The NBA Dribbled Out

Game 2: Miami at Oklahoma City 

Kevin Durant and even LeBron James had to think like mere mortals as they accrued fouls just like everyone else in game 2. LeBron picked up 2 really quick fouls in the 2nd quarter and had to sit more than he’s used to, which may have actually benefited him towards the end of the game. The strange thing about Durant is he didn’t really get going—scoring 16 points in the 4th—until he picked up his 5th foul with just 10 minutes left in the game. Durant’s was a stupid loose ball foul on Haslem as he grabbed a rebound, and at the time I shook my head in wonder at the luck of this Miami team, but the 5th foul seemed to embolden Durant, and he did his warlock thing in the 4th where every shot is met by an audible “splash” from me because I just know it’s going in. He’s an assassin because I was never once wrong with my annoying “spash” as everyone told me to shut the fuck up. 

LeBron James, a resurgent Dwyane Wade, a hot hot hot Shane Battier and a battling Chris Bosh (who had a double-double at halftime) all banded together and got this win for the Heat. LeBron kept attacking like he did in game 1; except, in this game, he got the victory and so the narrative will say he finally figured it out or some crap. No, he got in the paint a bunch, shot a respectable 10/22 from the field, went to the free throw line 6 times and was a perfect 12/12 when he got there.

LeBron also dished 5 assists, grabbed 8 rebounds and had at least 3-4 grown man moves where he took the contact finished at the hoop and didn’t say a word to the refs as he trotted back up court. It was a fun thing to see even as two acquantainces screamed about what a ponce he was. He did take some stupid 3’s including one late, but for the most part played like the MVP should play. This is the world we live in post-Decision.

But lets get into the game because it seemed to follow the same trajectory as game 1. Shane Battier hit a couple 3-pointers in the 1st quarter and Oklahoma City started sluggish as Miami built a big lead, 27-15, after one quarter. The teams matched each other in the second period, with James Harden finally finding his scoring touch (he would go 7/11 from the field for 21 points in 35 minutes after managing only 5 points in their game 1 victory), and the Heat went into half with a 12 point lead. Everyone who watched the first game had to be feeling a little deja vu. Even a part-time fan, like my college buddy whose apartment near the East River I enjoyed the game at, kept saying “they’re gonna come back.” Oh boy did they, and it just seemed to be a continuation of game 1’s Jekyll and Hyde act for OKC.

After starting the game 3/9 from the field in the first half, Kevin Durant was a perfect 7 for 7 to start the second half, and he and Westbrook combined again to score 40+ points in a second half the Thunder mosly dominated. Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade kept the Heat in it throughout the 3rd period, so OKC only made up a single point of their 12-point deficit. The 4th is when it all started to fall apart for Miami. First Durant picked up that 5th foul after tangling with Haslem after a rebound with 10:30 left in the game and the Heat up 11. Chris Bosh quickly drew another foul on Collison and after hitting both free throws, the Heat led by 13 with 9:03 remaining. That’s when OKC went on their run.

Why the Thunder can’t play with that same kind of urgency for 48 minutes is a mystery. Maybe they aren’t getting ready enough before the game; building up a lather before the ball is tossed, so they can flow seamlessly into the back and forth of the highest court in the land. I really don’t know, but they’ve come out flat in the 1st quarter in 2 straight games and it’s a large reason they’ve given up home court advantage for the time being. But they’ve made up for their apathetic starts by going into beast mode in the 4th quarter—particularly the league’s leading scorer: Kevin Durant.

With 8:51 remaining, Durant nailed a 25-footer from the wing to cut the Heat lead to 10. Chalmers missed a 3, and on the ensuing mini-transition as Miami faltered getting back on defense, Durant swooped to the rim without a thought about picking up his 6th—and final—foul ,and dunked it over Shane Battier. The Heat lead was cut to 8, and the Thunder fans were coming alive.

After Wade and Durant traded free throws and Harden and Bosh traded lay-ins, a bad Mario Chalmers pass (and you were wondering why we saw a lot of Norris Cole last night) was intercepted by Nick Collison and Durant passed it ahead to Russell Westbrook. LeBron was coming back on defense and they met at the rim…

After Westbrook hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play, the Heat lead that had been 13 earlier in the quarter was now just 4. Wade and Harden traded buckets and then Shane Battier hit a ridiculous, banked-in 3-pointer at the top of the key under pressure. Then he did that weird tongue thing around his nose again.

Heat by 7 now; except, Kevin Durant immediately got open for a Westbrook feed that led to that short, corner 3, and all of a sudeen it was just a 4-point Heat lead again. It was back and forth, back and forth and God, I was on cloud 9. OKC was finally playing like they need to in order to win this series, but instead of faltering like they did in game 1, Miami was battling right back. 

After a pair of free throws from LeBron put the Heat back up by 6, and Durant hit 1 of 2 free throws there was a lull for both teams until a pretty Wade fadeaway off a LeBron assist took a shooter’s bounce and dropped into the net. Heat by 7 with 2:58 remaining. 

I’m sure there will be some national sports pundits—like that dillweed Bayless—that will point to Westbrook’s 10/26 shooting night and freak out about how Durant needs more shots, but down 7 with under 3 minutes to play, Russell Westbrook took over. First he did one of those drives where he flashes between two Heat defenders on the pick and roll; the Heat appear to be stuck in clay as Russ’ explosive first step gets him past the defenders and to the rim before they’ve even comprehended the move. The second bucket occured off a missed Durant reverse in transition: all 6’3” and 187 pounds of Westbrook (I’m 6’3” 180 by comparison) met the rebound at the rim and tipped it in as he was surrounded by Heat players. The Heat only led 94-91 inside two minutes and the Chesapeake Energy Solutions Arena was rumbling like there really was Thunder on the inside of the stadium.

 Up until this point in the 4th quarter, LeBron was 0/2 and had just 2 points on free throws. Durant had 11 points in the same span. So LeBron looked to attack, but Sefolosha cut him off and forced him left. Around 16 feet out, LeBron gave a collective (meditative?) exhale of breath, and banked in a shot.

It would be his only bucket of the quarter, but it was huge, and it gave the Heat a 5-point lead with 1:25 left to play. After Durant missed a 3 (that I swore was going in) and a scrum under the basket with Sefolosha and Westbrook both getting looks that missed, the Heat regained possession of the ball. Wade took the ball at the top of he key, with LeBron and Battier spread wide. Wade did his slithering, juking, topsy-turvy drive thing and then he was in the air and Ibaka was coming over to swat his lay-up away…except he found the cutting Bosh for a dunk, Heat by 7, Oklahoma City timeout, and the crowd was silent.

Everyone I was watching the game with said it was over, but I knew Kevin Durant’s shooting means it’s almost never over, especially when it’s the NBA Finals and he has the look.*  

Out of the timeout Durant scored on a lay-in almost immediately, with only 3 seconds coming off the block. On the ensuing out-of-bounds play, Dwyane Wade almost became the goat. He was stripped near mid-court and on the ensuing scramble the Thunder recovered the ball and got it ahead to Westbrook, who smartly dumped it to Durant, with LeBron missing an opportunity to steal that pass. Durant, calmly stepped behind the arc and hit the 3. Within the span of about 15 seconds, the Heat’s lead had dropped from 7 to 2, and every Thunder fan was blitzkrieging the court with their hoarse shouts.

Miami barely made it across mid-court to take a timeout. Out of the timeout, instead of running a nice play for a good look, LeBron held the ball at the top of the key until there was 14 seconds left and launched one of those off-balance, ill-advised 3’s from the top of the arc. It clanged off the back of the iron and the Thunder recovered the ball.

I thought it was over, since either Durant would hit a 3 and get the win, or he would tie the score and the clock would run out forcing overtime. Overtime on the road is killer, so I thought Oklahoma City had stolen this game and possibly the whole series as a result. 

But that’s not what happened. The final possession for Oklahoma City has already been dissected for a couple different reasons, but I’ll give you the argument de jour from last night among some of my acquaintances. First, here’s the play.

The first question posed was why did Kevin Durant shoot the ball with 7 seconds remaining? The theory being that even if he made the shot, that would still give Miami a final chance to win it in regulation. With the way Wade and LeBron can drive to the basket, this seems risky. Let me answer that one. If you watch closely, you can see LeBron cheating towards the middle. So as Durant is receiving the ball, LeBron is playing him baseline. Durant feels it more than sees it, and turns accordingly. If you have an open look and an opportunity to tie the game, even if it means leaving time on the clock for Miami to get the win, you go for it. I think it was a smart play by Durant; he took the opening, rather than wait for the clock to wind down some more and perhaps never get as good a look as he did.

The second argument that broke out was over whether Durant was fouled on the shot. I don’t know. LeBron certainly made some contact down low, striking Durant’s chest as he was shooting, but even Durant said after the game, “I just missed the shot, man.” Yes there was contact, but the foul wasn’t called and perhaps the officials should be applauded for the non-call instead of portrayed as some sort of Stern minions trying to market the league better by making the series as even as possible when OKC has the better team. Who knows. 

There are a million NBA conspiracy nuts out there (e.g. the tampering charges over this year’s draft lottery), and I’m sure they’ll all be sounding off on message boards about what a terrible no call this was at the end. Regardless, LeBron snatched the rebound and made both his free throws. Game over, Heat win. I’ll have more on this game and the reaction later. 

Final: Miami Heat 100 - OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 96

The Thunder and Heat are tied 1-1


*Heres “The Look”

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