Heat 110, Thunder 100
Nuggets from my notebook from Thursday’s loss to the Heat.
- If you’re scoring at home, that’s now six straight losses to the same team. Miami doesn’t just have the Thunder’s number. The Heat has OKC’s address, social and blood type. Great teams aren’t supposed to lose like this. Great rivalries not supposed to be this one-sided. Before this latest loss, there was a valid question of whether the Heat would officially be in the Thunder’s head with a win Thursday night here inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. Now, there’s nothing left to wonder. Miami owns OKC, and that’s a reality that doesn’t appear to be changing until the Heat is good and ready for it to.
- “I don’t know what the problem is,” said Kendrick Perkins.
- And that is a problem. Nobody seems capable of pinpointing the issue at this point, other than the obvious, of course, which starts and ends with that LeBron James fellow.
- James showed tonight why he is the MVP, three times over and, likely, again this year. He dominated every facet of this showdown. He scored whenever, and I mean whenever, he wanted to or his team needed him to. He set up scores of open shots for teammates. He defended Kevin Durant as good as, or better than, anyone we’ve seen all season. He rebounded. He did it all.
- “He had a great game,” Durant said of LeBron.
- It wasn’t just that the Thunder lost to the Heat. It’s the way OKC fell. Miami manhandled the Thunder, in almost every category, in almost every way. Defensively, the Thunder couldn’t stop the Heat. Offensively, the Thunder couldn’t score with its regular efficiency.
- Clearly, this was the type of loss that makes you question if this Thunder team is championship caliber. Don’t misunderstand. By championship caliber, I mean capable of actually winning the championship.
- “You don’t win championships in February,” Perkins said. “Obviously they’ve been dominating us for the last six games, so if we do meet again it’s just a problem that we got to deal with and figure it out.”
- It’s easy to say this is just one loss. But that’s not the case. Again, it’s six straight to the same team. But more than that, you have to now consider this. Against the Heat, Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies, the Thunder is now just 4-4. At some point, you’d figure the Thunder will have to get pass two if not three of those teams. And of those four wins, one came without Chris Paul in the lineup and another came against a shorthanded Grizzlies squad playing its first game in the aftermath of the Rudy Gay trade. So even though 4-4 looks good on paper against the league’s best four other teams, that’s actually a pretty weak 4-4.
- Perhaps the most popular question after tonight’s game is does this force Sam Presti to make a trade. If you want my opinion, no. Presti rarely, if ever, is going to feel pressure to do anything from what I gather. He’s a patient man, one who has repeatedly stated his goal of putting the franchise in perennial contention, not giving it a one-year puncher’s chance. Add to that, he’s historically avoided altering his roster with just one team in mind, regardless of what people may think the basis of the Perk trade was. With that said, I find it hard to believe that Presti could sit up there, in his seat atop the lower bowl, and watch his team get crushed without thinking a move should be made.
- The worst part of this defeat is that the same issues that we’ve known were a problem bit the Thunder, and each one played a major part in this loss. Poor rebounding. Turnovers. Stagnant, if not selfish, offense. Bad shot selection. Few shooting threats. No balance scoring. Average, at best, bench play. These are all real issues, weaknesses we all know could crush the Thunder at some point or another. Tonight just happened to be one of those nights.
- I wish the Heat didn’t wear the jerseys they had on tonight. They kind of took away from Thunder-Heat if you know what I mean. Prior to tip-off, when the Heat removed their warm-ups and revealed the alternates, it looked like a different team, not the one Thunder heads have grown to hate.
- No Udonis Haslem (leg contusion) in this one meant Shane Battier was starting at power forward. Of course, that meant Serge Ibaka was assigned to him. With the Thunder sticking with its customary lineup, I made it a point to then chart how many open 3s the Heat’s 4s in a small ball lineup would have. The results: two in the first quarter, both by Battier, one in the second by Rashard Lewis, and one in the third by Battier. I didn’t chart the fourth. But through three quarters, that’s four open 3s the Thunder allowed. And you can’t ignore that Ibaka was the responsible party, especially not after last year’s Finals series. While Battier’s final numbers — six points on six shots — look good for the Thunder on paper, they really aren’t indicative of how Miami simply didn’t make the Thunder pay tonight. Lewis scored just three points on 1-for-5 shooting. Imagine how bad it would have been had the Heat actually hit open shots.
- You can’t really fault Scott Brooks for not playing small this time. Did he do it a little late? Sure. But he went small a ton in this one. I’m sure plenty will still be peeved that Perk played 23 minutes, 33 seconds. But he wasn’t the problem tonight. The Thunder just got trounced. But Brooks played his cards much better.
- Brooks went small for the first time with 1:10 left in the first quarter. He trotted out Reggie Jackson, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, KD and Nick Collison. It was against a lineup of Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis, LeBron and Chris Andersen.
- At the end of the opening quarter, and for the start of the second, Brooks went big again. He played Jackson, Martin, Durant, Ibaka and Collison. But with 9:24 left in the second quarter, Brooks went small. This time, the unit was Russell Westbrook, Jackson, K-Mart, Durant and Ibaka. That five played against Norris Cole/Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis/LeBron and Chris Bosh.
- You could argue that the Thunder dug itself a big hole, 11 points to be exact, while Perk was in the game. I’m sure many will. But you know what? When he left the game, the hole got bigger. The deficit grew to 17 while he was out. When he came back for the final 5:44 of the second quarter, that’s where the margin remained. So while Perk wasn’t great tonight, he wasn’t the problem. The Thunder’s issues extended well beyond one man.
- With that said, I have no counter for the 17-point deficit that grew to 23 for the start of the second half, and 20 by the time Perk sat. Or the 38-28 finish in favor of the Thunder after Perk sat for the final 14:30.
- For the second straight game, the big man battle was one-sided in favor of the Thunder’s opponent. Chris Bosh had 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots. Perk and Ibaka combined for 14 points, 11 rebounds and one block. Ouch!
- The biggest problem with the Thunder’s bigs tonight was their inability to grab rebounds, on either end, and finish plays. Miami out-rebounded OKC 46-35, including 13-5 on the offensive end, and Perk and Ibaka repeatedly were either stripped on the inside, had their shots blocked while going up, or simply lost the ball. That happened much too much in the early going and it contributed to the Thunder’s lack of rhythm.
- After Perk backed down Battier on a possession two minutes into the game and scored on jump hook, he screamed “He’s too small” as he ran back down court.
- A total of 16 turnovers for the Thunder tonight, including three in the first 5 1/2 minutes. Another contributing factor to the lack of rhythm early.
- It was hard to watch that first quarter, as Miami did whatever it wanted while the Thunder couldn’t make a shot. The Heat ended the quarter ahead 32-17 and never looked back. “Maybe it was nerves, or we were too excited. I don’t know,” Durant said. “That was the game I think, that first quarter.”
- Westbrook and Durant contributed to the Thunder’s early funk as much as anyone or anything else. Westbrook went to his pull-up jumper too much. Durant took one wild shot after another. Of their first seven combined shots, maybe two were quality attempts.
- Loved how Westbrook stopped settling for the pull-up jumper and started attack the rim. It got him to the foul line and, before you knew it, he had 18 early points despite a rough start from the field.
- When Westbrook started barreling to the rim and earning foul shots, you could clearly see his worth to the Thunder and why sometimes he needs to take more shots than Durant, who utterly did not have it at that moment.
- Yes, the refs were terrible.
- Durant picked up his 11th technical for slamming his hand on the floor after he hit the deck following a drive. Unless one of his more recent ones gets rescinded, he’s now five away from an automatic one-game suspension.
- A scary moment happened when Durant skied for an offensive rebound with 1:42 remaining in the opening quarter, got his legs clipped by Chris “Birdman” Andersen and crashed hard to the court. Durant rolled around in pain for several seconds before a timeout was eventually called and the training staff came out to check on him. He stayed in the game.
- Durant on the crash: “When I jumped in the air, I looked like I was going to get the rebound but then I got clipped,” Durant said. “It wasn’t a foul. I mean, I ran in there and Birdman was jumping just like I was. It just was an unfortunate play. I fell really, really hard. I couldn’t catch my footing. But the last thing I was thinking about was coming out of the game. I just wanted to keep fighting. I’ll deal with it later.”
- Durant played all but the final 28 seconds. That’s only because he fouled out. It was his first time fouling out since Dec. 8, 2010 (at Minnesota) and just the third time in his career that he’s been disqualified from a game.
- At one point, the Thunder was shooting 25 percent in this game.
- LeBron had nine points on two shots at one point.
- LeBron finished with 30 points on 58 percent shooting, ending his record streak of six straight games of at least 30 points and 60 percent shooting. In the words of Johnny Drama: “VICTOOOOOORRY!!!”
- Erik Spoelstra is to substitutions what Rick Carlisle is to timeouts.
- With LeBron sitting for the first 4 1/2 minutes of the second quarter, the Heat actually extended its lead by two. That’s when you knew things weren’t going the Thunder’s way.
- Durant missed his first eight shots before finally getting his first field goal to fall with 4: 22 remaining in the second quarter. At one point, KD and Russ had scored 15 points on 13 shots with five turnovers.
- At one point in the final three minutes of the first half, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 3-for-17.
- The last-second layup the Heat got at the end of the first quarter and the last-second dunk Bosh got at the end of the second were prime examples of the Thunder’s poor defensive execution at times tonight.
- The final six minutes of the second quarter was all LeBron. And strictly from a he’s-the-best-player-on-the-planet standpoint, it was beautiful to watch. LeBron scored or assisted on 17 of the Heat’s final 21 points in the half. Nearly each dime and each bucket was pivotal in keeping the Thunder at bay. Westbrook hit two free throws to pull OKC within 15, Bron hits Ray Allen for a 3-pointer. Durant drills a 3 to get OKC back within 15, Bron draws two foul shots. Westbrook hits a jumper, Bron hits Wade for a 3. Westbrook converts a 3-point play, Bron buries a stepback. Westbrook puts in a layup, Bron puts in another stepback. Durant gets a fast break dunk, Bron bombs in a 3. That is actual play-by-play. Go back and watch it. It was amazing. Just one crushing play after another.
- By my count, the Thunder threw Durant, Sefolosha, Ibaka, Perk and Westbrook at LeBron. I could be off, but you get the point. That’s a lot of bodies. And the guy still scored an efficient 39.
- I’m not sure why defenders don’t pressure LeBron. It’s the strangest thing. They just let him hold the rock at the top of the arc and survey the court. They just give him time to plot and plan. They just make it convenient for him to carry out whatever he conceives. It’s amazing. Pressure that dude. Put some heat on him and make him make a decision. If he blows by you and makes the right one, so be it. But that’s got to be better than just sitting there as he bides his time before killing you anyway. At least you’re giving yourself a chance to create a turnover with ball pressure or by forcing a pass.
- Rumble got a backwards, over-the-head halfcourt shot lodged between the backboard and the rim during a timeout midway through the third quarter. I’d bet you Rumble couldn’t do that again if you gave him 1,000 chances.
- A recap of Durant’s night: 0-for-7 start from the field, 2-for-10 shooting at the half, a double foul call, a hard, scary landing, a technical foul, five turnovers, 40 points and a disqualification for fouling out. Pretty eventful night.
- Westbrook on if he was disappointed with the loss: “Not disappointed. But mostly just surprised.”
- That was the most surprising thing about the mood after this one. Nobody on the Thunder’s roster seemed down. Nobody expressed frustration. They weren’t bouncing off the walls. But they weren’t sulking, either. I think everybody was just extremely ready for the break. This was just an untimely setback they encountered before jetting off to wherever they’ll spend the next four days. When they return, they’ll probably have forgotten all about it.
- Up next. All-Star Weekend.
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