It’s hard to imagine two players having better second half performances than what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook displayed in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. In the final 24 minutes, they were equally sensational. The two All-Stars outscored the entire Miami heat team 41-40 in the second half, spearheading a 105-94 victory.
Heading into the series, analysts around the country talked about the inexperience this Thunder team has in the NBA Finals. That inexperience was very hard to notice Tuesday night. Led by Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder absolutely dominated the Heat in the second half, outscoring the Eastern Conference champs 58-40. Ironically, it was the Heat who looked like first-timers, as they wilted to the constant pressure OKC demonstrated on both ends of the floor.
Russell Westbrook continued his excellent postseason play, coming two rebounds shy of his second career triple double. His 27 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds powered a third quarter comeback, and allowed Durant to dominate the final stanza. Durant led all scorers with 36 points; hauled in eight rebounds, and handed out four assists. A big reason for his offensive explosion was the fact that he did not defend LeBron in the second half. Instead, defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha mirrored James’ every move, rendering Miami helpless in their attempt to pull off a late rally.
While LeBron still put up 30 points, it was the play of his superstar teammate that ultimately hurt the Heat. Dwyane Wade was hardly a factor in the first game of the finals, scoring 19 points on just 7 of 19 shooting. With Wade ineffective and Bosh coming off the bench, it seemed like LeBron had to do it all himself. Miami is going to need better efforts from Wade and Bosh in Game 2 if they plan on going back to Miami 1-1.
Game 1 Hero: Kevin Durant
It was impossible to tell that Game 1 was Durant’s first trip to the NBA Finals. The 23-year old superstar put the Thunder on his back and absolutely dominated the fourth quarter. His 17 points in the final period is one shy of LeBron's total fourth quarter points from last year’s Finals. If he keeps this level of play up, it will be very difficult for Miami to shut him down.
Game 1 Goat: Dwayne Wade
Wade is considered to be one of the best players in the NBA. However, last night’s performance did little to prove this. The Heat star sputtered most of the game, and seemed out of rhythm from the outset. Wade cannot come out of the gates slowly in these Finals if the Heat have a chance of beating Oklahoma City.
Game 1 Surprise: Nick Collison
Yes, Nick Collison. This is no typo. Collison brought his “A” game to the NBA Finals, going 4-5 from the field to finish with 8 points and 10 rebounds. Two of those eight points came from on thundering (pun intended) slam dunk at the end of the game that put a dagger through Miami’s comeback attempt.
Game 2 Prediction: Harden Will Bounce Back in a Big Way
Thunder Coach Scott Brooks made a bold move in the quarter quarter. After seeing that Sixth Man of the Year James Harden was struggling to find his game, Brooks sat him down for most of the final period. Harden finished the game with five points on 2-6 shooting. On a normal night, five points from Harden would not be enough to carry the Thunder to a win. Expect Harden to have a big game tonight.
As predicted, the Miami Heat got off to a hot start with early with three-pointers from Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. The Oklahoma City Thunder may have been experiencing NBA Finals jitters as they came out flat and trailed the entire first half. The second half told a different tale. The Thunder’s defensive intensity increased immensely, while the offensive efficiency was reminiscent of the final four games against the Spurs.
They were the more energized (24 fast break points), more focused (2 second half turnovers), and more determined (plus 8 rebounding edge) team in the final 24 minutes. They even finished the game with more assists than the Heat, 22-20. Miami was thoroughly dominated in the hustle stats and on 50/50 balls throughout the third period and that momentum carried over into the fourth quarter, as Russell Westbrook’s basket at the end the period gave the Thunder a lead they would never relinquish.
LeBron James led the Heat with 30 points, snagged 9 rebounds, and grabbed 4 steals, in his best NBA Finals game to date. Dwyane Wade had another sub-par performance in these playoffs, scoring 19 points on 7/19 shooting. Shane Battier was limited to 4 points in the second half after a stellar beginning, finishing the game with 17 points. Same goes for Mario Chalmers, who notched 12 points. Chris Bosh, in a reserve role, finished with 10.
Spoelstra definitely needs to come up with a better plan to defend Durant. He also needs to also play his bench more; he can’t rely on a six-man rotation. Five players logged 34+ minutes, and fatigue seemed evident late in the contest. As for the Big 3, LeBron, Wade and Bosh need to play more aggressively and stop settling for jumpers. Especially Bosh; there is no need for him to be taking more than one three-pointer per game. Get in the post! Get some of OKC’s big men in foul trouble and force them to make adjustments and shorten their rotation.
The Goat: Dwyane Wade
Wade has not been playing well this playoffs compared to last year. Maybe he’s hurt, maybe not, but he needs to step up his offensive output in order for Miami to win a NBA title. If Miami loses this series, the culpability should not fall on the broad shoulders of LeBron James. Still, I disagree with the media. Wade is not getting old, as a lot of the media has been saying; he’s only 30 years old. However, it looks as though his knee injury has gotten the best of him this season. He is not the same D Wade who won Finals MVP in 2006, but he may be at the point where he may reconsider changing his game a tad bit.
Biggest Surprise: Coach Spoelstra Rotation
In the Eastern Conference finals, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra got away with a short rotation because the Boston Celtics had virtually no depth. That game plan is not going to fly in this series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. They are younger, more athletic and employ a consistent nine-man rotation. Coach Spoelstra can’t rely on five to six guys playing 30-plus minutes a game.
Prediction for Game 2:
Miami Heat fans should not worry too much about last night’s loss. Adjustments can be made to win the second game and they can look at what worked in the first half. Coach Spoelstra mentioned in the post game press conference that his team was on a shorter rotation “due to circumstances”. If the Heat start Bosh, and go deeper into the bench, especially with Joel Anthony, Norris Cole and James Jones, they just may steal game two.