Despite a jittery start, the Oklahoma City Thunder came through in the end to defeat the Heat 105-94. The Heat got rolling with huge shots from Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, as the two combined to score 17 points in the first quarter on 6-7 shooting, including a red hot 5-6 from downtown. However, the Thunder would take their first lead of the game with 16 seconds left in the third quarter, and they would never look back.
Kevin Durant continued his impressive ascent into NBA lore with an assault on LeBron James and the Miami Heat. In his first Finals game ever, Durant dropped 36 points on 12-20 shooting, 4-8 from deep, along with 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. Durant started hot and finished scorching. He scored 11 points in the first quarter and he finished with 17 in the fourth quarter. Durant's output is the second highest point total ever in an NBA Finals debut. He tied Michael Jordan's 36 from the '91 Finals, but he significantly trails Allen Iverson's ridiculous 48 from the '01 Finals.
The stats will tell you that LeBron James had a good game, but when it mattered the most, he was a non factor in the fourth quarter. LeBron finished the game with 30 points on 11-24 shooting, 1-3 from deep, along with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 4 turnovers. However, as "Durantula" was tearing up the Heat in the fourth quarter, LeBron played the role of spectator. With the Thunder surging ahead, LeBron did not score for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Another four minutes passed until he scored after that bucket. LeBron did hit one clutch running bank shot for an and one at the 1:38 mark to put the Heat down by just five, but it was too little too late. Lebron finished the fourth 2-6, 0-1 from deep, for 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. LeBron had some aggressive drives to the rim, and he hit some open guys for good looks, but his impact just wasn't substantial. He was nowhere near the level of his game 6 and 7 performances against Boston. I won't fault LeBron's aggression, but it was telling that with the game on the line, and the Heat down by seven in the final minute of the game, "Bron Bron" decided to pass up an opportunity to attack the basket following a pick and roll with Chris Bosh. Instead, LeBron sent a kick out to Bosh at the near wing for a 3 and Bosh clanked it to officially end any hope of a last minute surge. I'm sure many Celtics' fans threw their arms up in disgust and said, "Why couldn't he miss against us!" Despite his recent hot shooting from deep, I was surprised to see Bosh take the biggest shot of the game for the Heat, especially on a night where he was not stroking his shot.
In a matchup full of stars, Durant and Westbrook shined the brightest. Durant and Westbrook combined for 41 points on 14-27 shooting in the second half. These two actually outscored the entire Heat team in the second half. The Heat finished with 40 points on 14-35 shooting. Despite his penchant for taking shots a bit too early, Westbrook provided his stretches of brilliance in the second half. In the third quarter he dropped buckets, and in the fourth he dropped dimes. Westbrook's night put him in the record books, as he became the first player with at least 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists in an NBA Finals game since Charles Barkley in '93. His stat line also made him just one of six guys to drop 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 10 assists in a Finals game throughout the past 25 seasons. Overall, these two provided historic nights and they significantly overshadowed LeBron and Wade. Wade, in particular, was not on top of his game. Wade finished 7-19, 0-2 from deep, for 19 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 3 turnovers. Wade routinely settled for jumpers in isolation sets, and this ruined his efficiency as he finished 3-10 from beyond 10 feet.
The Heat came out like gangbusters and rained down 3's in the first quarter. As Westbrook struggled with some NBA Finals jitters, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers calmly sank shot after shot. To start the game, Westbrook missed a pull up jumper, and then he missed a layup in transition. Battier responded with an open 3 in transition. Westbrook followed with a drive to the rim, but he was stripped. He recovered the ball, but he missed the hook shot. Battier sank another 3 on a shot nearly identical to his first 3. Both times LeBron pushed up the far side and hit Chalmers in the corner, and both times, Chalmers swung the ball to Battier at the near wing. Westbrook fired up another jumper for a clank. Following a Perkins travel, Wade fed Haslem for a dunk that gave the Heat an early 2-10 lead with 8:22 on the clock.
With his team struggling, Kevin Durant decided to amp up his own energy. Durant came out of the timeout and sized up Wade to hit a 3 from the top. Then Westbrook hit the trailing Durant in transition for another 3. Battier and Chalmers responded with their own 3's. A Bosh jumper put Miami up 13-24, but Durant came right back. Following a steal by LeBron, Wade pushed up the court in transition. Wade streaked down the court, but Durant hustled to swat his layup from behind. After swatting the shot, Durant sprinted back up the court as Harden pushed in transition. Harden fed Durant in stride, and Durant finished the layup over LeBron for the and one finish.
Although Chalmers sank another 3, it was Harden who closed the quarter with a bang. Harden danced at the top 3, crossed left to right, quickly sent the ball back through his legs to his left, stepped back, and swished the long contested 2 as he fell to the ground. This put the score at 22-29, with the Heat leading. Durant went 4-6, 2-3 from deep, for 11 points and 1 block. His shot looked great. Westbrook went 1-5 for 3 points, 1 rebound, and 3 assists. Westbrook's uneven play looked to be a bit of the butterflies and jitters. LeBron went 1-5 for 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Wade went 2-4 for 4 points, 1 rebound, and 3 assists. Despite the hot shooting from Chalmers and Battier, the Heat could not build a bigger lead. Kevin Durant did a spectacular job at weathering the storm and getting his guys back on the correct path. Durant's leadership through his play was monumental in order for the Thunder to succeed.
The second quarter featured LeBron, but both teams played even and scored 25 points apiece. LeBron started the quarter with a nice drive and layup. Then he drew a foul and sank his free throws. Following that, he stole an errant outlet pass that Durant attempted from half court. LeBron got his hands on the ball at mid court, and he took it the distance for a nice one handed slam ahead of Durant to give the Heat a 24-37 lead with 9:12 on the clock. Derek Fisher stopped the bleeding by countering with a savvy coast to coast layup and a gutsy pull up jumper in transition in order to cut the score to 30-39.
The core four of the Thunder finished strong to close out the quarter. Westbrook finished a tough lefty layup over Haslem. Harden utilized a flare screen to swish a near side 3. Westbrook drew a foul in transition and sank both free throws. Then Durant threw down a nasty jam over Bosh and Joel Anthony. As Westbrook dribbled from the near wing to the near side 3, Perkins ran up to set a back pick on James in order to free up Durant on a curl from the top 3 to the near wing. Durant caught the pass and immediately attacked the middle. Durant went strong, jumped off of two feet in the lane, cocked back his right arm, and threw down the nasty slam over Anthony and Bosh. Then Durant fed Ibaka an open jumper from the free throw line. Westbrook followed with his own setup for Ibaka that led to a dunk. Following two buckets from Wade, LeBron banked in a 23ft jumper from the near side. LeBron nonchalantly ran back down the court as if he expected such a result, but Jeff Van Gundy humorously stated, "I'm not buying that he called that." Westbrook responded with a set up for Ibaka that led to a layup. Then Thabo Sefolosha stripped LeBron in the lane, and as the ball squirted out, Ibaka dove on the floor and ripped the ball out of LeBron's hands. From his butt, Ibaka sent the pass to Sefolosha, and Sefolosha pushed up the court and hit Westbrook for a layup. A play like this cannot be overlooked. Ibaka dove to the floor and ripped the ball away in order to set his teammate up for a layup. The play was a pure display of heart and determination.
Despite the strong close from the Thunder, the Heat still went into the half up 47-54. Durant had a quiet quarter as he shot 1-1 for 2 points, along with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers. Westbrook went 2-5, 0-1 from deep, for 6 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists, and 1 turnover. LeBron provided a strong quarter with 4-7 shooting, 0-1 from deep, for 10 points, 2 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 turnover. LeBron's steals were impressive and they led to some easy buckets. Wade struggled and went 1-4 for 2 points, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Overall, Miami shot 51% for the half and OKC shot 56%. OKC dominated inside by shooting 12-15 within five feet. Miami went 6-10 from deep, while OKC shot 3-8. Miami committed 4 turnovers compared to OKC's 8. Despite winning the turnover battle, Miami lost the fast break battle as they only scored 4 points compared to 13 from OKC. Although everyone thinks of Miami as the run and gun team, it was the Thunder who finished the half with a sizable advantage on the fast break.
Although the role players were shooting well, such success could not be counted upon for the later stages. Battier and Chalmers finished the second half 2-5 for 6 points, a far cry from their 9-12 shooting for 23 points in the first half.
Russell Westbrook took over in the third quarter. He shot 4-7, 0-2 from deep, for 12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. He also provided an and one play to give the Thunder their first lead of the game with 16 seconds left in the quarter. LeBron did pretty well also. LeBron went 4-6, 1-1 from deep, for 9 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover.
LeBron started the quarter off with a rattled in 3. Westbrook responded with a drive by LeBron from the far wing into the lane for a lefty layup. Following a Perkins offensive rebound, Sefolosha sent a sweet 180 no look pass to Westbrook in the lane for a layup. LeBron responded with an incredible lefty over the shoulder layup. Then he took a Westbrook miss to finish a lefty layup in transition. Westbrook responded by setting up Perkins for an easy dunk following a drive and dump.
Two minutes later, Westbrook took a page out of the Chris Paul handbook. Westbrook took the rebound at the elbow and began to push up the court. As Westbrook brought the ball up, he noticed Bosh on his trail. Westbrook wisely stopped on a dime and drew the foul on Bosh as Bosh failed to apply the brakes in time before running into Westbrook's back. Westbrook sank both of the free throws. LeBron responded by setting up Battier for an open 3. Then LeBron blew by Durant with a crossover from left to right at the top of the key. LeBron attacked the rim and finished a nice right handed dunk over Perkins for the and one, but he missed the free throw. Westbrook responded with his own attack to the basket. Westbrook pushed up the court full speed in transition and finished a sweet right handed finger roll. Following a shot clock violation due to an errant LeBron pass, Westbrook drew another foul on a foray into the lane and he sank one of two free throws. Westbrook closed out the quarter to give OKC their first lead of the game. With Durant fronted by Mike Miller at the far mid wing, Westbrook decided to dribble from the far wing to the far top 3. Westbrook used a Collison pick to attack left into the middle, then he crossed between his legs from left to right to split the hedge. Westbrook exploded to the rim and finished the lefty layup for the and one to put OKC up 74-73. Westbrook's finish allowed the Thunder to finish the quarter on an 8-2 run in the final 2:26.
With Westbrook and James stealing the show, it could be forgivable to overlook the other contributors, or detractors, of the quarter. Durant finished 1-3, 1-2 from deep, for 6 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. Harden went 0-1 for 0 points in his 5 minutes of run. Wade went 1-6, 0-1 from deep, for 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. Wade routinely missed on forced isolation jumpers. Bosh went 0-2 for 0 points in his 5 minutes of run as well. Bosh routinely sat and watched from the perimeter. Other than Westbrook and LeBron, no one played well in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant continued his trend of excellent play late in games. Durant exploded for 17 points on 6-10 shooting, 1-3 from deep, along with 4 rebounds and 1 assist. Westbrook was no slouch either. He finished 3-7 for 6 points, 3 rebounds, and 4 assists. LeBron struggled, as he shot 2-6, 0-1 from deep, for 7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 turnover. Dwayne Wade finished the quarter 3-5, 0-1 from deep, for 7 points, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers. James Harden and Chris Bosh were complete non factors. Harden went 0-1 in just 2:44 of play. Coach Brooks went with his guts and decided to sit Harden in favor of the longer Sefolosha. Sefolosha's only assignment for the quarter was to contain LeBron. Bosh went 1-3, 0-2 from deep, for 3 points and 2 rebounds in his entire 12 minutes of play. Once again, Bosh floated around the perimeter and seemed more interested in jacking up 3's instead of rebounding.
Durant scored the first points of the quarter with an excellent putback following a Westbrook missed layup. Wade followed by settling for a contested 3 that clanked off the rim. Then Fisher hit Sefolosha for an easy layup that put the Thunder up 78-73 with 10:11 left. Following some Bosh free throws, Durant hit a ridiculously tough one handed shot over Wade from the far mid block. Wade countered with his own attack to the rim for an and one layup. Following a LeBron turnover, Durant pushed up the court and threw down a one handed dunk in transition. Wade responded by setting up Chalmers for an easy layup. Westbrook came down and hit a tough step back jumper over Battier from 17ft. LeBron countered with an and one, but he missed the free throw. Durant answered with a 3 following an offensive rebound to put the Thunder up 87-81 with 6:28 to go. Following a Bosh jumper, Durant attacked from the near wing into the middle to finish a difficult righty layup over the outstretched arms of Battier. The next offensive possession, Durant hit an open jumper as the Heat misplaced their defensive assignments. With Westbrook dribbling at the top, Durant acted as if he was going to set a pick, but instead he flattened out to the far mid wing. Wade and Battier both left Durant and Westbrook fed him for the open 19ft jumper to put the Thunder up 91-83 with 4:41 on the clock.
Following misses from Durant and James, Westbrook hit a pull up jumper from 17ft to give the Thunder a ten point lead. Wade responded with a 22ft jumper, and LeBron drew a foul to sink two free throws and cut the deficit down to six. Following Durant free throws, Wade hit a tough floater over Collison. Westbrook promptly responded. Westbrook dribbled at the far top 3 and looked to hit Durant at the far mid wing, but James fronted him well. Westbrook decided to dance at the far top with Wade on him. Westbrook crossed right to left, got in the lane, and hit a 9ft pull up jumper from the dotted lines in the lane. LeBron immediately responded with a strong drive to the rim that led to a tough bank shot and an and one, making the score 97-92 with 1:38 left.
With just a five point lead, Kevin Durant provided the biggest play of the game. Westbrook dribbled at the far wing and looked to hit Durant at the far mid wing, however, Battier did an excellent job of fronting and denying the entry. Westbrook decided to use a Collison pick to dribble out to the top of the key. With Collison rolling, Battier was forced to drop down and prevent the roll layup. Westbrook immediately sent the pass to Durant at the far wing. Durant caught the pass and quickly blew by the closing out Battier to get to the far elbow. Durant's attack forced Bosh to step up in the lane and it allowed Durant to send a bounce pass to Collison at the far block for a dunk and a seven point lead with 1:16 remaining. Although Durant could have gotten up a decent floater, he wisely chose to feed his big man a simple sure handed dunk.
With a little over a minute left in the game, LeBron James decided to pass up an opportunity to score and cut the deficit himself. LeBron ran the pick and roll with Bosh at the near wing, and he attacked the middle to draw defenders. With two defenders on him, James decided to kick it out to Bosh at the near wing 3. Bosh caught the pass and fired up the brick. LeBron hit the open man, but I'm sure Heat fans would have loved to see LeBron attack the rim with aggression and score an easy deuce or draw an and one. Instead, LeBron kicked it out to a career 28.9% 3 point shooter. Not exactly the best way to play the odds. Even more unsettling was the fact that Bosh popped to the 3. Bosh seems pretty confident in his deep accuracy, but the Heat aren't paying him to be a knock down shooter from downtown. Following a Wade turnover, the Thunder beat the full court press and set up Collison for an open dunk from the far block. This play put OKC up 103-92 with :29 to go. Following a concession Miller layup and Durant free throws, the Thunder won 105-94.
As I watched the game with my friends, it was interesting to see the range of emotions and responses throughout the game. The four of us would love nothing more than to see LeBron James become the first three time MVP without a ring, yet I was the only one who confidently believed in the Thunder for the entire game. My friends all worried about the hot start of the Heat. They began doubting the Thunder. They worried if LeBron was going to get hot as the Heat built up a big lead. They questioned the resolve of the Thunder. Simply put, they were not sure if the Thunder were ready for such a big game.
I understood the importance of such a start for Miami, but I also understand the parabola nature of certain players. Guys like Battier and Chalmers don't keep ascending, eventually they come back down. Obviously, such a big cushion to start the game is highly advantageous, but I remained stoic in my belief in Kevin Durant. Durant opened the game hot. The game did not look too big for him. He was not jitterish. He was ready to go. He was "Ballin!" His shot was splashing through the net, and when a guy like Durant starts doing that, you know it's going to be a long night. My friends, and I'm sure countless spectators, got caught up in the first quarter of the game. I repeatedly stated, "Just wait until the fourth quarter. Those guys aren't going to keep hitting those shots." I was referring to the role players, namely Battier and Chalmers. I was just playing the percentages. I didn't believe that those guys would miss for any other reason than playing the odds. They hit everything, almost all wide open looks, but everything in the first half. I did not believe they would keep it up on the road, and in the second half of game one of the NBA Finals, especially if the score tightened and fatigue kicked in. They both carry respectable averages from downtown in the playoffs, with Chalmers hitting 37% and Battier 34.4%, but I felt that there was no chance that they would be able to keep up their combined 75% average from the first half.
Although the shots from the role guys like Battier and Chalmers made the difference in the first half, I figured those opportunities would later turn to the superstars. Wade finished the second half 4-11, 0-2 from deep, for 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 turnovers. LeBron did well with his 6-12, 1-2 from deep, for 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 turnovers, but most of that happened in the third quarter. Neither was dominant. Both did their damage in isolations and took turns attempting to dominate. In the first quarter, LeBron and Wade set up those 3's with hockey assists. They would isolate, kick out, and the kick out man would swing to the shooter.
Later in the game, LeBron and Wade decided to become more aggressive and attack. Battier and Chalmers combined to go 2-4 for 6 points in the second half. The Thunder did a great job in the second half of running the shooters off of the 3 point line and instead forcing them to take a dribble in and make a play. Those hockey assists eventually dried up, and the isolation attempts, and misses, swelled. LeBron shot just 2-11 from beyond 10 feet. Wade was no better with his 3-10 from beyond 10 feet. Bosh also struggled with his 4-10 from beyond 10 feet. In fact, Bosh's only shot within 10 feet was a 9ft brick. When it came down to superstar versus superstar, Durant and Westbrook defeated James and Wade handily, and Harden and Bosh negated each other with dismal play. Durant was amazing in the fourth, and Westbrook dominated the third. Wade struggled in the third as LeBron dominated, and Wade was average as Lebron struggled in the fourth. With both LeBron and Wade struggling in the fourth quarter, there was no way they could have defeated Kevin Durant. "Kid Clutch" is the fourth quarter assassin this postseason, and if "Kid Clutch" is dropping shots, the Thunder are most likely going to win a close game.
Plus, playing at home has its advantages. The Thunder are supposed to win at home, and they did just that. Although the Thunder pulled out the victory, the series is nowhere near over. We won't have any true indication of the outcome until the end of game three after we get to witness Miami's play on its home court. Until then, let's enjoy the breathtaking capabilities of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Such resolve at such a young age is quite impressive. Although the Thunder started a bit shaky in their Finals debut, they sure did right the ship to finish strong. In what looks to be a limitless arc of a career, Kevin Durant provided one of the most dominant debut performances any of us have ever seen in the NBA Finals game. I can't wait to see how he follows it up in game two.
I also want to see how LeBron responds. He had a pretty good game, but will he come back with a great game? His fourth quarter was a bit passive, and he seemed to trade off with Wade a bit too much on who's turn it was to dominate. With Dwayne Wade struggling (most likely due to injury), it will be up to LeBron to carry the Heat. LeBron needs to be the single most dominant force on the court for Miami to have any chance of stealing game two. If he is played to a draw by Durant, the Heat will most likely lose. In fact, LeBron should do what Durant did, and choose to guard the opposing star.
Durant was very effective in forcing LeBron to settle for jumpers from the elbows and mid wings. Durant wisely played off LeBron and used the length of his arms to contest his jumpers. LeBron should aim to shut down Durant, as well as outscore him by twenty. That should be his goal, to absolutely dominate the best player on the opposing team. If LeBron held Durant to just 18 points while he went off and dropped around 35, I bet the Heat would win convincingly. Role players hitting shots is always critical, but usually only in select spots. LeBron needs to carry the Heat on both sides of the ball for the majority of the game in order for Miami to be successful. There's nothing he can really do about Westbrook. Westbrook is going to shoot that pull up jumper, and he's going to attack the basket. Both plays will come from either the pick and roll or transition. An aggressive Westbrook can burn Wade, but it can't carry the Thunder to a title. However, an aggressive Westbrook, and a dominant Durant can absolutely deliver a title.
In the end, it will come down to which superstar takes over and puts his fingerprints all over the game. Game one belonged to Kevin Durant.
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