Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday's Game 2 loss to Miami.
- Another night. Another slow start.
- The Thunder trailed 18-2 in the first seven-plus minutes. Over that span, OKC was 1-for-12 and had four turnovers.
Said Kevin Durant: "That was the game."
Nobody had an answer for why these slow starts have cropped up. Said James Harden, "We don't know. We have to change if we want to win games."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has talked for two days about his team needing to "impose its will." I'd say Miami did that and then some tonight. The Heat flipped the script on everything the Thunder had success with in Game 1. And the Thunder never stood a chance.
The Thunder never led in this game.
Spoelstra changed his starting lineup for this one, inserting Chris Bosh and sitting Udonis Haslem. It worked like a charm. Bosh gave the Heat a boost of energy and a presence down low. He had a game-high 15 rebounds and scored 16 points and spent a good portion of the first half diving all over the floor for loose balls. Bosh's energy and hustle early illustrated how the Thunder was getting outworked.
The Heat started LeBron James out on Durant this time, and it too worked to perfection. Much of the reason the Thunder struggled was because Durant couldn't shake free from LeBron. His defense broke down the Thunder's entire offense. As a result, Russell Westbrook had no choice but to start jacking jumpers, Serge Ibaka, too. The Thunder even had to go inside to Kendrick Perkins, who was being guarded in the post by Battier. None of it worked.
LeBron absolutely dominated this game. His fourth quarter might have been subpar (and of course a few detractors will focus on that), but he did plenty in the first three quarters to make up for it. He controlled the entire game. He came out ultra-aggressive, refusing to settle for outside shots and instead barreling to the basket for high-percentage shots. He bulled his way to one layup after another and sent a message to the Thunder very early that nobody would stop him tonight.
Never thought Spoelstra would be so stubborn to again play essentially seven guys. But that's what he did. This time, he even took it a step further, playing all his starters at least 39 minutes. Bosh, James and Shane Battier all played at least 40 minutes.
Shane Battier is averaging 17 points in this series...Might be time to go small and put out that fire. Leaving Serge Ibaka on him at this point is beyond silly.
James Harden was much more aggressive tonight. After a season-low tying five points in Game 1, Harden bounced back nicely with 21 in this Game 2. He attacked the basket early and got inside the paint for layups, and his pull-up jumper was working. He gave the Thunder a much-needed offensive spark early on, scoring 10 of the Thunder's 15 first-quarter points and 17 by halftime.
Unfortunately for Harden, now he has to go on the road and prove all over again that he can dominate away from home. Game 4 of the Dallas series should have ended all questions. But that was the first road. This is the NBA Finals.
Home-court advantage has meant little to nothing for the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals and now the NBA Finals. After OKC stole it from San Antonio, the Heat just snatched it from the Thunder. Perhaps we should all let this be a lesson for us next year when worrying so much about where the Thunder finishes. Believe me, I'm in that band.
That comeback by the Thunder deserves credit for only one reason: OKC never gave up. Other than that, it doesn't much belong in the conversation of this game.
Brooks: "The bottom line is we play aggressive basketball, we play tough basketball, and we didn’t do that to start the game. The last minute, I won’t even look at that. I’m going to focus on the first six to eight minutes of the game. That’s more important than the last minute or the last play of the game."
Brooks made a boo-boo by playing Nick Collison just 14 1/2 minutes tonight. Everybody in the building and watching around the world could see that Collison should have been in there for Perk. Yet, inexplicably, Brooks stuck with Perk. Collison is clearly better on offense, and his defense is just as solid. All the "little things" Perk does, Collison does, too. But he couldn't get any real burn until the fourth quarter. You can only wonder how the offense would have been different had Brooks gone with the much better finisher and facilitator in Collison over Perkins.
Brooks explaining why he went with Perk: "He's one of our better players. We have three good choices, Serge, Nick and Perk. I thought Perk, Perk is our best screener. He gets guys open. He scores by setting screens, and there's no stat for that, but that's what he does."
Collison sets great screens, too, Scotty.
But here's where I lean toward Brooks' side a bit. Remember how Durant couldn't get open early? Brooks had to help his star somehow. Maybe that's what he felt was the best way to lend a hand.
Prediction: Collison gets at least 25 minutes in Game 3.
Brooks with one of his better quotes: "Small ball, medium ball, big ball, that did not lose the game. Toughness lost the game. We didn't come out with the toughness that we need to come out with."
Thabo Sefolosha did his best on LeBron tonight...and his efforts barely made a ripple. Tough night.
Sefolosha missed another dunk tonight after botching two in Game 1. According to Synergy, Sefolosha has nine dunks this season. Three of his six postseason misses in transition have been dunk attempts.
Foul trouble played a big factor tonight for the Thunder tonight. Durant and Westbrook both picked up two in the first quarter and had to sit for a nice little stretch. When they did, the Thunder was already behind big and then was forced to figure it out without its big guns. It's amazing the Heat didn't run away with this one considering the circumstances.
Durant played the final 10 1/2 minutes with five fouls. That was pretty impressive.
Yes, Durant got fouled by James on that last shot attempt.
Yes, Durant should have been on the bench anyway with his sixth foul after Battier drew a pretty clean charge against KD.
When LeBron sits, Miami implodes. When James went to the bench with 9:33 left in the second quarter, the Heat was ahead by 13. The Thunder immediately went on a 9-4 run to pull within eight and force Spoelstra to get LeBron back in. While LeBron sat, the Heat's offense looked awful.
Ibaka and James got a little chippy tonight. Not sure if the cameras caught it, but LeBron lost all his patience with Ibaka and started to let him know it. Ibaka didn't back down, instead standing tall in front of LeBron. The exchange stemmed from physicality that started in Game 1. Ibaka has boxed out players with force on free throws all season. You may have seen it in the past. It's almost like Ibaka doesn't even care about getting the rebound on a missed free throw. He just pushes and pushes on his man so that his man can't get it. It ticks many players off, and LeBron clearly isn't used to it. That tactic, coupled with a few other encounters, has created a perfect storm for those two to mix it up. Keep an eye on those two going forward.
There's plenty of other things to take from this game. The best thing I can tell you after this one is that this loss increases the chances of the Thunder winning Game 3 in Miami. Had the Thunder won tonight, I would have gone to Miami thinking OKC had no chance of winning Game 3. A sense of fulfillment perhaps would have kicked in after securing the first two wins. The Thunder might not have only thought of itself as the better team, but also carried itself as such -- and not in a good way. Game 3 could have been a Heat blowout win. Not now. Now, the Thunder knows its poop stinks. Now, OKC has its back against the wall and must win in Miami to win the series. That's not to say the Thunder will take Game 3. But the chances of a win increased after this loss (remember, the Thunder is 17-4 this year after a loss this year). Expect a much more inspired effort Sunday.
Up next. Game 3 on Sunday at Miami.