The Thunder have struck first, cooling down the Heat with a cogent win in game one that allows us to believe they might win this championship series. In our NBA Finals preview article we discussed the matchup of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. They both fulfilled our expectations and came out aggressive, but last night only one prevailed.
Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the final period while LeBron James was up to his old tricks again. With another dreadful fourth quarter, James was left to watch his team come up short with a 105-94 loss.
Although James scored a respectable 30 points, his supporting cast of Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh both appeared to have left their drive back in Miami. With 63 points between Durant and Westbrook, last night James desperately needed a boost from the two other all-stars on his team.
The dynamic duo of the Durant and Westbrook outscored the entire Heat team in the second half, by themselves.
For the Heat, this sounds all too familiar. LeBron James averaged 3 points in all six fourth-quarter Finals appearances last year. In Tuesdays night’s contest, James had just one basket in the final eight minutes of the game.
Subsequently, Durant took charge of this game. Durant helped rally his youthful squad from a harrowing 13 point deficit. Scoring in a plethora of ways, Durant seemed un-guardable. He finished his 12-20 run from the field. Keep in mind, this is his first appearance ever in an NBA Finals.
Dwayne Wade’s inconsistency prevailed last night, and he failed to come to LeBron’s aid by missing 12 of his 19 shots. As for Bosh, he played off the bench despite his great play in the final game of the Conference Finals. At first glance, scratching Bosh from the starting lineup appeared to have benefited the Heat. Shane Battier, an unlikely source of offensive productivity, found his 3 point stroke early in the opening quarter and finished the game with 17 points on 6 for 9 shooting from the field.
Unfortunately for the Heat, Shane Battier, despite being a great role player, is not going to win the team games down the series stretch.
The Heat just never seemed to have complete control of the game, even when they were up by 13 points. This Thunder team with its young players just needed a little time to settle into their first Finals appearance and improved to 9-0 this postseason at home. With their infamous crowd rocking, dressed in matching colors from the nose bleeds to the court side seats, Oklahoma City have definitely reminded viewers what a home-court advantage is all about.
Ironically, when the fans chanted “MVP, MVP” late in the game they were not summoning James. Rather, they were claiming their very own Kevin Durant.
And rightfully so, Tuesday night Kevin Durant was the most valuable player on the court. Durant and the Thunder did not claim their first lead of the game until 15 seconds remained in the third quarter. With the help of 12 points from Westbrook in the third quarter, Durant led the Thunder and never looked back. Even as the Heat came within four points with a little over 3 minutes remaining in the game, Durant and Westbrook added three quick baskets.
Last night, the Thunder simply had the better superstar, role players and game plan. The Thunder looked quicker and well rested. While Eric Spoelstra insisted he had preferred a quick turnaround following their tiresome series with Boston, Thunder coach Scott Brooks made adjustments to challenge this statement by turning to a quicker lineup. This was a key change in the game as Wade and James appeared to run out of gas. Thabo Sefolosha defended James when the Thunder made their comeback, relieving Durant of this key duty so he could hone in on his scoring ability.
Miami has played three more games this post season than the Thunder coming into to the Finals, and it clearly shows. In the fourth quarter, especially, the Miami offense completely disappeared and their defense forced only two second half turnovers. Miami cannot afford to go back to South Beach down 2-0.
So if this sea of blue shirts reminiscing of Dallas last year haunts the Heat, they better find a way to take game 2 this series, or their Finals appearance will be short lived.
Rafet Abdeljabbar | Elite.
Follow Rafet on Twitter @Rafet_Jabbar.
Photo Credit: Getty Images