LeBron James and the Miami Heat had something to prove. As little as some regular season games mean in the long run, beating the Oklahoma City Thunder and outplaying Kevin Durant seemed like a must for a team that unlike the criticism around them, didn’t seem to buy in to the apocalyptic prophecies.
Tough losses when travelling from their home court does make you worry just a bit, but Miami went through this last season, and came out laughing out of a tough East, and stopped smiling when those fourth quarters against Dallas began. Game 3 and onward that is.
When LeBron James is at his best, the stat line shows. Especially the assists column. James finished with 34 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists and 4 steals. He didn’t exactly limit Durant, who finished with 30 points, but the player many are suddenly backing him to win the MVP had nine turnovers to go along with his scoring, and a big miss, too rushed, with an opportunity to tie the game late in the fourth.
The Heat’s 98-93 win over the Thunder wasn’t all James. It’s never only about James. Dwyane Wade scored 19 points, Mario Chalmers finished with 13, hitting three from beyond the line and Chris Bosh had 12, struggling with his shooting. Ronny Turiaf enjoyed a rare start at Center, although the Heat usually went ‘small’ , playing without their centers.
The Thudner actually led by 11 in the second quarter, but stupid plays changed everything. Two flagrant fouls by Kendrick Perkins (on Dwyane Wade) and Russell Westbrook (on LeBron James) turned the tide, and the Heat were back in the lead by half time.
Westbrook did finish with 28 points, but it was one of those nights when he takes a little too much on himself, making only 9 of 26 field goal attempts, 2 assists only as well. Durant spoke about it being better for the Thunder when Westbrook shoots more, but that didn’t prove itself against the Heat, who look so much better defensively at home. The feet look quicker, the hands look longer, and the intensity is through the roof. No wonder they haven’t lost at home for 17 straight games.
There’s no doubt this game meant more to the Heat and James than it did to the Thunder. Not just keeping a close distance behind the Chicago Bulls for the top spot in the East, still within grasp, knowing Derrick Rose is still out, but proving they can beat a title contender and that it’s too soon to count them out of the title race. People have short memories, and that win over Chicago earlier this season has been forgotten apparently.
For James, it was showing he can lead this team against the best duo in the league. About proving he can do a good job on Durant, especially in crunch time, and still dominate offensively. The Thunder struggled keeping him at bay, and sending him to the line didn’t help, as James finished with 11-13.