Game 1 of the NBA Finals is in the books and Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder moved one step closer to securing the franchise’s first title since 1979, with a 105-94 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday.
Heat superstars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade described Game 1’s loss as “a feeler” game. Now, that they’ve witnessed and experienced the same young gun wrath that was responsible for eliminating the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs in the West, Miami’s Big Three will have to make the necessary adjustments for Game 2 on Thursday if they want to even this series before heading back to South Beach.
Miami faced a younger, more aggressive and –as Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra lamented– relentless Thunder squad that has the ability to counter every move the Heat make. James, the league’s newly crowned three-time MVP, turned in his best NBA Finals performance with 30 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals. But that wasn’t enough to stop Durant from erupting in the fourth quarter to score 17 of his game-high 36 points to go along with eight rebounds and four assists.
It was another late-game collapse for LeBron and his teammates. After containing the Thunders’ Big Three (Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden) for three quarters, the Heat withered away in the final period and surrendered to the unstoppable will of Durant and Westbrook. The matchup between Wade and Westbrook became one-sided after both All-Stars started off sporadic. Westbrook was able to overcome a shaky start to score 18 of his 27 points in the second half to go along with 11 assists. Wade wasn’t able to recover, as his post-season slump continued on Tuesday, as he shot a woeful 7-of-19 from the floor to finish with 19 points. He did dish out eight assists but led the Heat’s attack in chucking up bricks at the basket for most of the fourth quarter. Spoelstra will have play D.Wade off the ball in order him to be effective. He’s more of a threat moving without the ball then playing the role of the point.
Granted, the Thunder turned up their defensive pressure in the second half, which forced Miami into some unwanted shots. But the fact remains the Heat will not win this series if they continue to rely on Shane Battier (17 points on 4-of-6 from three) and Mario Chalmers (12 points on 2-of-4 from three) knocking down perimeter shots. The Thunder outscored the Heat 24-4 in fast break points and dominated in the paint putting up 48 points under the rim on 52 percent shooting. The 105 points were the most Miami has allowed in regulations during the playoffs.
Tom Hasberstroh, ESPN.com Insider and Heat Index Editor, noted earlier on Twitter that in order for the Heat to be successful in stopping the Thunder, James will undoubtedly have to be the sole defender on Durant: Said @tomhaberstroh, “All 10 of Durant’s turnovers this season vs. the Heat have come when LeBron was the primary defender. Last night, Durant went 0-2 and scored just two points when James was defending him. The rest of the damage was done to James’ teammates, as KD shot 12-of-18 from the field and scored 34 points. What should those stats indicate to Spoelstra? No one but LeBron should be guarding Durant!”
The Heat’s coaching staff will have to go deeper into their bench than they did in Game 1. A six-man rotation will not cut it against the deep and talented Thunder. For every Battier and Mike Miller, OKC has the experience of five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher off the bench, and their new chairman of the boards Nick Collison, whose timely rebounds and tap outs that ignited OKC’s second-chance points, was the actual cause of Miami’s demise.
Lastly, Spoelstra needs to start Chris Bosh. As of now Bosh has been relegated to being the Heat’s sixth man and he’s been struggling to find his rhythm in the new role. After torching the Celtics’ in Game 7 of the East Finals from behind the arc, Bosh settled for long jumpers on Tuesday, which pulled him off the offensive glass. He grabbed only five rebounds despite playing 34 minutes in his fourth game back from an abdominal injury. As he was in Game 7, Bosh will be the X-factor in Game 2 if the Heat wants to steal a game in OKC before heading back to South Beach. King James and Co. have been here before. For LeBron and Wade it’s their third. It’s Bosh’s second. Miami’s Big Three knows what needs to be done get back into this series before the Thunder’s young gun trio runs them out of the gym. Hopefully, they’ll turn up the Heat for Game 2 on Thursday.