Thunder 103, Heat 87
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday’s win over Miami.
- This was one of the best regular season wins in Thunder history. Taking on an elite team in a game that both sides knew had vast implications, the Thunder assembled a dominating performance that showed a nationally televised audience just how much of a threat it can and likely will be. Oklahoma City stuck to its style, matched Miami’s physicality, was dialed in defensively and played with supreme poise and patience offensively. It’s a mix the Thunder has yet to show on a consistent basis, leaving questions about where it truly ranks among the league’s best. But on Sunday night, for 48 minutes, the Thunder proved that, deep down, it does indeed have that magnificent mix to be a real problem.
- The Thunder’s discipline was without a doubt the most remarkable aspect of tonight’s win. Never before have we seen OKC play with such sustained discipline for 48 minutes. And it was on both ends. Thunder players stuck to their shell defensive principles, shutting off Miami’s driving lanes to the basket, and swarmed to the ball all night to get deflections and force turnovers. Offensively, the Thunder trusted each other. All. Game. Long. That poise and patience that the Thunder displayed led to unstoppable offense, characterized by ball movement and unselfishness that saw players routinely make the extra pass and get wide open shot after wide open shot.
- What you saw tonight is an example of exactly what type of team the Thunder is striving to be. That discipline is what defines great teams. At some point, the Thunder is going to get there. It’s not going to happen overnight, but this was a huge step in the process. Thunder coach Scott Brooks prefers to instruct by highlighting positives in film sessions rather than harping on negatives. After tonight, Brooks won’t find a better blueprint to show his guys in what he calls the “truth box.” Every night isn’t going to be like this. But the key is for the Thunder to start stringing together several games in succession of this type of effort.
- Nick Collison: “Instead of going into a big-time game like with our players saying, ‘OK, I need to make great one-on-one plays,’ we said we need to really run through our sets and execute so that we can get good shots. That’s something that we haven’t always done. Hopefully that means we’re learning and getting better at that stuff and hopefully it becomes the norm for us.”
- From the start, the matchups were going to be interesting to watch. Both teams played it straight up to start. Russell Westbrook was on Mario Chalmers. Thabo Sefolosha was on Dwyane Wade. Kevin Durant guarded LeBron James. Serge Ibaka defended Chris Bosh. And Kendrick Perkins was on Joel Anthony.
- The Heat bring Udonis Haslem off the bench first in place of Bosh, and then Shane Battier later comes in for Wade. When Battier checked in, he played the 2 and guarded James Harden. And Battier gave Harden fits. We’re used to seeing Harden either dominate or simply struggle with his shot. It’s rare that a player shuts him down. But that’s what Battier was doing early, forcing Harden into dribbling into a crowd and hounding him into making terrible passes. Fortunately for the Thunder, the Heat had to have Battier on Durant a good portion of the time so Harden was able to get much of his against Wade.
- In the two-man game, Harden still had his way.
- It’s interesting that Miami is regarded as the team that best punishes teams for their mistakes. Yet it was the Thunder that blew open the game at the end of the first half by capitalizing on the Heat’s turnovers. With five minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Thunder lead 43-40. In the last five minutes of the quarter, the Heat had five turnovers and the Thunder converted four of the five turnovers into points to build a 55-42 lead with two minutes remaining in the half.
- The ball movement by the Thunder in the first half was perhaps the best we’ve seen all season. It was certainly the best we’ve seen against an elite team. OKC started the game with six assists on its first seven buckets and nine assists on its first 11 made field goals. The Thunder finished with 26 assists, one shy of tying its season high.
- The Thunder had just six turnovers at halftime, another example of the discipline with which OKC played. Miami had 11.
- Both teams combined to shoot 42-of-67 from the field in the first half. Apparently, that 63 percent clip was the best first-half shooting this year.
- From very early on, you could tell that Perk was headed for a big night. He was 4-of-4 from the field in the first quarter, largely because he was finishing great feeds from Durant and Harden. It became a theme for the night, as Perk finished with a season-high 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
- Perk confirmed something that I wrote in this space after Friday’s game against Minnesota. Westbrook, Perk said, has been a perfect leader for this team in the last three games. Perk said he has no idea what’s gotten into Westbrook but added “he’s rubbing off on me.” What made Westbrook so impressive tonight in a 13-point performance on 4-for-16 shooting is that he kept his composure and didn’t allow early foul trouble to take him out of the game mentally. You can only hope that that’s a sign of Westbrook growing up before our eyes.
- Westbrook made a terrible decision to reach in/dive in for a steal attempt and commit his third foul. It forced him to sit for the final 7 1/2 minutes of the first half. But, again, the way he bounced back from it and kept his head in the game was big time.
- Brooks went with a nine-man rotation for the most part, and, really, almost eight. Nazr Mohammed got only six minutes, and Lazar Hayward played just two minutes.
- Collison’s value in a potential NBA Finals series with Miami will be humongous (did I spell that right?). With all the star power on both teams, and the highlight potential, it’s Collison’s ability to draw charges that could shape the complexion of a playoff series. With the Thunder having him as its last line of defense, Collison can erase mistakes out on the perimeter by stepping in and taking a charges on the Heat’s wing players. He showed it tonight.
- I like Miami’s small ball lineup of Chalmers, Wade, Battier, LeBron and Bosh. It’s similar to the Thunder’s. But I think it’s better. The Heat didn’t use it much tonight, and OKC didn’t really struggle with it when Miami did. But there was a small stretch where Collison was chasing around Battier, obviously to no avail. Battier simply curled off a screen and got wide open in the lane for a layup.
- Was this Durant’s best game of the season? Statistically, it wasn’t even his best game of the past two days. But given his individual matchup and the magnitude of the game, I’d say KD’s performance ranks right up there. He finished with 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting. He had nine rebounds. He dished out eight assists. He took care of the ball, turning it over only twice. And, most impressively, he played some pretty determined defense against James and Wade.
- LeBron on the Thunder: “They are quick. You can’t scout for how quick they are. You have to go against them and see.”
- The Thunder limited the Heat to four offensive rebounds, which helped produce just six second-chance points. That’s a new opponent season-low for offensive rebounds, and it’s a sizable advantage the Thunder has over the Heat in a potential series.
- Just 11 fast-break points for the Heat tonight. Much of it goes back to the Thunder’s offensive discipline. “We did it on the offensive end,” Sefolosha said. “Not turning the ball over too much, getting some good shots, quality shots and basically just running back. I think we did all the small things to prevent their fast break from happening.”
- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “They were playing more to their identity than we were.”
- For more on this one, join me on Monday at 11 a.m. on NewsOK.com/sports for my weekly chat.
- Up next. At Portland on Tuesday.
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