After dominating the first half of Tuesday night’s Finals tilt, the Miami Heat fell in love with their own jump shot and failed to solve the Thunder’s aggressive defense as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook closed out the game on offense. The two Thunder stars combined for 41 points in the second half and Miami anemically produced only 40 points total for the entire team. Following a fantastic first quarter on both ends of the court, the Heat went slightly cold towards the end of the second and never recovered their rhythm. Dwyane Wade settled for long looks instead of attacking the rim, including two horrific 3-pointers, and was at one point an atrocious 4/15 from the field (!) while LeBron James got few touches in the third quarter. LeBron played to his averages and had a good game overall but it wasn’t quite his usual brilliance, and certainly wasn’t even close to the show that Durant and Westbrook put on in the final 24 minutes.
For all the pressure that is placed on the shoulders of James, it is his superstar teammate Wade who deserves some criticism after his terrible play. While he had some individual standout blocks and did play pesky defense at times, Wade curiously did not attack the rim much and couldn’t hit anything from the outside. His defensive switches onto Durant in the second half and especially the fourth quarter usually resulted in KD smoothly shooting over him with little to no trouble. Durant’s length and quick shooting were no match for Wade’s failed gambles and lapses in help defense, and of course Westbrook simply blew by him. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra needs to figure out a better plan for Wade to free him up for driving lanes in Game 2 as well keeping him primarily on Thabo Sefolosha or Derek Fisher on the other side of the ball. Otherwise Miami will not stand a chance in this series.
Speaking of Spoelstra, he was out of his element in the latter half as the Heat languished in isolation plays while Thunder coach Scott Brooks used pin-down screens and high post pick-and-rolls to keep his stars moving toward the basket, with excellent results. Westbrook in particular destroyed the Heat – rarely if ever getting caught in traps, always making the right pass (11 assists total) as well as routinely flying down the middle and finishing with a dunk or lay-up. He wasn’t afraid to take stop-n-pop 15-footers either, which also went in with regularity. Westbrook finished with 27 points and 8 rebounds to go along with all those dimes, with only 2 turnovers despite a high usage rate.
Of course, in the end it was all Kevin Durant, all the time. The best scorer in the league, at the precocious age of 23, finished his first Finals appearance with 36 points on 60% shooting (!!) and buried the Heat with a blistering scoring barrage in the final 8 minutes. LeBron James’s 30 points weren’t enough to offset Durant, especially since he shot 11/24 (off from his 53% average in the playoffs) and was only 2/6 in the fourth. Role players also contributed significantly for both teams; early in the game, Miami’s Shane Battier was unstoppable from long range and hit 4 treys. He finished 6/9 from the field and had a typically superb pesky defensive game. However, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher came up just as big for Oklahoma City. Collison scored on several easy looks from both Durant and Westbrook while Fisher hit some big shots (no surprise) as well as earning his time by hounding Wade all night whenever both were on the floor together. Miami’s Mario Chalmers was excellent with 12 points and 6 assists but didn’t get nearly enough shots as Wade killed their momentum. Chris Bosh didn’t start, in his fourth game back from injury, and was a woeful 4/11 from the field. Spoelstra will need his presence from the opening tip of Game 2 as well his big body down low, as Oklahoma City torched the Heat inside with 56 points in the paint. They also outran Miami, with 24 fast break points to just a piddling 4 for the visiting team.
Game 2 is in OKC on Thursday.