games in OKC, they’ll need more offense from Wade and better production from Haslem, Chalmers and Miller. 

This is gonna be a beautiful couple weeks. I can’t wait for Round 2 between Durant and LeBron.

Final: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 105 - Miami Heat 94

The Thunder lead the series 1-0

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