MIAMI, Fla. — It started with so much promise.
How quickly it all went south it seems no one saw coming.
The Oklahoma City Thunder certainly could not have been prepared for how painful it would be.
“It hurts,” said Kevin Durant, shortly after collapsing into his mother's arms and crying on her shoulder. “It hurts, man.”
In its first trip to the NBA Finals, the Thunder suffered a 4-1 series loss to the Miami Heat. The series clincher, a 121-106 decision, came Thursday night inside American Airlines Arena.
It was the haymaker in a fight that the Heat had under control from nearly start to finish. Oklahoma City trailed by as many as 27 points Thursday, as Miami removed all doubt that this title belonged on South Beach.
“They beat us fair and square,” said coach Scott Brooks. “They were the better team in this series, and like I told our guys, there's nothing to be ashamed of. They gave everything they had. It just wasn't enough this year.”
Miami made quick work of the Thunder after OKC took a 1-0 series lead. The Heat won the next four, exposing the Thunder's inexperience more and more each step of the way. In winning Games 3, 4 and 5, the Heat became only the third home team since the NBA Finals adopted the 2-3-2 format in 1985 to sweep all three middle games. The Heat also did it in 2006. The 2004 Pistons were the only other team to do so.
“We worked so hard and we had an amazing season from start to finish,” said James Harden. “Just a couple of possessions, a couple of games short of our goal.”
Immediately, the Thunder had learned a lesson.
“I think now we know that every possession in the Finals matters,” Harden said. “It counts.”
Those possessions piled up and cost the Thunder the championship. This series shifted only because of a handful of troubling trends that the Thunder simply couldn't overcome.
Oklahoma City suffered from slow starts, including a back-breaking 18-2 hole in Game 2. Mental lapses littered this matchup, mostly by the Thunder, which fouled 3-point shooters in the act, missed a mountain of free throws and had untimely turnovers.
“Our effort was there, but things just didn't go our way,” said Kendrick Perkins.
Harden, the league's Sixth Man of the Year, didn't show up to the series, which plagued the Thunder and its perceived depth advantage. Harden averaged just 12.4 points on 37.5 percent shooting.
Along the way, Durant was fantastic but in Games 3 and 4 couldn't quite be the closer that we've known him to be. Both those games went Miami's way. After scoring a combined 33 points on 11-for-19 shooting in the fourth quarters of Games 1 and 2, Durant scored only 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting with four turnovers in Games 3 and 4.
Above all, LeBron James happened.
The regular-season MVP was phenomenal all series, atoning for his vanishing act on this stage a year ago by torching the Thunder like no one else has this postseason.
James averaged 28.6 points on 47.2 percent shooting along with 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists en route to Finals MVP honors. In his final act, he posted a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists.
“He played extremely well. …You could just tell he was very focused from the beginning of the season,” Durant said. “It was a storybook season for him.”
Not so much for the Thunder, however fun this ride might have been.
“We made it to the Finals, which was cool for us,” Durant said. “But we didn't want to just make it there.”