Because obviously 1,500 words wasn’t enough, here are five extra thoughts from the Thunder’s 105-94 Game 1 win over the Heat.
1. What were the Heat doing with LeBron? The Heat went with Shane Battier on Kevin Durant, leaving LeBron to roam, guarding Kendrick Perkins or another big on the floor. LeBron said that plan was Erik Spoelstra’s idea and LeBron didn’t seem to be all that thrilled with it post game.
What the Heat did was switch everything, and I mean everything. LeBron got time on Durant, but the two players didn’t end up guarding each other exclusively. But check this, via ESPN Stats and Info: It’s a small sample size, but with LeBron defending him, Durant was 0-2 and had two turnovers in five possessions. The rest of the game with Battier largely on him, Durant went 12-18 with no turnovers. And as Tom Haberstroh points out, all 10 of KD’s turnovers this season against Miami have been with LeBron on him.
Miami used LeBron to front KD late in the game and that worked in terms of ball denial. LeBron can used his strength, size and length to deny the ball, and try and keep it away from Durant. The question is, why use your best defender on the other team’s worst offensive player for large parts of the game? What sense does that make at all?
I think the future of the series rests in LeBron trying to defend Durant. Battier has always been billed as a Durant stopper, but he’s really not at all. I’m sure KD would much rather see Battier on him than LeBron. Like I said, the Heat switched everything, probably too much, causing a bunch of different looks and mismatches all over the floor. And when you switch everything, it’s not hard to get a switch back to the matchup you prefer.
Durant can score on anyone, but I don’t see the benefit for Miami saving LeBron on Perk.
2. The Thunder need James Harden. Badly. Five points from the Sixth Man of the Year on six shots isn’t near good enough. Foul trouble limited him, but the Thunder got here a lot on the beard of Harden. He diversifies everything, provides a massive outlet for Durant and Westbrook and balances OKC’s offense.
The Thunder won, and won fairly convincingly in the end. But five points though from Harden? Not to be all Shaq on you, but that’s not enough. I love the way Scott Brooks managed the game down the stretch in sticking with a unit that was working, leaving Thabo on the floor to defend LeBron and even, gasp, keeping Derek Fisher out there for much needed spacing.
But that was just Game 1’s play. And we won’t see that again, most likely. Because Harden is far too important to the Thunder’s success. Game 1 was a gift, to beat a good Miami team without Harden contributing. It should offer some extra confidence to know OKC won by 11 despite Harden’s minimal output. At the same time, he’s a huge key to the series and has to perform better.
(Let me sneak in an extra thought here: I didn’t give Nick Collison near enough props last night for his game. He as important in that win as anyone else, and yes, I realize that me saying that isn’t exactly something surprising. But Collison was terrific, tipping rebounds, help defending and eliminating the pick-and-roll attack of the Heat.)
3. I’m not so sure exactly what the Heat can do better. What the Miami role players did in the first half simply was not sustainable. It was impressive, and put the Thunder in a big hole, but at some point, role players remember their roles. I mentioned it last night, but Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Chris Bosh and Mike Miller combined for 34 points in the first half, and only 11 in the second.
But the fact is, 45 points from those five players is normally enough for the Heat. And in terms of what they can improve upon, I don’t think you could expect the bench to do much better than that.
LeBron? He was good enough. He played a pretty complete game and while he didn’t match KD in the fourth, he had a strong performance. Where Miami lacked was in Dwyane Wade’s effort. Nineteen shots to get 19 points isn’t good enough for Wade, but with his health issues and the way he’s looked this postseason, it’s hard to see him completely bouncing back.
The Heat could defend better, match up in transition better and rebound better. They could force turnover better. But that’s assuming they play a near perfect game. In terms of who they are and what they’ve done well the whole season, the Heat pretty much played their game, got secondary points where they needed them, and still lost by 11.
4. OKC’s depth is the most important thing for them in the series. The Heat essentially shortened their bench to six players for the second half of Game 1. They relied on LeBron, Wade and Bosh to do their thing and despite those three denying they were tired, they clearly wore down some. Wade doesn’t appear completely healthy and unless the Heat find some major offense from him, they’re going to be set relying on LeBron to play four perfect games with a helping hand from unexpected bench players.
OKC went nine deep in Game 1, but it was essentially eight. (Daequan Cook only played two minutes.) While KD went 46 minutes and Westbrook 42, Scott Brooks was able to rely on his bench in a big time way. The Thunder finished most of the game with two reserves on the floor in Derek Fisher and Collison, while the Heat continued to lean on their almost entirely top heavy approach. Of course Durant’s takeover is what did it, but the Thunder aren’t wearing down in these playoffs. If anything, they only get stronger the longer the game goes on.
5. Simmer down though, just a bit. The Thunder lead the NBA Finals 1-0. When a team wins the first game, they win the series some 70 percent of the time. I’d say get excited about that, but the Thunder were in the six percent minority last series against the Spurs and it didn’t matter.
Yes, OKC looked pretty impressive in that second half. Yes, they’re only three away now. But a series can turn on a dime, as we’ve all seen. Lose Game 2 and the Thunder are in a difficult position. From what I saw in Game 1, it looked to me that the Thunder are the superior team, better in most every way. But that doesn’t guarantee anything.
Remember: The Heat beat the Mavericks fairly convincingly in Game 1 in Miami last Finals, lost Game 2 and the series was opened up from there. Same thing is obviously in play here. The Thunder handled their job for one night. Now they need to do it against Thursday.