Pretty sure this is what Sam Presti had in mind when he pushed the big red button on that trade three weeks ago.
This team had a look tonight. It was unmistakable. It was clear. They may not be officially ready this year, but try and tell them that.
Oklahoma City needed a big statement win in Miami and the Thunder got it, basically controlling the game from the first quarter on and beating the Heat 96-85. OKC was just nasty defensively, holding Miami 38.5 percent shooting and the vaunted Big Three to a 4-24 effort in the second half. Serge Ibaka protected the rim (three blocks), Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed plugged the lane (10 points, 14 rebounds between them) and Durant did the scoring (29 on 12-21 shooting). It basically all went according to plan.
Things started to get a little tighter as the Heat made a strong push in the fourth, but a crucial non-call on a Dwyane Wade run-out that turned into a big James Harden 3 as the Heat stood and yelled at the official swung the game entirely in OKC’s way and basically sealed the deal. The game went from 85-78 with three minutes left to 88-78 just like that. It was a sequence for the Thunder. And one of those moments where it really looked like OKC had that killer instinct to put away a game.
It’s hard not to be fairly stoked after this win. This team is different. There’s just no denying it.
It’s been pretty obvious the past two weeks, but now with Perkins in his starting role and the rotation lined away, it’s obvious that Oklahoma City’s mentality, demeanor and philosophy has reverted back to that nasty, gritty defensive team. Granted, the sample size is small, but this group just looks different right now. Winning a game against Miami despite shooting only 39.8 percent and only going 17-22 from the line is huge for OKC.
This was the Thunder’s best defensive effort of the season and I don’t think it’s any coincidence. The attitude of this team has changed the past two weeks just as much as the personell has. I don’t know if the two are necessarily related — I think they are — but the Thunder are completely committed to the defensive end again. Perkins was in foul trouble and only played 18 minutes, but a moment in the first quarter showed his value. He immediately recognized a Heat set, called out “elbow!!!” to the team and Westbrook read it perfectly for a steal. It was like Brian Urlacher sniffing out a play that he saw in the film room all week. It’s the type of thing Perk adds to this team. It’s just a reinvigorated group.
- KD on beating LeBron for the first time: “It was a great win for the Oklahoma City Thunder.”
- Nick Collison deserves a game ball. With Perk in foul trouble he got the call on Chris Bosh for a lot of the second half and turned in a terrific effort. Just four points five rebounds (and four assists!) in 24 minutes, but he defense was a difference-maker.
- Again, Miami’s Big 3: 17-35 in the first half, 4-24 in the second.
- OKC had control early on, but the Heat went on a big 10-2 run late in the second quarter after an absolutely devastating dunk by Dwyane Wade.
- Russell Westbrook is turning into a serious dagger guy. That 3 to ice it was just ridiculous. I don’t know how he makes those, but he does.
- Six assists for KD too! And fantastic defense on LeBron. One of Durant’s best all-around performances of the season.
- The Scott Brooks handbook for coaching during timeouts looks like this: just say obvious things. “We have to rebound! If they take a shot, challenge it! Just keep playing defense!”
- James Harden ended up making a significant difference, but was definitely a bit hurried in the first half, going 0-4 from 3. He settled in with a strong second half knocking down two bombs and finished with 12 big points off the bench.
- Credit Thabo for his defensive effort on Wade. He did a great job sealing off driving attempts and jumped every step-back Wade tried. Thabo is easy to yell at because he’s an obvious target, but games like this show his value. In 21 minutes he had eight points and six rebounds and did a nice job containing Wade.
- OKC won the boards 51-40. Very big key to the game. And turned it over just eight times.
- The way Scott Brooks used Daequan Cook tonight is exactly the way it should be. Just 10 minutes, but Cook dropped two big 3s in his time on the floor. It’s officially a 10-man rotation now.
- When Westbrook got in foul trouble in the first half, Miami sent a trap after Durant every time he touched it. KD was forced to pass every time. Just Westbrook’s presence and threat on the offensive end opens up so much for Durant.
- I don’t have a stat on it, but I bet KD shoots at least 20 percent higher from 3 when he takes one step into it rather than flat-footed.
- Juwan Howard smashed KD with a hard pick in the first quarter. I guess Howard didn’t care about the nice things Durant said about the Fab Five.
- The Thunder has won five straight and comes home for six in a row. Key run here for the Thunder if they’re going to lock up the Northwest and maybe even make a push for the three-seed.
- Brian Davis Line of the Night: “…” Oh, that’s right, I had the pleasure of listening to Hubie tonight. Too bad, because from what I hear, BD had a good night.
Games like this is what you get in the postseason. And the Thunder is figuring out how to do it. Westbrook wasn’t great — 18 points on 5-16, five assists and six turnovers — but Durant was. The interior defense was superb, the Thunder crashed the glass (17 offensive rebounds) and committed for 48 minutes. Blowouts over the Wizards and Cavs are really hard to get a lot out of, but holding the Heat’s head under water is something to raise an eyebrow at.
Again, it’s always about perspective. When the Thunder lost a close one to the Heat a month ago in OKC by five, it was about how close the Thunder was. A rebound here, a bucket there or a stop here would’ve done it. But tonight, the Thunder got all of that and more and pretty much held the team at arm’s length, frustrating them. It’s hard to tamp down that excitement when watching OKC handle a team of the Heat’s caliber the way it did, but it’s just one win in March. A big, very nice one, but only one.
Next up: Home versus the Bobcats Friday.