Heat 91, Thunder 85
Nuggets from my notebook from Sunday's Game 3 loss at Miami.
- Three plays cost the Thunder this game. They came in the final 35 seconds. 1) Russell Westbrook's missed 3-pointer with 30 seconds left, 2) James Harden's ill-advised foul on LeBron James and 3) Thabo Sefolosha's turnover on the inbounds pass intended for Westbrook. If any of those plays pan out, the Thunder has a chance to win this game.
- I just summed up in 60 words what I used 700 on for Monday's copy of The Oklahoman. But if you want a little more detail and reaction on those game-changing plays, here you go.
- Fittingly, Thunder coach Scott Brooks saw it the same way. "The game was basically anybody’s ballgame that fourth quarter," he said. "I really believe that a small play here or there really could have helped us."
- Of course, a ton of other stuff hurt the Thunder as well. Missed free throws. Turnovers. Poor offense. Bad fouls. And more missed free throws.
- The Thunder missed nine foul shots tonight. That's now 23 missed free throws in these first three games. This from the team that led the league in both regular season foul shooting and playoff foul shooting entering this series.
- Hard to overlook the fact that the Thunder last the last two games by a combined 10 points and missed 16 free throws in those contests.
- Kevin Durant on the poor foul shooting: "We're missing. We've just got to be focused and disciplined and knock them down."
- Many might say the Thunder gave this game away. That is true. No denying that. However, I'm not going to focus on that. I'm going to take the glass-half-full approach. I'm going to say the Thunder showed something, something impressive. OKC went into its first NBA Finals game on the road and took a pretty good punch by a pretty good team and still had a chance to win in the final minute despite playing one of its worst games of the playoffs. I'm going to view this Game 3 in that light going forward. This was a loss the Thunder can live with. In the race to four, the Thunder of course can't come away with any more of these. But for a team that everyone is expecting to show its age, the Thunder did a darn good job of putting itself in a position to steal a pivotal game.
- Count the end of the third quarter among the handful of stretches that were costly for OKC. The Thunder got outscored 15-3 to end the period and missed all eight of its final shots attempts. Miami turned a 64-54 deficit into a 69-67 lead going into the fourth quarter. In just 4 1/2 minutes, all the momentum had shifted squarely to Miami.
- Westbrook went berserk midway through that third period, and his play on four straight Thunder possessions single-handedly killed his team's rally. It started with the Thunder up 60-51. He turned it over on a driving pass he tried to force to Ibaka following an isolation. He then took an bad shot, a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Another miss followed, this one a layup out of an isolation. Finally, he barreled into Shane Battier in transition and was called for a charging foul.
- Brooks had to bench Westbrook immediately after that charge. The coach had seen enough. Somebody had to do something to settle down Westbrook, and Brooks made the right call in removing Westbrook from the game.
- In Westbrook's defense, there was very little movement in the Thunder's halfcourt offense, again almost forcing him to try to make a play Meanwhile, that 3 he took during that stretch was in some sort of flow. Westbrook was open thanks to a pick by Durant. Still, each of those decisions by Westbrook was questionable at best. They were all plays that simply weren't needed. The Thunder had been playing so well as a team to start the third quarter. But in a matter of a minute and a half, Westbrook's decision-making torpedoed every bit of that.
- Here's where Brooks blew it: leaving Westbrook on the bench for the remainder of the period. The Thunder had no offense without Westbrook and Durant, who 40 seconds earlier had to be taken out of the game after picking up his fourth foul. I would have let Westbrook sit for two game-time minutes and re-inserted him during the under-three-minute timeout.
- Brooks on sitting Russ: "Russell had a bad stretch of about three or four bad possessions. I took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game. I had done this before. He was about to come out with about another two minutes to go, but it was nothing other than that."
- NBA coach turned television analyst Jeff Van Gundy with some wise words during the broadcast. "If I had one regret about my time coaching Steve Francis is I tried to change too much too soon," Van Gundy said. "That’s why I love what Scott Brooks has done. Russell Westbrook has gotten better rapidly...And the point is he has improved. He's improved dramatically."
- Durant's foul trouble in this one will be a big deal to many. He had five for the second straight game and it clearly affected his performance and the Thunder's. But the only foul call that was highly questionable was his first, when he jab stepped into LeBron James. How that was a foul I will never understand. Ever. As far as KD's fourth foul on Wade, it was a foul. Period.
- KD got his fourth by falling for a pump fake by Dwyane Wade. This instance doesn't really illustrate my point since Wade was under the basket. But after seeing Thunder players bite on Wade's fake all series my question is why go for Wade's pump fake in the first place? They're falling for it all over the court. It makes no sense. You want that guy shooting jumpers.
- The Thunder has got to keep Durant out of foul trouble going forward. It's all fine and well that he's seeking to improve as a defender. But at this point, let him work on that next season. And the move Brooks made when Durant got in foul trouble is one I think the Thunder should explore more at the start of games and throughout them. Put KD on Mario Chalmers. Chalmers is not a threat. Since his 12-point shocker in Game 1, Chalmers has scored five points on 2-for-15 shooting. Having KD guard Chalmers can lighten Durant's responsibility defensively, thus avoiding foul trouble, and preserve his energy offensively. The Thunder can move Sefolosha from Wade to LeBron and move Westbrook from Chalmers to Wade. Of course, the risk is wearing out Westbrook (but let's be real, when have we ever seen that?) and putting Westbrook in a potentially harmful position to pick up fouls. To me, though, it's a no-brainer. Durant can't go through the rest of this series playing tentatively or, worse, watching from the bench.
- This is worth noting, nonetheless, about KD's fouls. At the time Durant picked up his fourth foul, the entire Heat starting lineup had been whistled for just four fouls.
- Speaking of fouls, the two the Thunder committed on back-to-back possessions late in the third were game-changing. First, Serge Ibaka ran into Battier in the right corner, and then Derek Fisher ran into James Jones in the same corner. Battier and Jones made all six free throws. In 40 seconds, the Heat shaved six points off a nine-point Thunder lead.
- I wrote in this space after Game 2, when James Harden had a nice bounce-back game, that the reigning Sixth Man of the Year will have to prove himself capable of showing up on the road on this stage. Tonight, he failed miserably. Harden was absolutely awful for much of the night. Offensively, he was hesitant and never really looked sure of himself. As a result, he scored just nine points on 2-for-10 shooting. He did have six assists and only two turnovers. But those turnovers came on back-breaking, back-to-back possessions, which helped the Heat extend its lead to seven with just less than three minutes remaining. Something about Harden just wasn't right.
- Harden did impress defensively. I was shocked to see him guarding LeBron, and successfully, down the stretch. Of course it was a byproduct of Durant's foul trouble. But Harden, who has given valiant efforts against Kobe Bryant, rose to the challenge. He stayed in front of James and manned up against James on post-ups, even staying down and staying solid on fakes, hesitations and counters.
- Here's the impact of Harden's off night offensively. The Thunder's bench outscored the Heat's just 20-16. That can't happen. A four-point margin against a Heat team that rarely uses its bench and definitely doesn't look to it for scoring is unacceptable. Coming into Game 3, the Oklahoma City's bench had outscored Miami's 42-20.
- The Thunder is now 17-5 after a loss this year.
- The breaks of this game can be brutal. I was reminded of that after seeing Sefolosha come up with what would have been, and perhaps still is, the play of his career on that perfect pluck against Wade at halfcourt. Sefolosha scooped it and scored on a reverse dunk to cut the Heat's lead to three and keep hope alive for the Thunder. But about a minute and a half later, Sefolosha threw the ball and the game away. And that steal and score became irrelevant.
- Sefolosha should have gotten the and one on that dunk. Wade fouled him.
- Can I just say that this year's Finals have been an absolute joy to watch and a privilege to cover? This has absolutely lived up to the hype and given us the series we all thought it would be.
- LeBron flat out manhandled the Thunder early on. It was embarrassing. He was muscling his way into the paint and crashing the boards for offensive rebounds and putbacks. It looked like the Thunder was scared to mix it up with him. He was thoroughly dominating the game in the first half.
- LeBron's friend and business manager Maverick Carter was jawing with Durant throughout the game. It looked like friendly banter, but it was curious conversation considering the stage and the stakes.
- In the second half, James quickly disappeared. Part of that was Wade hogging the ball. Another part was Bron missing shots, turning it over and, for a time, heading down a path that made it once again seem like the moment was too big for him. But his defense on Durant down the stretch was shut down, and that cannot be ignored.
- The Heat outscored the Thunder 44-39 in the second half. This was the first time Miami outscored OKC in the second half. In the first two games, the Thunder outscored Miami 111-85 in the second halves.
- This game reminds me of Game 1 against San Antonio in the sense that the Thunder let one get away despite some solid play out of its role players.Fisher, Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins combined to scored 25 points on 9-for-21 shooting with 14 rebounds. And the Thunder wasted their collective efforts on the road.
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