MIAMI — The bad blood continues to build, but it's the same old bad habits that continue to hold the Thunder back against the Miami Heat.
In a game that felt all-too familiar to last year's NBA Finals, cosmetically and in its conclusion, Oklahoma City suffered a 103-97 loss in its Christmas Day confrontation with the defending champions.
The outcome was nothing more than a byproduct of long-standing imperfections, flaws that bubbled up and bit the Thunder in the behind in the fourth quarter.
Miami, as it did in the final four games of last season's championship series, played with more poise, greater patience and much better precision. While the Heat controlled the game with a calculated attack, offensively and defensively, the Thunder down the stretch reverted to a frenzied, freewheeling approach that played right into the Heat's hands and, as a result, caused OKC to leave South Florida yet again smacking on a sour taste.
“We weren't good enough with our details,” said forward Nick Collison.
The final five minutes would best be described as anarchy.
The Thunder, which has become so lethal late in games, uncharacteristically backslid Tuesday inside American Airlines Arena, perhaps overcome by an admitted desire for retribution.
After trailing 92-90 with 4:54 remaining, the Thunder went just 2-for-8 down the stretch. Ball movement took a backseat to hero ball. Quality shots were replaced by forced attacks.
“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.”
Kevin Durant shook off early foul trouble to score 25 of his game-high 33 points in the second half, and Russell Westbrook added 21 points but missed 14 of 19 shots. Despite now being fully aware that the best way to beat Miami is through balance, the Thunder's All-Star duo turned into a two-man show in the final 24 minutes. Everyone else on the Thunder's roster scored just 11 points in the second half, that output coming from three players.
“We have to keep trusting what we do and do it in the difficult times, too, late in games,” Collison said.