(Sports Network) - Erik Spoelstra should have added one wrinkle to his halftime
routine during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
The Miami coach should have checked the radar because that low rumble he heard
wasn't just Thunder, it was some kind of supercell that ripped through the Heat
like an F-5 tornado rampaging over a trailer park.
Russell Westbrook dominated the third quarter to get Oklahoma City back in the
game and Kevin Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth as the Thunder
exploded in the second half during their 105-94 victory over the Heat.
Miami was counting on at least some "NBA Finals jitters" when it came to OKC's
twin 23-year-old superstars, but the moment affected neither and the Heat's
dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade finally felt what it's like to be
In fact, Durant and Westbrook were so good they outscored the entire Heat team
(41-40) after intermission, as Oklahoma City flipped a switch and used its
youth and athleticism to get out in transition at will.
"I thought we showed a lot of toughness in that second half. Our guys did a
great job of competing in the second half," Thunder head coach Scott
Down by double digits for most of the first half, it didn't take long for the
Thunder to exert their force in the third quarter, with Westbrook spearheading
some lively defense and ball movement which forced the kind of up-and-down
tempo Miami has to avoid like the plague.
The Heat responded for a bit and built a five-point edge at 71-66 on James'
driving slam, but the Thunder finally got over the hump and took the lead with
an 8-2 scoring stretch to close the quarter. Westbrook's three-point play with
16.4 ticks to go gave Oklahoma City its first advantage of the entire game.
"I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end, made
them feel us a little bit," Westbrook said. "We did a great job of being
aggressive on the defensive end, and that led to easy points offensively."
From there, Durant took over with his George Gervin-like scoring ability. First
it was a stick-back off a Westbrook miss followed by a long 3-pointer and
another tough jumper for an 89-83 OKC lead. Yet another Durant jumper and a
drive in which he used his lengthy frame to drop a lay-up in over Shane Battier
helped build a 93-83 cushion.
James hung in and his three-point play with 1:38 to go made it a 97-92 game,
but Nick Collison's baseline slam off a brilliant pass from Durant essentially
sealed the win.
"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."
Afterward, Spoelstra lamented his team's defensive effort.
"We have to get stops," the Miami mentor said. "We are a better defensive team
than we showed tonight. They pounded us in all of the big muscle areas. They
have players who are tough enough to guard individually anyway."
That's true, but Spoelstra gave his charges little help by keeping his rotation
so short against the NBA's most talented team. Chris Bosh was the only Miami
reserve to get major minutes and Brooks' bench played over 71 minutes compared
to just over 45 for their counterparts.
The main storyline of this series to the casual fan is the matchup between
James, the three-time NBA MVP, and Durant, a three-time scoring champion, but
that's the fluff. The real story is Miami's lack of perceived options around
its Big Three and whether it can hold up in a long series against the Thunder.
The Heat managed just fine for 24 minutes in Game 1 when players like Battier
and Mario Chalmers were knocking down open shots and contributing, but that was
Eventually production from role players will dry up and as a coach you have to
understand that and pilot things accordingly. In Spoelstra's case, he has to
understand playing the bench is a means to an end.
In Spoelstra's defense, James Jones was unavailable for Game 1 after suffering
a migraine headache, but the lack of trust in the rest of the his bench was
glaring. Norris Cole's inconsistency and the lack of offense coming from Joel
Antony and Ronny Turiaf might keep the young coach up at night, but lengthening
the rotation is paramount if only to buy time and save minutes for James and
Wade so their legs are fresher down the stretch.
"I'm going to have to see who's really available," Spoelstra said. "You know,
going into this game, we were going to try to keep a tight rotation, maybe not
as tight as it was, and give this our best shot. But I'll probably try to go a
little bit deeper in Game 2."
He'll have to.
This isn't the Boston Celtics anymore, trying to run with Oklahoma City while
using only six players is essentially signing your own death warrant.
"They're fast, they're explosive, so we'll have to adjust to that speed,"
Spoelstra said. "We're a confident team, it's a long series. We do have a
toughness to be able to bounce back, and we'll have to learn from this and
certainly make the adjustments to those speed and athleticism and effort areas
that we lost."
The Sports Network