Keeping in mind this is late March and not late June, Sunday night's 103-87 victory over the Miami Heat does not give the Thunder a 1-0 lead in this year's NBA Finals.
No doubt a feel-good victory for the home team, it still amounts to nothing more than a regular-season triumph over an elite opponent that OKC might, or might not, face for this year's world championship.
In a month when it has dropped home games to inferior opponents, the Thunder stood firm defensively throughout against the explosive Heat.
The Houston Rockets were able to overcome an 11-point deficit in the final 2½ minutes for a victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but the Miami Heat went the other direction.
Particularly impressive on this night was the fact OKC countered when Miami threw counterpunches. When the Heat cut the deficit to eight and had the ball with five minutes remaining, the Thunder closed with a 10-2 run.
“Well, we will own this one,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “They jumped us, everybody saw it. They had us on our heels and they were the aggressors. They were playing more to their identity than we were.”
OKC staggered a bit in the third quarter and midway through the fourth, but regained its footing to up its home record to 22-4 on the season and its overall record to 37-12.
“We played a really good team, and we played well tonight,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Against one of the league's most physical and athletic defenses, OKC shot 52.7 percent (39 for 74) from the field and 54.5 percent (6 for 11) from 3-point range.
“They are quick,” MVP frontrunner LeBron James said of the Thunder. “You can't scout for how quick they are. You have to go against them and see.”
OKC outrebounded the visitors 36-31, allowing the Heat just four offensive boards and six second-chance points.
The league's most aesthetically pleasing team when it forces transition, Miami managed just 11 fast-break points to the Thunder's 18.
“They were much more physical and forceful, not only from a physical standpoint but also from a mental standpoint,” Spoelstra said.
While the Heat hedged and essentially double-teamed ball-handlers while defending pick-and-rolls, OKC teammates were able to find the open man.
The Thunder finished with 26 assists, one off a season-high.
Kevin Durant nearly pulled off a triple-double with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and did so while guarding either James or Dwyane Wade much of the night.
James Harden had 19 points and six assists off the bench, and Russell Westbrook had 13 points, six assists and three steals.
The offensive difference makers were forward Serge Ibaka with 19 points (8 for 10 from the field) and center Kendrick Perkins with a season-high 16 points (8 for 11).
“Their interior played exceptionally well, both Perkins and Ibaka,” James said. “It was a difficult game.”
When Spoelstra was asked about Ibaka earlier in the day, he spoke solely of Ibaka's defensive presence.
“The way Ibaka guards that rim, it's as dynamic as anybody in this league,” Spoelstra said. “To have three games where you have 10 blocks or more this season, nobody's doing that and it's the amount of shots he changes. It's not the three blocks a game, it's the seven or eight he alters at the rim as well.” After the game, Brooks said of Ibaka: “He's more than just a shot blocker.”
The Thunder led 60-49 at halftime, then managed to survive a shaky third quarter during which:
*OKC missed its first seven shots and was 5 for 19 at one point, yet still led by 11.
*Wade swished a 60-footer as time expired, and the Thunder still led by 11.
*The Thunder shot 30.4 percent (7 for 23) in the period and still played to a 20-20 draw.
What no doubt helped was OKC limiting its turnovers in the third quarter, committing just three that resulted in two measly points.
Wade led the Heat with 22 on just 10 shots. Chris Bosh had 18, and James had 17 points and seven assists.
The teams meet again on April 4 in Miami.