Nothing really changed, despite the months that separate Christmas and the NBA finals between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder. LeBron James may have been outscored by Kevin Durant, but the MVP got the last laugh with a big defensive play and yet another win on his favorite day of the year.
The Thunder complained about fouls the didn’t get, but the numbers show they went to the line twice as much (38 to 19) when compared to the Heat. Miami were perfect, with 19 for 19, which helped snap a 4-game losing streak by defending NBA champions on Christmas. In 2006, when Dwyane Wade was all alone, was the last time the champions won a Christmas game.
The intensity was on like it’s the playoffs. Many explanations, but when two teams see each other as the main threat to the NBA title, no matter how far away it is on the calendar, things are going to get a little bit chippy. Things got physical, aggressive and a tad dirty, but never out of hand. When it came down to it, LeBron James denied Kevin Durant a good shot on a potential game tying three and Russell Westbrook missed the second shot off the rebound, claiming he was fouled on the play. It was over with 103-97, and some things we saw that didn’t change from last year.
When the Heat turned on their defense and weren’t lazy in their thinking on offense, which meant double screens around the baseline and LeBron James not dribbling the shot clock out before taking a tough shot, they are simply the better team. Kevin Durant is impossible to contain, but Russell Westbrook isn’t unstoppable, and once one or two mistakes come, he starts losing his head. His defense was, well, lacking. His offense? He finished with 5-19 from the field. Some were just misses, but most were when Westbrook did something that had nothing to do with a structured, organized offense.
The Heat got the best out of their stars. Another almost triple double for LeBron James, who finished with 29 points, 8 rebound and 9 assists. His biggest play was finding an open Chris Bosh under the basket. Russell Westbrook found himself on James, and Perkins didn’t trust his point guard to stop him. He forgot about Bosh, who a second later was wide open, dunking the ball, finishing with 16 points. Dwyane Wade finished with 21 and Mario Chalmers, loving it when he sees Russell Westbrook in front of him, finished with 20 points.
Once again, Scott Brooks showed he doesn’t always does adjustments very well. Last playoffs, he went with Perkins instead of Ibaka for long stretches and got burned for it. When the Heat play their classic lineup, there’s just no room for both Perkins and Ibaka on the floor, especially for Perkins. Unless he changes his game and abilities, which isn’t likely, against their most formidable rivals, Brooks is going to have to come up with a different game plan.
Streaks didn’t matter. The Oklahoma City Thunder lost two in a row, but that didn’t really mean anything. LeBron James had another 20+ game, but that doesn’t really mean anything either. What was important? The Heat showing the Thunder that despite time moving forward, not too much has changed.