In their second and final matchup this regular season Miami Heat emerged victorious last night over the Oklahoma City Thunder in a 110 – 100 win in Oklahoma, holding off a Kevin Durant inspired run in the fourth quarter.
LeBron was his usual dominant self, putting up 39 points to go with 12 rebounds and 7 assists. I expect I wasn’t the only one disappointed with the Thunder’s ability to hold the fort.
Why did they lose? In analysing a Thunder loss there are always recurrent themes: suspect decision making from Russell Westbrook, lack of a dependable low post option, too many jump shots etc., and they were certainly evident. Recently though it seems like there is some sort of psychological barrier to overcome, as if they don’t believe they can compete with Miami for 48 minutes. Harsh? Maybe. But last night the Thunder, at least until the fourth quarter, looked their age. It’s easy to forget how young Durant and Westbrook are, and in Miami they face off against a team who are not only a match for them athletically but also very experienced.
Another aspect to consider is the loss of James Harden. Defenders of the Harden trade (which brought Kevin Martin in the other direction) argued that Durant and Westbrook are still improving and therefore make up for any shortfall. But James Harden is also young, and he is blossoming into a superstar as leader of the Houston Rockets. Would he have made a difference last night? It’s hard to say; in the Finals last year against Miami he had a torrid time by his standards, averaging only 12.4 points and shooting 38% from the field (compared with 18.5 points and 49% shooting in the previous series with the San Antonio Spurs). It is clear though that the Thunder are a worse team this year than they would be had they kept Harden, despite solid production from Kevin Martin.
Focusing on OKC’s failings is unfair considering the team they are up against. LeBron’s form has been well documented, to the extent that the play of Dwayne Wade (shooting a career high 50.5% from the field) and Chris Bosh (also shooting at a career high) can fall under the radar. They have a large cache of reliable 3 point shooters – Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Mike Miller – and when they do their part Miami are pretty much invincible. Miami made 11 threes last night compared to OKC’s 3. But considering that a Miami Heat – OKC matchup could feature repeatedly in the Finals for years to come the Thunder have no choice but to learn how to beat this team. Eventually they will; it just doesn’t look like it will happen soon.
image: © Keith Allison