Thunder takes early Finals lead with small lineup

Associated Press Modified: June 13, 2012 at 5:47 pm •  Published: June 13, 2012
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The NBA's advertising campaign this season was built around one word: BIG. Oversized heads on the league's star players filled some of the commercials. Other promotional ads had giant words superimposed on highlights of game action.

But this year's NBA Finals could be decided by who's better at playing small.

The Oklahoma City Thunder countered the Miami Heat's undersized lineup by benching their starting frontcourt players, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, for the final 14 minutes and were able to rally and win Game 1 105-94.

Now, the tinkering begins as the teams prepare for Game 2 on Thursday night.

The smaller quintet is nothing new for Oklahoma City, particularly since the signing of Derek Fisher in March, but it has paid dividends in the Western Conference finals and then in Game 1.

"We've played that way a lot this year," said Nick Collison, the only true power forward or center to play down the stretch for the Thunder. "We're very fortunate to have a 7-footer like Kevin (Durant) who can do it. That's an advantage we have."

Durant came into the league as a supersized shooting guard, moving over to small forward after Scott Brooks was promoted to head coach around Thanksgiving in 2008. Since then, he has played more frequently as a perimeter-oriented power forward.

That creates room for All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook and NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to team with another guard — most often Fisher, defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha or 3-point specialist Daequan Cook — in the backcourt.

"When we go small, Kevin's 6-10 so he's a big small. But we have another shooter on the floor, we have another playmaker on the floor, we have an ability to create baskets with movement and we have an extra ball-handler on the floor," Brooks said.

"We feel confident going both ways. With our big lineup, we've won a lot of games. With our small lineup, we've won a lot of games. But I think the best way we win games is using a combination of them both."

In the fourth quarter of Game 1, Brooks went with Westbrook, Fisher and Sefolosha after Harden had picked up his fourth foul. Sefolosha was deployed to defend LeBron James, limiting the MVP to seven points on 2-for-6 shooting in the period while Durant scored 17.

The Heat say it wasn't about who was on the court but how they were playing that was the problem. Mainly, there needs to be more aggression on offense and better defense to eliminate Oklahoma City's 24-4 edge in fast-break scoring and 56-40 advantage in points in the paint.

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