Thunder crumble in the second half, 91-85

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Oh for one.  With two more chances to go.

Oklahoma City has to win one of three in Miami, otherwise it’s all over and done with. Game 3 appeared to be the one for about 31 minutes. Like in Games 1 and 2, Oklahoma City was handling business in the second half, cranking up the defense, playing with some swag and rhythm and building a lead. Kevin Durant was cooking. He scored eight early points and was appearing to get That Look. The game was in his hand and really, who knows what else he was going to do. The Thunder led 60-54, and had the Heat on their heels.

Whistle. Foul. Fourth on Durant. 5:41 left in the third.

And just like that, things changed. The Heat outscored the Thunder 16-7 after Durant went to the bench as OKC suffered through a 1-10 finish to the quarter. Derek Fisher hit an and-1 3 to put OKC up 10, but with Durant sitting, and then Russell Westbrook joining him, the Thunder couldn’t find points while they inconveniently fouled Heat shooters on 3-pointers.

“That’s coach’s call,” Durant said of being sat with four fouls. “I had four, I think, I want to say four or five minutes to go in the third, and we had a nice little rhythm going. I had a nice rhythm going on the offensive end, and for it to just stop like that by me going out of the game because of fouls is kind of tough.

“You know, I hate sitting on the bench, especially with fouls,” he continued. “Just got to do a better job next game of staying out of foul trouble.”

But maybe the more curious thing was Westbrook. Not often do you see a time where Westbrook and Durant were both off the floor for the Thunder in the playoffs. But for the entire final five minutes of the third quarter, OKC played without its two best players. In Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

“I took him out a couple minutes early just to settle him down, and put him right back in,” said Scott Brooks. “That’s coaching, and we moved on. It’s nothing against ‑‑ he had a bad stretch. He turned it over, and he took a tough lay‑up.”

You want to settle Westbrook down? Take a timeout. Don’t bench him. Because he wasn’t put “right back in,” as Brooks says. He sat the final five minutes, as the Heat came from 10 down to lead by two heading to the fourth.

“It’s coach’s decision,” Westbrook said of being sat. “Got to live with it.”

Also: Got to live with a 2-1 series deficit.

It was a mistake, plain and simple. The Thunder took out their two primary scorers and tried to rely on Harden, who was suffering through a horrible night. The Thunder were punished by the “settle down” decision too. Just seven points, 1-of-10 shooting and a lead relinquished.

That’s what’s kind of interesting about this game. Through all the supposed criticism Westbrook took after Game 2, the Thunder probably needed more of him. More shots, more attacks, more Russell Westbrook being Russell Westbrook. When Durant went out, it was time for Westbrook to be the best player on the floor, as he often is. Except it’s hard to be when you’re sitting next to Mo Cheeks.

Through it all, the Thunder had chances. Despite missing nine free throws, despite allowing 14 offensive rebounds, despite Durant’s foul issues, they were there. They battled back late after a big shot by Westbrook and a fantastic steal and dunk (and foul) by Thabo Sefolosha and had the game down to a point.

You can be encouraged by that type of stuff, but this isn’t the regular season. You can’t sit and look at the game that way. You have to win. That’s the playoffs. Every team feels like they should’ve, could’ve, would’ve. They see missed opportunity, see missed chances and think they probably should’ve won the game. But you didn’t, and now you’re in a 2-1 hole, needing a win on the road to prevent it from going 3-1.

Obviously, winning three of three and a title was the dream. Winning two of three was the goal. But winning one of three is what’s necessary. The Thunder came up short in the first attempt. They have two more cracks at it and from what I’m seeing, I think they’re absolutely good enough to at least bring this thing back to OKC.

NOTES:

  • Watch Durant’s first four fouls. I can understand the swipe on LeBron’s and-1 even though it wasn’t, and I can understand the call on Wade. But the offensive foul and the screen one? Awful.
  • An example of why Joey Crawford is infuriating: He gave Durant an offensive foul for a jab step. KD used a move he’s used for forever, where he steps in with his shoulder to create a little space and Crawford called an offensive foul. That kind of crap is what’s so ridiculous with him.
  • Twenty of Miami’s 26 first quarter points came in the paint. They scored 46 points in the paint for the game.
  • Westbrook to the same number of shots in this first half as he did in Game 2 where he supposedly play the “worst” half ever for a point guard in the Finals. Also, he had only one assist.
  • KD on what he can do to stay out of foul trouble: “Not foul. I mean, I don’t know, I’m just trying to play aggressive on both ends, and unfortunately I’m getting some fouls called on me, but I’ve got to play through it. Two games in a row, man, so I’ve just got to play smarter next game, and hopefully I don’t get no fouls called.”
  • The starting unit basically broke even. They were a -6 the first five minutes of the game, scoring only four points. But they were a +6 the first five minutes of the second half.
  • Interesting move by Brooks too with the starting five in the first half. After another slow start, Brooks called timeout with Miami up 10-4 and subbed in James Harden two minutes earlier than usual. But not for Ibaka or Perk to go small. Instead he took out Thabo and stayed big.
  • We already knew that Heat fans really aren’t all that great, but when the Heat took the floor 30 minutes to tipoff, the arena was roughly about 10 percent full.
  • Lineup I want to see more from OKC: Westbrook, Harden, Thabo, Durant and Ibaka. Too little from Ibaka right now. He protects the rim, has the solid jumper to space the floor and makes sense defending Bosh at the 5. Why is Ibaka only playing 22 minutes? I don’t know.
  • Perk did bounce back nicely though. He had 10 points and 12 rebounds, was active on the offensive glass and wasn’t too shabby defensively.
  • Derek Fisher hit a few big shots, but that pullup 3? Terrible.
  • Only 12 minutes for Nick Collison.
  • Harden: 2-10, nine points. The Thunder absolutely have to have more from him.
  • The Heat shot 37.8 percent. And won. That can’t happen.
  • The nine missed free throws is truly absurd. That makes 23 for the series. That’s awful. I don’t know if that’s nerves, or just coincidence, but you could make a strong case for free throw shooting costing OKC Game 3.
  • Question for Thabo: “Can you talk about that last pass?” Answer: “I don’t want to talk about it too much.”
  • I realize griping about officiating is kind of pathetic, but calling Kevin Durant for those kind of fouls is unreal. Consider this: KD has 11 fouls in the series to LeBron’s six. In Game 3, Westbrook and Durant combined for only six free throws. There doesn’t seem to be an explanation for this I’d be satisfied with. Yes, whining about officiating is weak, but Brooks and KD are better men than me. It has an impact. It changes games. And with Durant forced to sit to end the third, it was a big reason OKC let Miami back in it.
  • Only three times in the regular season Durant had five fouls. He’s now had five in back-to-back games.
  • Reminder: The Thunder trailed 2-0 to the mighty Spurs.
  • In last 20 NBA Finals team that got to two wins first won 18 times. Times it didn’t happen? Heat in 2006 and in 2011.

Next up: Game 4 in Miami Tuesday.

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