Do you want to start? Or should I? I’ll start.
The Thunder played really bad. And the Heat played pretty good. So the Thunder lost, 103-81 as LeBron James played better than Kevin Durant. That’s what happened.
But here’s why it happened:
Twenty Thunder turnovers turned into 29 Heat points. Ballgame.
Jeremy Lamb, Derek Fisher, Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson combined for 15 points on 5-23. Ballgame.
The Thunder shot 2-20 from 3 tonight. Ballgame.
Recall back to Miami where the Heat turned it over 21 times which led to 25 Thunder points, Lamb, Fisher, Sefolosha and Jackson combined for 51 on 17-31 and the team shot 16-27 from 3. All of those good things that happened before, did not happen tonight.
So the other why: Was it because Russell Westbrook’s return messed it all up? Scott Brooks used the phrase “out of sync” four times in his postgame comments, which is a polite way to say that they didn’t know what the eff they were doing. It was obvious from tipoff as the Thunder turned it over nine times in the first quarter — eight of them live-ball — which led to a flurry of Heat transition buckets.
Brooks is always extremely hesitant to lean on anything even resembling an excuse, but he certainly was inferring that Westbrook’s return knock the Thunder out of their rhythm. There’s no question that they were trying to adjust and remember what they were doing. But that’s too easy. I don’t think you can simply chalk this up to Westbrook returning and throwing things off. There were certainly some rough moments. But don’t forget: The Thunder were sloppy and bad against the Lakers right before the All-Star break too. They were just fortunate to not be playing the Heat that night.
Miami’s defense was cranked up from tipoff, swarming on the ball with their patented high pressure trapping defensive scheme, which caused a bunch of problems. It was really the perfect storm to catch the Thunder on their heels. With Westbrook rusty, the Heat were testing his handle constantly and forcing quick decisions off of hard, high hedges. I won’t say the Thunder weren’t prepared, but I will say it certainly seemed as if the Heat were moreso.
All that set a tone from the jump. Westbrook started the scoring with an easy dunk, and the arena was so hopped up that they didn’t sit down, which is customary, of course. Serge Ibaka then made it 4-0 with a soaring baseline layup. Then LeBron hit a jumper. Half the arena sat down. Then LeBron crushed an empathic dunk. Then rest of the arena sat down. Then LeBron scored eight more straight points as the Heat started the game 13-14 from the field, with LeBron scoring 16 electrifying first quarter points. The Thunder were in a hole early, and while the easy thing to point at was Brooks stubbornly starting Kendrick Perkins again against all reason and logic, it was a whole lot deeper than that.
“The [Heat] did the same thing they did in Miami, but we did a better job [there] separating and making pinpoint passes on time and on target,” Brooks said. “And we were making some shots. When you make 3s, the defense has tough decisions to make. We made 16 3s, and that kind of got lost in the big-small lineup shuffle. People made a big deal out of that. We made 16 3s and tonight, we went 2-20. So there’s a big difference. There’s a big difference how we play offensively when the shots aren’t going and there’s a big difference in how the defense plays when the shots aren’t going. They’re loading up to the basketball, they’re not worried about shots when they’re not falling.”
In Miami, though, the Thunder dug out of a first quarter put and it looked like they might do the same tonight. Westbrook sparked a 10-0 run himself to trim the Heat’s lead to seven headed to the break. The Heat started the third strong, then Perk tweaked his groin and exited 90 seconds in. Brooks immediately went small, but it didn’t matter. The lead ballooned to 19 and despite a few last gasp pushes, the Heat were always in control of the game.
“This is one game. This is not the last game of the season,” Brooks said. “This is a game we wish we would’ve played better, but we didn’t.”
For the same reasons it was unwise to get too high after the win in Miami and dance on the Heat’s grave, you don’t do the same here. This is a game in February — and important, much-hyped one, no doubt — but there’s a long way between now and then. This is sour, and with a lot potentially individually on the line — more on that in a second — the Thunder played a bad game, and the Heat played a good one. After two meetings between the two teams, I’m not sure we really learned all that much. Except for, when one plays bad and the other plays good, that typically favors the latter.
- OK, let’s talk MVP because even if you say you don’t care about it and it’s all about a championship, we all know you’re lying because KD winning MVP would be super freaking cool: LeBron outplayed Durant severely, and his team beat Durant’s severely. Which was the exact same story in Miami. So how do you want to do this? Imprison yourself in the moment and only remember what you just saw LeBron do, overstating its importance by only virtue of where this game happened to fall on the calendar, or do the sensible thing and call it a 1-1 push, and evaluate the two based on their complete seasons? Either way, you know.
- Durant struggled quite a bit, but did finish with 28 on 10-22 shooting with eight rebounds and three assists. His five turnovers weren’t good, and he never really got much going offensively until late, but it’s not like he played an awful game. By his standards, yes. But it wasn’t that bad.
- It was awkward in the first five minutes of the game though as Durant didn’t attempt a shot, and LeBron took eight. Was that a Westbrook thing combined with a LeBron-wanting-to-make-a-statement thing, or just the natural flow of a basketball game?
- More on OKC’s halfcourt scheme: They’re offense on the weakside was just so stale. They were running a high pick-and-roll, the Heat trapped it, and if the pocket pass wasn’t available, there was absolutely no release. Brooks said the Heat didn’t do anything differently, but in the first meeting, the Thunder accepted the pressure on the pick-and-roll, kind of dragging the hedger out a bit, before releasing to the roll man. Another pass to the free throw line and the Heat’s defense was completely broken down and boom, open look. Tonight, the Heat flattened those hedges a bit, and showed very big with arms up, anticipating that pocket release. Really good gameplan.
- Westbrook on turnovers: “It was a combination of rust and bad decision-making. Our first game after the break is always a little slow. We’ll get it together.”
- The Miami Big 3 scored 81 points combined on 67 percent shooting. The Thunder scored 81 points on 37.8 percent shooting. Add another one to the Ballgame column.
- There were a couple Thunder fans that booed LeBron as he walked off the floor with a bloody nose. Shameful. Bad fans are bad.
- Durant’s struggles had really zero to do with Westbrook. For the most part, he missed a bunch of shots. Because Westbrook wasn’t using a whole bunch of possessions really. Some were missed shots — I thought KD looked a little tense — but the Heat played some great defense as well.
- Maybe I was just paying too close attention, but KD’s customary pregame thing where he stomps his shoes while saying a little prayer as he taps his chest, points to the sky and points to his people was a bit more… intense. The officials resisted calling him for a delay a game, but everyone was waiting on him to finish up his routine.
- On Perk, he left with a strained left going and didn’t return. Brooks didn’t have much info about his future availability.
- This game reminded me a bit of the Heat’s visit to OKC right before the All-Star break last year. The Thunder were wayyyyyyy too amped up and got in a hole because LeBron was LeBroning all over the place, and despite a couple second half pushes, never truly got back in the game.
- Perk is a horrible matchup against Miami and we all know that. But the slow start tonight wasn’t really on him this time. He certainly didn’t help with his bumbling turnovers and late weakside help, but the bad start was mostly about two things: 1) Westbrook had trouble adjusting to Miami’s bum-rush pick-and-roll defense and 2) the Heat started 13-14 because of runouts and easy layups off strong cuts to the bucket.
- Pretty sure Bill Kennedy likes making calls just so he can flex a little bit while he holds up the player’s number to the scoretable.
- LeBron was awesome, but so was Dwyane Wade. He looked as active and athletic as we’ve seen him probably this season, scoring 24 on 10-17 shooting with 10 boards. Plus, his defense was great.
- Oh, and maybe the quiet player of the game: Chris Bosh. He had 24 on 6-9 shooting with eight rebounds and clearly presented the Thunder with a bunch of problems. All three were terrific.
- Westbrook had a couple he’ll-be-alright moments. One was a classic soaring two-handed offensive rebound in traffic. Another was an in-and-out dribble with acceleration that led to a fireburst layup. He’s good.
- Derek Fisher not only never hit a momentum 3, but he also reverted to picking up three fouls off the ball in 30 seconds.
- Thunder PR said tonight’s game was the most media credentialed game ever in the regular season in OKC. And it showed in the locker room. It was packed. Even Durant noticed it, making a little joke about all the outsiders.
- Both Brooks and Westbrook spoke pregame and addressed his returning, saying he’d be on a minute restriction for the time being. Brooks didn’t want to say what it would be saying it might be a “competitive disadvantage,” but Westbrook said it was between 25 and 26 minutes. He played 24 tonight.
- The Thunder game ops people always play a song that represents where the opposing team is from during intros. Tonight for the Heat, it was the Imperial March.
- 81 points for OKC ties a season low, set against the Wolves and Wizards.
- Except for 30 points in the second quarter, the Thunder scored 17, 18 and 16. That’s bad.
- The national anthem tonight was performed by Hanson. It was OMG SO GOOOOD ;-P
Next up: Home against the Clippers on Sunday