Thunder 98, Heat 80
Scott Brooks wanted Kevin Durant to pick someone smaller.
The Thunder coach commended his star for sticking up for himself and his teammates with 7:14 left to play against Miami on Saturday night. Brooks just didn’t think Durant made the best decision getting tangled up with 6-foot-11, 255-pound Heat center Jermaine O’Neal.
“It’s not a smart thing against Jermaine,” Brooks said.
The tale of the tape isn’t pretty. O’Neal has a two-inch height advantage, a likely longer reach and dominates the weight category with a 25-pound differential.
That’s why Saturday’s skirmish spoke volumes. Durant didn’t back down from the beefier bully from Miami. Instead, he stood toe-to-toe with O’Neal when tempers flared and things escalated, first exchanging stares, then swear words, then shoves. It was the first time since Durant’s been in Oklahoma City, maybe even the league, that he mixed it up on the court.
“I just wanted to stand up for teammates and myself, and I think I did that,” Durant said. “My teammates made sure they had my back as well.
“You’re going to have to go through those times throughout this long season.”
Durant can expect to go through it many more times throughout what is sure to be a long career.
Defenses can’t stop Durant, and soon they’ll turn to physical punishment and irritating intimidation tactics. Remember when Boston came to town back in December? Notorious Celtics intimidator Kevin Garnett blatantly shoved Durant in the back following a play midway through the third quarter. Durant briefly glared Garnett’s way before walking away. And against this same Heat team on Nov. 17 in Miami, Durant played peacemaker when O’Neal and Russell Westbrook butted heads.
But by continuing to stand up in the same fashion that he did Saturday, Durant can take a significant stride in showing the league he won’t be bullied. Not now. Not ever. O’Neal might never cower to Durant on the court, but he now knows that a flagrant forearm to the chest won’t be tolerated.
Before playoff success ever becomes a reality in Oklahoma City, the Thunder must first develop some toughness. Not mental toughness, but physical toughness. Because when the postseason begins, the referees swallow their whistles and let the players fight for their fate. Things can get ugly. And Durant might not be ready for that kind of abuse. But who better than the team’s skinny star to lead the way, to show the rest of the roster how to be gritty and borderline gangster on the court to send a message that no one can walk into a game against the Thunder and push players around?
“I’m not into fighting and getting hurt, but I’m into playing tough, physical basketball,” Brooks said.
Durant said after the game that he knew his limitations even when livid. He insisted that he wisely wasn’t going to allow a thrown punch to get him thrown out of tonight’s game and an additional few. But in refusing to back down, he got his point across.
“We got the victory,” said Jeff Green. “That’s the main thing.”
Green is right. The old “scoreboard” sneer reigns supreme in the short term. But in the not-too-distant future, we’re likely to see the Thunder begin to benefit from its star now becoming belligerent with bullies.
- Dwyane Wade looked like he was going through the motions in this one. Maybe he was exhausted, as Oklahoma City was the final game of a six-game road trip. But the Heat star just didn’t play with the same passion that he usually displays. The tell-all sign was a simple one: how many times did he hit the floor tonight? I didn’t count more than three.
- The most intensity I saw out of Wade came on a dunk over Thabo Sefolosha in the first quarter. After throwing it down on Sefolosha, Wade stared him down as the ball bounced beneath the rim. It was pretty nasty. For a moment, it looked like Sefolosha was going to block it. But the higher Sefolosha went, the higher Wade soared. Made you shake your head and scrunch up your face.
- Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got into a brief shouting match in the first quarter. Very intense stuff. Westbrook, while trapped and looking for an open teammate, barked to Durant to move. Durant responded not-so-politely, by telling Westbrook to pass the ball. They squashed it after a timeout late in the period.
- And the award for biggest whiner in the league goes to Quentin Richardson. Dude is one of those baller’s that gets hacked on every play but NEVER fouls anyone. Yeah, he’s that guy.
- Miami had four alley-oop dunks tonight.
- Russell Westbrook had seven turnovers tonight, overshadowing his game-high 11 assists. It was the most turnovers Westbrook had since Nov. 1 when he finished with nine against Portland.
- Thunder coach Scott Brooks sat Westbrook for the entire fourth quarter (which doesn’t help your turnovers per 48 minutes category) in favor of Eric Maynor. But when asked, Brooks said the decision didn’t have anything to do with sending Westbrook a message.
- The 27 combined points in the fourth quarter tied a season-low for fourth-quarter scoring. The Thunder and Clippers had a combined 27 points on Nov. 11.
- Michael Beasley is a cold-blooded scorer. He goes inside, outside, mid-range, wherever. His defense might not be worth a…but boy is he fun to watch at the other end of the court. It looks like it comes naturally to him.
- Nick Collison had to leave the game in the fourth quarter because of a gash on his left shoulder. It was a surprise exit near the end of a timeout. As four Thunder players walked onto the court, Collison was walking to the locker room with the medical staff. Brooks didn’t know what was going on and had to quickly call on Nenad Krstic.
- Serge Ibaka two points shy of his second career double-double tonight. He did, however, record his third assist of the season. He’s now on pace for six.
- The Thunder did an excellent job of limiting the Heat’s role players, some of whom can get hot in a hurry from beyond the 3-point line. But Miami went just 1-for-8 from 3 and shot 41.5 percent from the field. Outside of Miami’s big three, Wade, Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal, Miami shot 29 percent.
- Kevin Durant was 13-for-14 from the field at one point early in the fourth quarter and finished 14-for-18. I get asked all the time what is the difference in Durant this year. One of the first things I always point to is efficiency.
- OKC out-rebounded an opponent by double digits for the second straight game — bringing a sigh of relief after seeing what San Antonio did to the Thunder on the boards.
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