Thunder Makes Its Statement Against Miami Heat
Nuggets from my notebook from Wednesday’s 96-85 win at Miami.
- Kevin Durant said his team wanted to make a statement against the Heat. And that they did This was by far the best win the Thunder has had this season. The Thunder went into Miami on the tail end of a three-game road trip and manhandled a team that had been easily handling its last few opponents. And the Thunder did it with defense, the exact style the team wants to pride itself on. This was the most complete game against a quality opponent.
- The Thunder needed this win in more ways than one. OKC came into tonight just 4-11 against the league’s top seven teams: Boston, Chicago, Dallas, the Lakers, Miami, Orlando and San Antonio. Two of those wins (Boston and Chicago) came prior to the New Year. With 15 games remaining, and a relatively soft schedule on the horizon, this win could end up being the ultimate confidence-builder.
- The Thunder is now 8-3 since its two deadline deals. That’s very impressive. It really doesn’t matter who the wins have come against. But, for the little that it is worth, four of the victories are against Phoenix, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Miami. All worthy opponents.
- The team defense was the best I’ve ever seen it. Miami had to take contested shots. The Thunder closed out on shooters and ran them off the 3-point line. Only a few uncontested layups were allowed, most of them coming in the opening minute and in the final four minutes of the second quarter. And OKC kept Miami off the glass and limited their second chances.
- The Thunder held Miami’s duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to 40 points on 15-for-42 shooting. As Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “That’s not easy to do.” James and Wade came into tonight’s game as the league’s highest scoring duo at 51.7 points per game.
- Even though the Thunder shot 39.8 percent, I didn’t think the offense was terrible. The ball was moving fairly well tonight (five players got at least two assists). The Thunder just missed a good amount of open shots.
- I hope everyone can appreciate the growth Durant is undergoing right before our eyes. Two years ago, he would have gone 6-21 against a team like the Heat. And he probably wouldn’t have done anything on the glass or to make his teammates better. But tonight, he took another step on his journey to stardom. His final line: 29 points on 12-for-21 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, one steal, one block and only one turnover. Not shown is his phenomenal defense on LeBron. Two years ago, James would have had Durant’s stat line from tonight. And it would have come in three quarters because he probably wouldn’t have needed to play the fourth. The gap is closing and before we know it, Durant just might be the league’s best player.
- How good was Durant’s step-back J over LeBron that essentially ended all doubt that the Thunder would win? I always say, most folks don’t think of shots like that those as clutch because it came with 2:43 left instead of 4.3 left. But it was a huge play.
- Anybody else have that ‘Uh oh” feeling when Miami started the game with a backdoor alley-oop dunk by LeBron and fast-break layup by Wade?
- The sigh of relief came when Thabo Sefolosha flushed a fast-break dunk, avoiding one of LeBron’s chase-down blocks. It tied the score and sent notice that this game wouldn’t be a Miami massacre.
- Kendrick Perkins was limited by foul trouble tonight. But we still saw glimpses of the impact he’s capable of making. When a shot goes up, he finds a man and makes sure there’s going to be a battle for the board. He set bone-crushing screens on LeBron to free up Durant. And he’s communicating with his teammates at all times, making sure everyone in front of him knows what’s coming or where to be.
- The thing that impressed me the most about Perk tonight is, after two games, you can tell he doesn’t like mistakes, especially on the defensive end. You can see it eats at him when something goes wrong defensively. That’s a great trait to add to this Thunder team. I’m planning on having more on Perk’s impact in Monday’s paper.
- Miami’s 13-2 run that tied the score at 43 with a minute remaining was sparked by Wade’s monster dunk over Perkins. Without even seeing another play in any other sport, Wade’s maneuver must be the play of the night. Not really sure how he managed to break out the cabbage patch after it, though, but I liked it.
- That run by Miami, I thought, was benefited by Russell Westbrook having to sit in the final three minutes with three fouls. That really hurt the Thunder. OKC had to rely mostly on pick-and-rolls and didn’t really have anyone who could create something quick and easy.
- An observation from Nick Collison: “We were really locked in for the majority of the game, and that’s what we’re getting now that we didn’t get earlier in the year. But the last few weeks have been a lot better with everybody being locked in and quick to help. We’re so much better when we play that way.”
- You can make a lot of wise cracks about Juwan Howard and Jamaal Magloire. But those are two tough vets. They don’t back down from confrontation or shy away from contact. Magloire made like a brick wall once when Westbrook stormed down the lane in the opening quarter. Moments, later, Howard leveled Durant on an off-the-ball screen. For a moment, I thought Durant looked woozy and the collision might have resulted in a concussion.
- Most incredible stat of the first half: Miami’s starters were called for one foul…in 78 minutes! That’s almost impossible. By comparison, the Thunder’s starters were whistled for nine fouls in the first half.
- It’s amazing how Wade can go in the paint, turn his body, throw it over his head and get the foul call. As one scout told me, ‘That’s called a bailout.”
- It also amazes me that KD and Bron don’t look directly at each other after they score on one another. The seem to avoid it almost at all cost.
- It would have been extremely interesting to see what happened if this game, between these two teams, came down to late-game execution.
- The Heat employee a group of drummers more annoying than the Cox Thunder Drummers. Hard to believe, I know, but true.
- I think it should be noted that Ibaka lost two jump balls, one to Erick Dampier and another to Joel Anthony. Jump balls are never a true judge of athleticism. Still, I was pretty shocked.
- We saw the Thunder’s power forward (Ibaka) and center (Perkins) both run the break in the first quarter and actually run it well. Perkins dribbled up the court and threw a surprising lob pass to Durant. It would have been a great play, too, but Durant botched the pass and didn’t convert the dunk. Ibaka, meanwhile, finished his break with a nice dime to Westbrook for a layup.
- Thunder chairman Clay Bennett was in attendance tonight. I know he must have been grinning from ear to ear.
- Westbrook hooked up with Daequan Cook on a textbook drive-and-kick play with 7:45 left in the second. It was exactly what the offense could and should look like with consistent shooters spacing the court. Westbrook broke down Mike Bibby with a beautiful crossover that took him down the left side of the lane. And as he got into the paint and collapsed the defense, Cook stood all alone in the left corner and calmly canned the trey. It be nice to see more of that. Much more of that.
- Wes Welker was around the Thunder after the game, congratulating and chatting up Collison and Sefolosha. Kind of a weird sighting.
- The Thunder went 9-for-20 from 3 and the Heat went 3-for-17 from deep. Odd.
- The Thunder never trailed in the second half. That’s pretty good when you’re playing on the road against an elite team.
- The next seven games are against Charlotte, Toronto, Utah, Minnesota, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix. The And the first six are at home. But that’s just two teams (Utah and Portland) above .500. The Thunder has a great shot to be 51-23 at the end of this month.
- Dear NBA, get the Thunder on national television a few more times before the end of the regular season. There are 15 games left and only one more is scheduled for national television, March 27 against the Blazers. If you need a few suggestions, here you go: March 30 at Phoenix as a nightcap to a double header would work. The April 1 game at Portland is a prime chance, too. Fat chance you guys in New York and your network friends bump the Lakers at Utah, though. But the April 8 game against Denver is another golden opportunity. Both of the final two could have heavy playoff implications. Sincerely, DM.
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