By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
Oklahoma City lost to the Heat 103-97 to Miami on Tuesday. Here’s some rapid reaction:
A late-game breakdown in Miami did the Thunder in again. Might as well have called this Finals Game 6. Isolated on the wing with a one-point lead, and the shot clock running down, LeBron was set to make a contested move to the rim. But Kendrick Perkins came over to help (maybe overhelp), nobody had his back (it sounded as if Kevin Martin messed this up) and LeBron fired an easy pass into Chris Bosh for a critical (and uncontested) dunk. Miami went up three in the late stages and OKC got no closer.
There was plenty of finger-pointing on that fateful defensive lapse:
It was over when…
…Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both missed desperation game-tying threes with under 10 seconds. Westbrook’s was the more controversial, however, with some contact on the shot but no call. Sensing the loss and frustrated with the officiating, Westbrook pounded the scorer’s table after the miss, yelling an expletive and picking up a technical. His actions channeled the feelings of all OKC fans at that moment. The Thunder had lost its fifth consecutive game to the Heat, fourth straight in the Miami House of Horrors.
Star of the game – LeBron James
The battle of the superstars (KD v LBJ) was about even, but LeBron’s team once again came out on top. And he was brilliant throughout, using his powerful finesse to impact the game in every aspect. His stat line (29 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, two steals, one block) was slightly above average, but this was the imprint the reigning MVP usually puts on each game. He scores, he defends, he assists, he rebounds and he wins.
Durant went 11/21 shooting for a game-high 33 points, seven rebounds and three assists. A foul-plagued first half slowed him down early, but he was vintage KD in the final 24 minutes. And late in the fourth, he relished in the spotlight, going right after the league’s best defender and burning him on a number of occasions. Great game, tough result.
What it means
Seeding-wise, not much. Just one of 82 games, dropping the Thunder into a first-place tie with the Clippers for the best record in the NBA at 21-6. But you felt like OKC wanted that bad for its future confidence against the Heat. Because if the Thunder go into Miami for the Finals, it’ll now have to do so with bitter memories and recurring memories.
Unsung hero – Mario Chalmers
Oklahoma City isn’t supposed to win the point guard matchup against Miami. It’s supposed to dominate it. But that wasn’t the case on Christmas Day, and that may have been the deciding point in a close loss. Mario Chalmers played out of his mind, burning the Thunder for a season-high 20 points on 8/14 shooting. He was averaging 6.5 coming in. His previous high was 12. Meanwhile, Bad Russell showed up for OKC. Westbrook went 5/19 from the field, dished out a season-low three assists and committed five turnovers. Combining those two factors (Chalmers up, Westbrook down), not a recipe for OKC success.
As if it wasn’t evident enough in the Finals last year, Kendrick Perkins’ uselessness against Miami was on full display Tuesday. Against Memphis, the two LA teams and a few others, his defensive prowess is invaluable to OKC. But not against Miami’s small-ball, with Chris Bosh and a variety of stretch fours floating around on the perimeter, while LeBron tempts the Thunder bigs to follow him inside. And even worse, his limitations hinder Ibaka’s effectiveness. Air Congo’s defense is completely grounded against the Heat, as he battles to either stay out on Battier or somehow stay in front of LeBron, two guys he has no business guarding.
Stat of the game
WE GOT A RIVALRY BREWING!!!
Bayless’ always entertaining take
Who could have ever guessed he’d take this from the game
Most surprising part about this play is that Mike Miller actually missed a three against OKC.
Love the post-dunk staredown
Westbrook’s late missed three. Was it a foul? Judgement call.
Oklahoma City will try to rebound in Dallas on Thursday. The Thunder will be looking to break a season-high two-game losing streak.