If you believe in predestination, the Heat’s 103-81 rout of the Thunder on Thursday night was in some ways comforting. You could always say, “Glad that one’s over with.”
Here’s what I saw and heard:
* The Thunder gives rise to a new phrase. Offensive intensity.
We’re always talking about defensive intensity for basketball teams across the spectrums. But when the Thunder finds trouble, it’s often because of a lack of offensive focus.
Too careless with the ball. Too much standing around. Too much dribbling. The Thunder wasn’t ready for this game, and that’s usually a defensive indictment. This was an offensive indictment.
Here’s how shaky the Thunder was early. It made six of its first 11 shots — and trailed 26-12. That’s what happens when you commit turnovers against Miami. Especially live-ball turnovers.
Of the Thunder’s seven turnovers in the first five minutes, six came off steals. Which means Miami fast-breaks.
1. Dwyane Wade’s steal from Kevin Durant led to a LeBron James dunk eight seconds later.
2. Shane Battier’s steal from Durant led to a LeBron turnaround jumper nine seconds later.
3. Chris Bosh’s steal from Kendrick Perkins led to a LeBron driving basket three seconds later.
4. Mario Chalmers’ steal from Russell Westbrook led to a Wade dunk four seconds later.
5. Chalmers’ steal from Durant led to a LeBron dunk four seconds later.
6. LeBron’s steal from Thabo Sefolosha led to a Wade dunk four seconds later.
Seven turnovers. Six steals, with every Heat starter getting at least one and every Thunder but Serge Ibaka committing the turnover (Ibaka had OKC’s first turnover, but it was a roll-out-of-bounds violation). Twelve easy points.
The Thunder calmed down and had just 13 turnovers the final 43 minutes. But the damage was done.
* People who say the MVP race is back on might be overly optimistic. I’d say the MVP race tilted mightily LeBron’s way. In the same way that saying something stupid in Iowa can cost you the presidential nomination, getting schooled like Durant did will be hard to erase from voter memories.
Durant’s numbers weren’t bad: 10-of-22, 28 points, eight rebounds, three assists, five turnovers. In fact, Durant had more rebounds than did LeBron (8-7), as many assists and fewer turnovers (5-8). LeBron’s shooting (15-of-22) was superior, but much of that was on breakaways.
No, the difference was not numerical. It was attitudal. LeBron came out ready to play. Aggressive. Focused. Driven. Durant did not. Voters will remember.
“He came out aggressive,” said Bosh. “We knew he was going to come out aggressive. I didn’t think he was going to have so many points consecutively (LeBron scored Miami’s first 12) like that, but when he sets the tone for this team, and coming out being a leader the way he does, it really helps us out.”
* Lots of explanations for the dud performance.
1. Westbrook’s rust. He clearly was out of sorts the first quarter. When Westbrook went to the bench with 6:18 left in the first quarter, he had no assists, one turnover, one rebound, two points (off a fast-break dunk), two steals. Westbrook was active and energetic. He was just lost.
“It was a combination of rust and bad decision-making,” Westbrook said. “Our first game after the break is always a little slow, but no excuses. We’ll get it together.”
2. Adjusting to Westbrook. The Thunder seemed slow to acclimate to Westbrook’s return. Can’t blame them. The Thunder had played 27 games since Westbrook’s last appearance. That’s an entire college season.
“Probably just trying to figure things out,” Reggie Jackson said of the poor start. “We got a leader back, lineup changes, just trying to get more familiar with everyone. I think we had a week off, but you can’t really use that as an excuse, so it’s going to take some time to get things back to normal. I’m happy to see Russ come back aggressive as he is and attacking the way he is.”
3. General slump. The Thunder hadn’t been playing well. Since blowing out Brooklyn on Jan. 31, the Thunder was 5-2 but hadn’t played all that well. Losses to Washington and Orlando. Scuffling victories over depleted Minnesota and Memphis. A horrid victory over the Lakers. The Thunder played solid in wins over the Knickerbockers and Portland. But this was not a team in high gear. You didn’t know how the all-star break would change that. Looked like it didn’t.
* With all that said, I saw vast improvement in Westbrook’s rhythm just within the game. I think he’s going to be fine.
“He’s going to continue to get better,” Wade said. “He had moments where you would think, ‘Man, has this guy missed any time?’ with how explosive he was. It’s going to come. Anybody who has missed that long is going to have a little rust; no pun intended. But he’s going to be all right.”
* Another Kendrick Perkins start, another dismal Thunder getaway. OKC trailed 18-8 when Perk went to the bench. But it’s hard to blame the big lineup for the travails. The defense hardly even got to set up, there were so many transition baskets for the Heat.
With that said, there’s little reason to play a big lineup against the Heat. The Thunder has proven it doesn’t work. At least doesn’t work for the Thunder.
* Hey, here’s an idea. If Foreman Scotty is going to start Perkins, do it up right. The first four trips downcourt, run a play in which Perkins lays a hard screen on LeBron. I don’t really mean a hard screen. I mean a here-you-go-Patrick-Beverley screen. Literally. First four trips. If Perk has three fouls, who cares?
I heard a great story the other day. Can’t remember from who. But someone wanted to fight this guy, who was obviously outmanned. OK, said the underdog. Let’s go fight. But just remember. You might win. But when it’s over, you’re going to know you’ve been in a fight.
The Thunder didn’t let LeBron know he was in for a fight. And then didn’t put up a fight.
* A Thunder-Heat matchup might not be any more complicated than this. If Wade plays with fresh legs, the Heat will be near-impossible to beat. If Wade is brittle, the Heat will be hard-pressed to win.
Wade was superb Thursday night. He looked 27 again. Wade made 11 of 17 shots, scored 24 points, had 10 assists, seven rebounds and only three turnovers. Of course, when Westbrook is back in full gear, he can counter that. But even so, the Heat is trouble when Wade’s at the top of his game. Wade looked old in Miami three weeks ago. Not so Thursday night.
“They whooped us pretty good at our home, and we wanted to come out here and if we could return the favor, then return the favor,” Wade said. “More than anything, we wanted to get a great road win.”
* Lots of media for this one. And some interesting fans. Bob and Carol Stoops sat courtside. But I’ve seen them before at Thunder games.
What I hadn’t seen was Enos Semore. The OU baseball coaching icon sat about three rows up at midcourt, wearing a Sooner cap.
From the list of things I never thought I’d see, near the top of the list is Enos Semore sitting on the third row of an NBA game in OKC.
* Hanson sang the national anthem. Most groups are better than any soloist on the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but this one wasn’t particularly enthralling. Give me the saxophonist or the violinist or the OCU ensemble anytime.
* Down in Miami, the Thunder made 16 of 27 3-pointers. Thursday night, the Thunder made 2-of-20. It’s not like the Heat singed the nets; Miami went 5-of-21 on 3-pointers. But clearly, the Thunder’s rout three weeks ago was fueled by uncanny shooting.
That was not in evidence Thursday. Jeremy Lamb was 0-of-6, Durant 1-of-6, Reggie Jackson and Westbrook each 0-of-2.
The shooting is no concern. That kind of thing happens. Both ways. Taking care of the ball is a much bigger deal than whether it goes in on those long-range shots.
* Lamb was off but I still loved his demeanor. He seemed unfazed. That’s a good sign.
* And Jackson was one of the few Thunders to play well. Let’s see. Perry Jones was solid; in 21 1/2 minutes, Jones had eight points, five rebounds and some semi-decent defense. That’s a good sign for a potential Finals matchup.
And Jackson, despite 3-of-9 shooting, was good. Jackson entered the game mid-first quarter. In his first 90 seconds, Jackson tossed a lob pass to Durant for a dunk and a nice feed to Ibaka for a dunk. Oh yeah, we all thought, that’s how the offense is supposed to look.
* The Heat was all-in on this game. Erik Spoelstra went just eight men deep, like it was the NBA Finals. Every Heat started played at least 32 minutes. Ray Allen played 24:40, Norris Cole 21:25, Birdman 20:34.
Meanwhile, Scotty Brooks used 10 players (not counting Steven Adams and Andre Roberson in the last two minutes). All but Perkins played at least 10 minutes, and Perk might have had he not suffered a groin strain two minutes into the third quarter.
* Which is not good news, by the way, with the Clippers coming to town Sunday. Chris Paul will run about 125 pick’n rolls. Perkins defends the pick’n roll well. If he can’t go, the other Thunder big men better be ready.
* I like watching Derek Fisher guard Ray Allen. Makes me think it’s 2002 all over again.
* The Heat has played the fewest home games, 24, of any team in the NBA. Miami has 17 home games left and just 12 road games. Indiana has just 12 home games left and 16 road games.
The Pacers have a 1 1/2-game lead over Miami. Uh-oh. Anyone confident that the Pacers will hold off Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East?
For that matter, can the Thunder hold off the Heat to have homecourt advantage in a potential NBA Finals? OKC leads Miami by 2 1/2 games. But the Thunder has 14 home games left and just 12 road games left. So OKC has a more favorable schedule than does Indiana.
Miami just finished a 5-1 road stretch. The Heat lost at the only hapless team among the six foes, Utah, but beat the Clippers, Suns, Warriors, Mavericks and Thunder. Impressive.
“It’s been a long road trip for us,” Wade said. “I know for myself, Chris (Bosh) and Bron, we’ve been gone from the house for three weeks with the All-Star break. We just want to end with a very good trip, and this is a tough place to do it, but it’s very gratifying.”