I’ve reflected. I’ve thought about it. Last night, I said I wasn’t sure if the Thunder’s win over the Heat was the biggest of the season. Today, I’m positive it is.
1) This was the roster that will go into the postseason with the Thunder. We’ve seen this group win (8-3 since the trade), but haven’t really seen them do it against an elite unit. We weren’t entirely sure where they stood. After the 96-85 win over the Heat that was pretty close to dominant, I think we have a sense. Kendrick Perkins has changed things, but more than that, Serge Ibaka has changed things. I think in getting caught up in what Perk adds, we’ve overlooked the maybe the best part of the trade — Ibaka is a starter and is consistently seeing 30-35 minutes a game. That’s huge.
2) OKC was just 2-7 against the top teams in each conference so far this season. The Thunder had only beaten Boston (without Durant) and Chicago (first game of the season). The Thunder has been missing some signature wins.
3) The Thunder got back to what made them so good last season. They defended. They rebounded. They made big plays. Like I said last night, this team had a whole new look to it against a team that’s really, really good. Unlike the game in OKC where Miami won by five, the Thunder didn’t look like they were fighting tooth and nail just to stay in it. The Thunder looked superior.
And the Thunder closed, which was wonderful. I re-watched the fourth quarter Thursday morning before The Madness started because I was curious as to how OKC closed out one of the better teams in the league in a game that definitely felt like it could’ve taken place in May.
12:00, Q4: Coming in, the Thunder leads 67-61 to start final 12 minutes. The Heat open the fourth with a couple reserves in, but still have Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade on the floor. OKC on the other hand has the entire second unit in (Maynor, Harden, Cook, Collison Mohammed). A big four minute stretch is ahead because the Heat can make up all the ground on the Thunder or even take charge of the game. It really shows what kind of confidence Scott Brooks has in his bench. And it’s a nice luxury so that Durant or Westbrook don’t have to go 40-plus minutes every big, close game.
11:40: The Heat open with possession and immediately Mike Bibby and that sock he wears around his head knock down a big 3 to cut OKC’s lead to three. It already feels like a big Miami run could be coming against the Thunder’s second group. Weathering the storm will be key, but a response is needed. And bang, Harden drops a 3 right back at the Heat, his first of the game after starting 0-4. Big shot. OKC leads 70-64.
9:31: The biggest thing the Thunder did, or at least the second unit did was respond at every punch the Heat threw. After Harden’s 3, there was a little flurry where both teams exchanged a couple stops and eventually Wade knocked down two free throws. Every time the Heat scored during these four minutes, it felt like, “Oh here they go.” But right back came OKC with Nick Collison scoring on a nice lefty layup. OKC still up, 73-66.
8:58: The Heat come up empty on three shots after a couple offensive rebounds. Wade missed a 3, Bibby clanged a wide open one and then the Heat got another crack after Wade tossed another offensive board off of Collison’s leg. We go to the under nine TV timeout and here’s what I love: Scott Brooks stuck with that whole second unit again coming out of the timeout. Confidence in that group. They respond with yet another brilliant help and recover defensive possession as Miami swings the ball around with it finally landing in Wade’s hands but Collison forced him behind the backboard where Wade lost it. Three chances, three empties for the Heat. Big sequence.
8:22: Bosh loses the ball in traffic and OKC comes out with it with Maynor and Harden running a 2-on-1 of sorts. (Really it’s just Maynor 1-on-1 with Mike Miller and Harden running behind. Wade comes from behind and throws Maynor’s shot into the Pacific Ocean. Impressive chasedown. This makes Brian Davis lecture the Heat about when you’re allowed to be a showman. Oh, and right after, OKC runs a nice little inbounds play and Daequan Cook drops a 3. 76-66, OKC.
7:43: Westbrook and Durant are back in and look at that, the Thunder bench in those four-plus minutes actually extended OKC’s lead. They outscored the Heat — with Bosh and Wade on the floor, mind you — 9-5 in that stretch.
7:39: On cue, Durant drops a gorgeous — a gorgeous — fadeaway jumper off an inbounds play right in LeBron’s face. 78-66, OKC. Timeout, Miami.
6:56: The biggest sequence of the game is still a few minutes away, but here’s an underrated big moment. Bibby nails a corner 3 to steady the Heat and get them to within nine and after a scattered Thunder possession that results in a missed Westbrook jumper, Nazr Mohammed slips in for a big tip-in to put OKC back up 11. It was one of those deflating buckets that might’ve done more damage to the Heat than it appeared.
5:55: LeBron takes a “What are you thinking?” pull-up 3 with 20 on the shot clock over Durant. It clangs long and the Heat have a terrible empty possession still down nine. They had just come up with two big stops and LeBron takes that weird shot. I don’t get it. The result is a long rebound and an outlet to Durant who is fouled at the rim and goes to the line for two free throws (his first two of the game). Here’s the thing about the Heat: Give credit to the Thunder because it was a great performance, but they also do a great job of killing themselves too.
5:50: After Durant’s foul in which Wade barked quite a bit at the official, Brian Davis emphatically says, “Pipe down.” Woof. The game has kind of a feel to it as in it seems like someone might bust out a hard foul or go flagrant two on someone’s face. And wouldn’t you know it, Perk and Ibaka check back in. In other words, best not try and take a shot at one of OKC’s guys because The Bash Brothers are back in.
(Side note: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall OKC going small against the Heat one time, nor once against the Wizards Monday. Maybe these were two unique situations and Brooks stayed big because of the matchups, but there was never a case where Collison wasn’t next to Ibaka or Mohammed, or Perk wasn’t with Ibaka.)
5:17: You know how some guys get “Big Shot” put in front of their name, like Big Shot Rob and such? I think Westbrook deserves that, but maybe it should be Random Shot Russ. Because he has a crazy knack for knocking down completely random and unexpected wild shots. The latest example is his 3 to put OKC back up 12 when the Thunder offense was stalling. And of course before he took it, Russ was 4-13 and couldn’t hit anything but yet, he drops a massive 3 right in Wade’s face. I’ll never understand it, but I’ll continue to love it.
4:25: Great exchange between Grant and BD after LeBron got away with a walk. Grant: “That’s the crab dribble he complained about last year…” BD: “Well I can think of c-r-a and end that word with a different letter.”
4:11: Alert: LeBron flop. Bosh gets back to the line to sink two free throws to get Miami back to within nine then Miami blocks Russ at the rim and Wade goes to the line and drops two more. 85-78, OKC. The Heat aren’t executing for crap but they’re getting stops and getting to the line. The Thunder has control, but it feels like the Heat might have a little push left in them.
3:21: The Thunder tries to run clock setting up a little pick-and-roll with Westbrook and Ibaka at the top of the key. Westbrook loses the ball and the Heat have a run out for Wade. Ibaka closes on him like a madman creates a little contact but Wade is out of control and misses the shot.
While he’s flipping his crap over it under his basket, OKC sprints up the floor and KD drops off a beauty to Harden who sinks a 3 and the Heat. That 15 seconds is what swung this game. I’m not saying if Wade finishes that play or gets the call that OKC loses, but it’s a five-point game with three minutes left and the Thunder aren’t executing for anything. Instead, OKC is back up by 10 and basically just has to rebound and make free throws to win.
3:11: The crowd breaks into “Ref you suck! Ref you suck!” I agree. They have been pretty terrible in this one. Also, Brian Davis just properly used the word “histrionics.” I’m impressed.
2:45: KD drops nasty, sick, disgusting step-back jumper over LeBron. I took my shirt off, wrapped it around my head and beat my chest for 15 minutes after he nailed that. It was that good. OKC, 91-82.
1:40: Ibaka blocks a layup from LeBron, OKC runs out and Westbrook is fouled and drops both freebies. OKC back up 11. Game basically over. Can we just talk how good Ibaka has been the past two weeks? Entirely excellent. Like I said, the most underrated and overlooked of the trade is that Ibaka gets big minutes at power forward. And he’s living up to it. That’s 19 blocks in his last three games, plus he’s rebounding well.
0:43: Brian Davis apologies for getting “cranky” as he called it because he didn’t like the histrionics from the Heat. Hey BD, I don’t care. I give you a hard time sometimes and yes, you get a little crazy, but I love it. When you take a tour around League Pass, the Thunder’s announcers aren’t anywhere close to as homertastic as most other announcing duos.
Brian Davis and Grant Long aren’t Marv Albert and Mike Fratello, but I’m good with our guys. I like their passion, I like their excitement and I like that they’re as invested in the game as we are. I mean, put yourself in their shoes and try and keep your cool. They love this team too and they happen to have a microphone broadcasting their thoughts about it out for two hours. Lord knows I’m glad nobody hears what I’m saying about each night.
0:35: Bibby banks in a 3 and Russ makes two free throws. 96-85 and that’s the score OKC wins it with. Fantastic win. Best of the year. Top notch defense, great support from the role players and terrific playmaking in big moments.
The thing is, the Thunder’s offensive execution the last five minutes was kind of awful. Lots of stale movement, lots of dribbling and a couple bad shots. But they didn’t HAVE to execute that well to win this game. They did their work on the other end and enough offensively.
This is how you win in the playoffs. There will be nights where you’re hot, but there will be more that you’re not. The Thunder has the look of a team that can win any way you want. They can run, they can score, they can defend, they can rebound and they can make free throws. I think those are the most dangerous types of teams — the ones that can beat you playing however you want to play. The Thunder’s capable of that. And that’s how they got over the Heat Wednesday.