Heat 103, Thunder 97
Nuggets from my notebook from Tuesday's loss at Miami.
- In a 48-minute battle, eight were all that mattered down here in Miami. The first four and the final four. Those stretches, if you couldn't see any other second, told the story of this Christmas Day clash of conference heavy hitters. The Thunder started slow and finished sloppy. It felt like the NBA Finals all over again, a Game 6 that never happened largely because those final four games in June were just like this. The remaining 40 minutes, of course, needed to be played and were wildly entertaining. But, unfortunately for the Thunder, they were nothing more than confirmation that the Thunder still isn't ready to handle the Heat in a seven-game series.
- Miami jumped to a 13-2 lead in those first four minutes, the Heat shaking off any rust it appeared to have as it sleepwalked through most of its first 24 games. The Heat, from the start, looked like the more experienced team and, frankly, the better team. That part felt like Game 5 all over again. The Thunder missed shots, from the field and free throw line, turned it over and couldn't cover anyone wearing a red jersey. Miami, meanwhile, looked crisp. The Heat fired the ball around, got great shots and was locked in defensively. You would have thought the Thunder won the Finals and it was the Heat that wanted to exact a small measure of revenge.
- As for those final four minutes, the only good thing about them is that the Thunder can learn a boatload from them.
- Down the stretch, the Thunder went 2-for-9, missed a critical foul shot (by Kevin Durant of all players), lost Miami's best big man under the basket and got whistled for a technical foul. Even the things that went right for the Thunder in those final minutes felt wrong.
- Nick Collison, as usual, summed up things rather accurately rather than sugarcoating. "They got better shots than us late in the game," Collison said. "We got away from executing down the stretch. Every bucket we got was so difficult. Guys had to make incredible plays to get a bucket."
- That, what Collison just said, is the point that the Thunder is seeking to move beyond. OKC doesn't -- and shouldn't -- want to rely on Durant and Russell Westbrook to make incredible plays to pull out close games. It's not sustainable. As great as those two are offensively, they're not going to take this team to the Finals on their own. OKC needs a system, a plan of attack, an outlet on those nights that the All-Stars inevitably have an off night. That didn't show up in the second half down here on South Beach.
- In the final 24 minutes, Durant and Westbrook scored 38 of the Thunder's 49 points. that will win the Thunder ballgames against about 27 other teams. Against the Heat, it's as good as a death sentence. Especially when Westbrook and Durant combine to shoot 11-for-26 in a half like they did in the second.
- What the Thunder did in the second half, and especially in those final minutes, was turn the game into, at best, a game of 3-on-3, or your main three against ours. That plays right into the Heat's hands.
- Even though the Thunder now knows that the way to beat the Heat is through balance, OKC tried to win the game with hero ball. The Thunder lost sight of how it best succeeds. It was one questionable shot after another down the stretch.
- Five straight possessions inside the final three minutes basically stuck a fork in the Thunder.
- Westbrook didn't see or ignored a streaking Kevin Martin and drove the length of the court for a 1-on-3 layup that he missed.
- Westbrook barreled into Ray Allen and was called for a (questionable) charge.
- Kendrick Perkins picked up an offensive foul on an illegal screen.
- Martin drove the lane for another contested layup.
- Durant drove the lane for another contested layup, got fouled and split free throws.
- At least the Thunder was taking it strong to the rim.
- The biggest defensive blunder came on Chris Bosh's uncontested dunk with 25 seconds left to play. It was one of many miscommunications the Thunder had tonight. It also was the most costly. It gave Miami a three point lead after Durant had just made a great move to get to the basket for a dunk (which should have been an and one).
- Immediately after Bosh's dunk, Westbrook, Durant and Perkins all turned to Martin and chewed him out for not rotating. Perk was inching over to double LeBron James, and, apparently, it was Martin's job to rotate to Bosh, Perk's man. Durant pointed directly at Martin and bellowed "That's you!"
- I don't know the ins and outs of the Thunder's offensive and defensive schemes, but it looked to me as though Durant was every bit at fault as Martin. KD was in the lane, with inside position on Bosh. Martin was dropping toward the corner from the right wing, keeping a body on Dwyane Wade.
- I love how nobody threw Martin under the bus, though. This team is great in that way. They win as a team and lose as a team, shine as a team and suffer embarrassment as a team.
- At the same time, I'm not sure I trust K-Mart to defend anyone on the Heat's roster.
- Brooks on the breakdown: "LeBron demands so much attention, and he was making some tough shots. I feel bad for our guys because they were contested. We want to challenge every shot and we did. But he made some tough shots. We kind of helped over, being ready for him for his quick drive and we didn't have a good rotation on the back side."
- Nick Collison on the breakdown: "It's something we do sometimes. When a guy is isolating on the wing, we'll send a guy over. But we didn't talk and get his guy covered up...We didn't communicate it out. No one got Perk's guy. That's one of those detail things that doesn't matter we're playing the Miami Heat when that happens. It's something that we always have to do. Those are the breakdowns that we had tonight and that can't happen."
- Amazing. Despite all the Thunder didn't do, OKC still had a chance to win in the final minute.
- The "chance" to win against the Heat, however, is played. The Thunder has now lost five of the past six against Miami. If you're still encouraged by the Thunder giving itself a "chance" to win, it's time to have your head examined. If the same result keeps happening, read the signs.
- The Thunder hasn't just lost five of six against the Heat. The Thunder has lost five of six against the Heat trying to play the same way. Miami goes small. OKC plays big. After five straight losses, it's safe to classify that approach under insanity. The Thunder inexplicably continues to play Perk and Serge Ibaka against Heat lineups that often feature just one big man (often a power forward) and four wing players. It's nuts. Perkins and Ibaka have neither made Miami pay offensively with their height and weight advantages in the post nor slowed down the Heat with their defense. Whatever the point is of keeping two big men out there I'm not seeing it.
- Scott Brooks when asked if it's tough on his team when Miami goes small: "No, because we can play many ways. The good teams in this league, you've got to be able to play small, you've got to be able to play big, you've got to be able to play fast, slow, halfcourt, aggressive, fullcourt. And we can do most of them. I'm not going to tell you which one we don't do well. But we can do most of them. And just like Miami, they can do them all. And in order to win in this league you've got to be able to play many ways."
- Collison on the small v. big dilemma: "I think they're trying to put their best scorers out there. And it helps when one of those so-called smalls is 260 pounds, 270, 6-9. So I think that's a good thing for them to do. For us, that's when I think we need to be sharper and have less mistakes and make sure every time we're getting back and every time we're matched up and every time we're communicating. Those are the details that we've got to get better at."
- Perk on the small v big dilemma: "To be honest we like guarding smalls. We like switching out on smalls. We work on it every day in practice. And I thought as far as myself and Serge we did a great job of just keeping them out of the paint. They hit some contested 2s over our hand. They were some bombers. But at the end of the day I feel like we had pretty good switch-outs and we did a pretty good job."
- Durant on if the Thunder is comfortable when the Heat goes small: "Yeah, we match up with them well. We got a lot of mismatches. We can rebound the ball. Serge was great tonight rebounding. Perk was good. Russell was getting offensive rebounds. So we can matchup with any team once we go small because we have versatile guys and long athletic guys."
- After all that, you'd think the Thunder is filled with geniuses and everybody else is an idiot.
- I like Brooks' mentality. I really do. He's trying to dictate matchups and take advantage of what he feels is his best lineup. As I've said in the past, that's what you want your team to be able to do. I just don't agree with it against the Heat. Not against the world's best player, and not when the two big men that are being thrown out there at the same time are providing few positives that make it worth doing.
- Is Reggie Jackson the new backup point guard? Not even Jackson knows. After playing 13 minutes tonight, also known as Eric Maynor's minutes, Jackson told me he was again surprised that Brooks called his number. Maynor did not play. Jackson did a good job. Solid defense. Sufficient offensive contribution. Little to no mistakes.
- Worth noting that, once again, Jackson didn't have lead guard duties throughout most of his time. He played alongside Westbrook to start and when he didn't Durant handled the point guard duties. I'd still like to see Jackson run the team at some point.
- Brooks on playing Jackson over Maynor: "Just give Reggie an opportunity. I tell all of our guys to be ready. You don't know when you're going to get called, but when your name is called you have to give yourself a chance to do well. And Reggie has been working hard. He's had a good couple of stints down in the D-League and he gave us good minutes tonight. We'll see how it goes going forward."
- I think it's safe to say the "open competition" at backup point guard is back on.
- I asked Jackson before the game about his D-League-high 37 points Saturday and newly-received performer of the week honor. As usual, Jackson downplayed it, calling it "just another win."
- Brooks on if the intensity of this game felt like Game 6 in a sense: "No, but I wish it would have been like a Game 5 and gave us a chance to win at the end instead of a 75-point blowout."
- The Thunder thought this game was poorly officiated. It was evident in the locker room after the game. Players weren't happy with the way the game was called and though they got the short end of the stick. They'll never say that publicly, but more than any other time I've seen the Thunder was frustrated with the officiating.
- Westbrook's final 3-pointer, however, was not a foul. If anything, it should be ruled a flop. He kicked his league out and tried to bait the refs into blowing the whistle. There's a ton of calls you could criticize, Thunder heads. Don't let that be one of them.
- When is Durant going to be able to play against the Heat without getting taken out of the game because of foul trouble? While LeBron entered the game without a single foul being called on him in six straight games, Durant was whistled for three fouls in the first half. One of them was an extremely questionable offensive foul.
- Durant: "It slowed me down early. In the first half I wasn't in the game. It took me out of the game. I think I was a little too aggressive, I guess. But in the second half I just played my game. I was able to put my team in a position to win, but unfortunately we didn't come out on top."
- This answer from Durant, and the tone he used to answer it, basically is proof he was one of the many Thunder players who thought the officiating was bogus. It came in response to a question I asked him about what he's learned about how to play the Heat after dealing with foul trouble throughout the Finals and tonight. "Well, I'm just going to continue to play aggressive," Durant said. "Every time we come in here I play a little too aggressive, I guess. I got to calm down." When have you EVER heard that from an NBA player? Trust me. Durant doesn't even believe that.
- Thabo Sefolosha should play at least 34 minutes every time the Thunder faces the Heat. At least. And that goes back to the Thunder needing to match up with the Heat's small lineup.
- LeBron gets any offensive rebound he wants against the Thunder.
- Durant on a possible Thunder-Heat rematch in the Finals: "Of course you would love to see that matchup again. I would love to see it."
- I'm not sure exactly what he meant, or more specifically who, but Perk said this Thunder team needs to look itself in the mirror. "I just feel like — never overreacting to a loss — we just got to start getting back to who we are as individuals,” Perkins said. “Turning off the TV and stop looking at articles on ourselves and start just losing ourselves in the team a little bit more then the sky’s the limit. We just got to start knowing what got us here and what each guy did to get us to this point.
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