I’m willing to make this claim – If the Miami Heat win Game 2 in Oklahoma City, they’re going to win the series. But the Thunder have not lost once in this postseason at home, and the Heat’s defense has yet to figure out how to stop Kevin Durant or even slow him down.
The Miami mostly rely on numbers that don’t have anything to do with execution and plays on the court. They have fallen behind now for the third time in this postseason in a series. All past three times were answered back with monster LeBron James games, a win, and further down the road, winning the series. James had 40 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists in Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers. His Game 6 against the Boston Celtics consisted of 45 points and 15 rebounds.
The Heat need something like that from James once again, but that’s the wrong way of looking at it if they think it’s all up to LeBron outplaying and outscoring Kevin Durant. It’s about the much criticized Dwyane Wade forgetting about the knee that’s bothering him and about Chris Bosh getting into the mix of things in the paint instead of trying to win the game from the outside.
The Heat did do the right things for two quarters against the Thunder in Game 1. But to win in OKC, it’s a 48 minute type of commitment. The Heat have to be relentless about pushing the ball up the middle and into the paint, instead of getting outscored 56-40 in that zone and it was even worse from inside 5 feet. They’ve got to be committed to pushing the ball every chance they get, after every Thunder miss and turnover. They can’t afford to lose the transition battle, which always is lacking during Heat losses.
It’s about keeping up with the Thunder as the games enters its late stages. No one has managed that so far. Youth has its advantages, especially when it comes in a deadly package combined with probably the most talented trio of players in the NBA. The Heat have a trio of their own to counter, but right now, they’re behind in both the top and bottom of their order.
Again, sounds simple enough. Push the ball, be physical, don’t fall off your feet when the Thunder get running and don’t get carried away into a shootout duel. There’s not a team in the league that can beat the Thunder that way, taking out the league’s most potent offense (San Antonio Spurs) along the way after losing the first two games in that series.
On paper, this is the Thunder’s game to take again. They didn’t even need James Harden at 30% of his usual scoring prowess (finishing with only 5 points) because Durant had such a huge fourth quarter, with Shane Battier getting completely annihilated and the Heat’s defense at a loss of figuring out how to stop him and Russell Westbrook for the entire half.
But the game was closer than the 11 point scoreline suggests. The Miami Heat outplayed the home team for the first half, running out of gas and ideas along the way. In the playoffs, it’s always about countering what got you in the previous round. If Spoelstra doesn’t simply rely on LeBron James conjuring some special games and actually makes the right changes in defensive rotations and solidifies the ‘push the basketball’ idea to his players, the Miami Heat might have a shot of tying the series.