The Heat started hot. But Kevin Durant’s finishing was ice cold.
With the building on fire, the crowd roaring like 747 jet engines lined up in a row and so much intensity in the air that it would make your hair stand up, Miami built a 13-point first half lead, drilled 3-pointers and made everyone squirm. It wasn’t necessarily the most surprising thing with the anticipation of this game, what with it being the most important event in state history and all. The Thunder were clearly tight, clearly anxious, clearly nervous. They looked their age, like the moment was squeezing them.
“It kind of took us a couple minutes to get the nervousness out of us and the jitters out of us,” said Durant. “Just being in The Finals, we kind of was nervous.”
But to this Thunder team, that stuff is just something to step over. It was another second half explosion with Oklahoma City blasting the Heat 58-40 the final 24 minutes, as Durant scored 17 of his game-high 36 in the fourth quarter. I’d say I was impressed, but this is KD and it’s what he does. It’s becoming standard operating procedure with him, something that just tends to happen. He’s amazing. Unreal. Ridiculous. Ridiculously amazingly unreal.
He’s developed that incredible ability to seem to fade out of a game, while never completely releasing his grip on it. During the second and third quarters, Durant only attempted four shots. He wasn’t necessarily passive, but he wasn’t exactly involved. That’s him staying in the flow of the game, not pressing but continually staying involved.
It’s a spectacular ability to possess. Because when it might seem like he was disappearing in a big moment, just like that he strikes, snapping up and scoring 17 in the final 12 minutes. KD is never out of a game. He doesn’t fade. Doesn’t shrink. He might play one game a little different than another, or even a quarter by quarter, but the game is always in Durant’s control. He never lets it go. It’s like it’s all one big setup until the final act, one in which KD kills everything and everyone within a 50 foot radius of him.
“I’m not trying to force anything,” Durant said. “For this whole playoffs, I’m just trying to play my game, be aggressive and if I see a shot, I have to take it and if I see a pass, I have to pass it.”
And while obviously Durant was otherworldly again, a lot of the credit has to fall to Russell Westbrook and the Thunder’s personality transplant in the third quarter. Like Game 6 against the Spurs, the tone was set immediately with a stop and a Durant 3. Westbrook then lit the fire, attacking constantly, playing emotionally, and finding that fine line between reckless and relentless. His line is pretty — 27-11-8 — but the way he managed the game between him and Durant was splendid. Again, nothing extremely new, but extraordinarily effective.
Credit to Scott Brooks who seemed to have lost control of the game in the first half as the Thunder were caught in awkward matchups, but found a rhythm with his rotation in the second half. He benched Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, went small with Nick Collison playing center, and rode out Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron. Think about it: Brooks basically sat James Harden the entire fourth quarter. Yeah, some of that has to do with the fact Harden had four fouls, but it also was that the lineup was working, the Thunder were defending and playing well and they were taking the game over. Brooks adjusted in game, made a bold move and it paid off. Kudos, Scotty.
Getting Game 1 clearly is important, but the Thunder’s style of completing the task is what builds confidence. To play poorly and then crank it up in that way seems to have put the Heat on their heels. It felt like the Thunder established themselves as a superior team. They were nervous, a little too excited and admittedly anxious. What would you expect from a bunch of kids playing in their first NBA Finals? But they overcame a hot Miami start, withstood a barrage of 3s, adjusted, made plays and rode the crowd’s wave of energy to a 1-0 series lead.
I’ll go ahead and point out the obvious that this is only one game, and three more are necessary. But winning Game 1 sure is a lot better than losing it. The Thunder have dealt the first blow, and it was a significant one.
- That first half though. The scoreboard said 54-47 and while I’m pretty sure it was right, it really felt more like 104-47. The Thunder seemed to be holding on for dear life, just paddling to keep their heads above water. Quietly, Derek Fisher steadied the ship, scoring eight big points and giving OKC a much needed boost.
- The Thunder’s execution late was beautiful. Pindowns for Durant, good movement off the ball, excellent clock management. And two Nick Collison dagger dunks to cap it? I THINK THIS WAS THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE.
- Durant started with the assignment on LeBron, but the Thunder made a shrewd move to switch Thabo over, put Durant on Battier, Westbrook on Wade, Fisher on Chalmers and Collison on Bosh. The Heat didn’t really have options. OKC was able to dictate flow.
- OKC outscored Miami 24-4 in fast break points.
- OKC outscored Miami 56-40 in the paint.
- OKC turned it over only twice in the second half.
- Those three stats are probably as important as anything else you’ll find in the box score.
- Brooks on Durant: “I did tell Kevin at one part in the third quarter a few times that he has to be more aggressive in his setups. They were switching, they were denying, they were forcing him to catch the ball at a place that we’re not comfortable with, and he wasn’t able to get the ball on top of that.”
- Was it just me, or did that first half take like five seconds?
- Hey, Lil Wayne got to come to a Thunder game.
- Also in the house: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
- Keep in mind, OKC played a ridiculous offensive game scoring with high efficiency despite only five points on 2-6 shooting from James Harden. THINK ABOUT THAT.
- Chris Bosh on OKC’s crowd: “Everybody keeps talking about how loud it is. It’s regular. We’ve been in a lot of arenas and it’s about the same.”
- Derek Fisher: “Winning that first game, when it’s on your home court, you almost have an obligation to do that.”
- KD on Nick Collison: “He means a lot to us. He’s been sacrificing his body, taking charges all season. Just playing hard. He could care less about how many shots he takes or how many rebounds he gets, he’s just going to play hard and do what the coaches tell him to do. He’s just a great teammate to have. We’ve got to continue to just give him confidence by feeding him down low on those dump‑off passes for dunks and he’s going to come back down and give it his all on the defensive end. We need that from everybody. Like I said, we’ve got a long ways to go, we’ve just got to continue playing.”
- The Thunder missed seven free throws in this one, which is certainly unlike them. Obviously a sign of nerves, and not something that can continue.
- Here’s the game: In the first half Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh combined for 34 points. In the second, 11.
- Westbrook picked up a silly technical, but was somehow bailed out as it turned to be a double on him and Battier. That play seemed to ignite something in the Thunder and the arena. Westbrook didn’t care about the technical. He was living on emotion, letting it all hang out.
- That’s one.
Next up: Game 2 in OKC Thursday.