The best hope the Thunder had Thursday night against its archrival just didn't have it.
Maybe it had something to do with Kevin Durant being accustomed to coming through in the fourth quarter, not the first.
In the highly anticipated second and final regular-season meeting between Oklahoma City and Miami, a rematch of last year's NBA Finals and perhaps a possible preview of this year's matchup for all the marbles, a slow start by Durant and his teammates doomed the Thunder in a 110-100 loss on Thursday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant, who ironically is on a historic pace for offensive efficiency this season, was mired in an 0-for-7 shooting start as the Heat built an 18-point first-half lead. By the time the NBA's scoring leader sank his first field goal, a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, just 4:22 remained in the opening half. The basket pulled the Thunder within 47-32.
“It was tough, man,” Durant said. “I was missing some shots in the lane. I was missing some layups. But the thing about me is I keep coming at it, keep going back and believing in myself and trusting in my work and I was able to make a few in the second half.”
A testament to Durant's scoring prowess is that he finished with a game-high 40 points. He made 11 of his final 13 shots, securing a 12-for-24 shooting night that keeps Durant's chase of the “50-40-90 club” (shooting percentage, 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage) and alive and well as he heads to Houston for his fourth All-Star appearance.
But those numbers belie how rough of a night it was for Durant, something for which he can thank his good friend LeBron James.
Led by three-time MVP, the same man who put the Thunder out of its misery last June, Miami raced to a 15-point led after one quarter and never looked back. The Heat eventually built a 23-point lead that OKC was stuck fighting to overcome the rest of the way.
The Thunder never led.
“Maybe it was nerves, or we were too excited. I don't know,” Durant said. “That was the game I think, that first quarter.”
James scored 11 of his team-high 39 points in the opening period. He added 12 rebounds, seven assists and two steals. But the defense James supplied on Durant was as impressive as anything else he brought to the table.
Hounded by James from the start, Durant struggled to get a clean look at the basket, let alone an open shot. Even when Durant tried to be aggressive, putting the ball on the floor and forcing his way to the rim, the Heat defense had clogged the paint and made him hoist contested shots. That's if he wasn't stripped on the way to the basket.
“They did a really good job in pick-and-rolls putting two guys on the ball,” Durant said. “When I would set a pick and flash to the corner, I would see two guys. They were doing a lot of doubling. That's what they're really great at. They scrambled out. I just got to do a better job of reading the defense and making the right passes and trusting in my teammates more. I could have had more assists tonight.”
Durant added eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. But he also had five of the Thunder's 16 turnovers.
With 1:46 remaining in the first quarter, a frustrated Durant also was whistled for his 11th technical foul — and second in as many games — for slamming his hand to the floor after hitting the deck following a drive. Durant later fouled out with 28.4 seconds remaining, the first time he's been disqualified from a game since Dec. 8, 2010, at Minnesota and just the third time he's registered six fouls in his career.
“You have to give LeBron credit,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Obviously they were making him miss shots.”
Durant fell to 2-9 all time in the regular season against James.