Thunder 105, Heat 94
Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday's Game 1 win over Miami.
- This is going to be fun. Just like we thought. This first game just proved what we all knew going in.
- From the opening tip, everything about this game was nothing but entertaining, from the starting lineups to the substitution patterns to the contrasting starts to the differing strategies. Look for much of that to stay the same as this series goes on.
- The Heat started Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem. With that unit, something was going to give. Either the Heat was going to get killed on the boards and in the paint, or the Thunder would get burned by Miami on the perimeter. It ended up being the latter.
- Battier was balling in the beginning. With Serge Ibaka covering him, he simply hoisted whatever halfway decent look he got, sucking Ibaka away from the basket and making the league's leading shot blocker defend the 3-point line. Needless to say, Ibaka couldn't. Battier buried his first three 3-point attempts and five of his first six shots. At halftime, Battier had the same point total as Kevin Durant and had outscored every other player on the Thunder. With Ibaka so conditioned to camp out around the paint, I'm not sure what the solution for that problem is if the Thunder sticks to its lineup, which it should.
- The Heat made five of its first six 3-pointers, all coming within the first 10 minutes. Even though everyone in the building had that "They-can't-keep-this-up" mentality, that early sharp-shooting seemed like it could be a huge problem not only tonight, but also for the duration of this series.
- Miami made 6-of-10 3s in the first half. The Heat went 2-for-9 from deep in the second half. Logic prevailed.
- James starting on Kendrick Perkins was about as anticlimactic as you could imagine. For days and days, we've all been salivating over the James-Durant matchup. And then James played Perk. Shame.
- Durant, meanwhile, used his first taste of Finals basketball to add another bullet to his already impressive resume. KD came out covering James from the start. And he did through the first three quarters until Thabo Sefolosha took the torch and ran with it.
- KD picked up his first foul in just 1 minute, 8 seconds while trying to defend James, biting on a pump fake out of a post up. At that point, it looked like it might be a bad idea. The Thunder's best player was a whistle away from having to sit for perhaps the remainder of the period. But Durant didn't pick up his second foul until the 2:35 mark of the third quarter.
- Even though Durant stayed out of foul trouble following that early first foul, I thought he played timidly like he was trying to make sure he avoided additional fouls. It hurt his game a bit in my opinion, mainly on the defensive end. He wasn't nearly as aggressive in covering James and, as a result, James got a few driving lanes for easy layups.
- The Heat started Wade on Russell Westbrook and Chalmers on Sefolosha. Good luck with that, Miami. Don't see being conducive to success for the Heat. And if it ever is, I definitely don't see it holding up. Here's why...
- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is going to run his guys into the ground. He essentially played seven players tonight. Joel Anthony got a token two minutes. There's no way Wade is going to be able to both keep up with Westbrook and supply efficient and effective offense while playing 40-plus minutes. No way. No how.
- If the Heat is going to continue to play such a short rotation, it's understandable why James isn't guarding Durant.
- The Thunder is too deep, too talented and too young and energetic for the Heat to try to get by with a seven-man rotation. Simply put, OKC is too good to get beat by two great players. It ain't happening. And I am willing to bet anybody that Battier and Chalmers don't combine for 29 points the rest of this series. If I'm right in my assumption, that will put even more pressure on the Heat's big three. Spoelstra better start trusting his bench and trusting it fast.
- Even James said after the game that him and Wade need a break. "We're going to have to have more guys in there to give me and D-Wade a rest."
- At halftime, James, Battier and Chalmers had combined for 37 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
- You saw a sliver of the Thunder's depth tonight. Sefolosha, Derek Fisher and Nick Collison combined for 22 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and a ton of hustle plays. They did everything they had to do and did it when the Thunder needed it most. Again, the Thunder is a better team and as long as OKC gets effort and production out of its role players like it did tonight Miami won't stand a chance by using a short bench.
- Collison in particular was fantastic. Of his team-high 10 rebounds, five came on the offensive end, as he kept play after play alive. He set crazy good screens, freeing up his stars for shots and driving lanes, and he found pockets and holes in the Heat's defense to make himself a scoring threat.
- For as long as the Thunder's big men find those gaps and the Thunder's stars remain unselfish and willing to make that extra pass, I don't see how the Heat guard OKC. It's the ultimate pick-your-poison equation. Do you want Durant and Westbrook torching you with superstar nights, or do you want the unsung role players connecting on high-percentage looks?
- As good as the Thunder's role players have been this season, I couldn't help but raise my eyebrows when I saw Scott Brooks go with his second unit (and Ibaka) to start the second quarter. I wasn't ready to say it was a mistake at first glance. But it certainly was a risky move. Brooks had Fisher, Daequan Cook, James Harden and Collison going up against Chalmers, Wade, Bron, Battier and Bosh. That's essentially the Heat's starting lineup against, essentially, the Thunder's B Team. The Heat did go on a 6-2 run before Durant checked back in (and 8-2 soon after KD came in), so the lineup didn't exactly pay off. The more effective strategy was leaving Westbrook and Durant in with Fisher and Collison, with either Sefolosha, Ibaka or Perkins.
- Lil Wayne was in the house tonight. After all that drama. (Insert me shaking my head here). But he was able to purchase two courtside tickets and sit near the free throw line across from the Heat's bench. Apparently, dude didn't have the best experience.
- The effort in the second half was just flat out better. There wasn't a ton of adjustments made. The Thunder just played harder and with more energy. Once again, you saw how much of a difference such a simple thing can make. And it was noticeable from the first two minutes of the third quarter on.
- Westbrook on the difference between the first half and second half: "Honestly, I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end, made them feel us a little bit; did a great job of being aggressive on the defensive end, and that led to easy points offensively.
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