The script in this rivalry usually says that Kevin Durant outscores LeBron James while the Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. I guess it was something of an opposite Wednesday that opened a lot of eyes for a lot of people.
LeBron James did score 34 points; Kevin Durant “only” 33 (his 12th consecutive game with 30 or more). But the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a storming start from the NBA champions, coming back from 18 points behind to dominate the game from the second quarter onward, winning 112-95 and leading by a lot more during certain moments in the game.
How did all of this happen? Looking at the stat sheet, the Thunder’s 3-point shooting stands out. They hit 16-of-27 (57.3%), but it was simply expert shooting. They did what the book says about the Heat’s defense, which hasn’t been at its best this season. Stretch them, force them to try and trap players but move the ball quickly. It led to a lot of open shots, and didn’t force Durant to start going on a circus shot streak – good ball movement (something we don’t see everyday from the Thunder), good shots.
Kevin Durant himself hit four times from beyond the arc, but the “surprising” damage came from the bench: Jeremy Lamb (18 points, 4-of-6 from three) and Derek Fisher (15 points, 5-of-5 from three). After Miami were done with their wild opening (a 22-4 start) the Thunder never lost their cool, and simply made modifications. They small ball problem was solved the moment Kendrick Perkins was taken off the floor (something Scott Brooks regrets not doing in the 2012 Finals, I’m sure), never to be seen again while the Heat were leading 15-2. The Thunder failed to record a single fast-break point with Perkins on the court. Once Perkins left, the Thunder outscored the Heat by 30, scoring 20 fast-break points in the process.
The Miami Heat were stuck without any support to their big three. LeBron James had 34 points on 12-of-20 from the field, but the interesting thing was how good of a job Durant did on him. James was 10-of-14 when not guarded by Durant with an average field goal distance of 10.4 feet; he was only 2-of-6 from the field and taking shots from 18 feet when guarded by Durant. The opposite? Durant was forced to shoot from an average distance of 20.8 feet when guarded by James, but he still made 9-of-17 from the field under that monitoring.
They were ready for us to come in and play. They hit some tough shots early on, a few 3’s, and we didn’t panic. We just tried to stay together and that’s what we did. Our bench was great in getting us back in that game.
The Heat have lost only four times at home this season, but not like this, in a game that was simply one long second half of garbage time. The big three combined to score 67 points on 56.5% from the field. The rest of the team? Only 42.3% from the field, struggling to get Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley involved. Turning the ball over 20 times didn’t help.
This doesn’t decide the season, far from it, but sets a certain kind of tone the rest of the way. Right now, without Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in the NBA, with Kevin Durant as the league’s best player. The Miami Heat might be on some sort of coasting duty, but it doesn’t look good, and it’s going to take a lot more than a good LeBron James to fix all of the problems they’re showing this season.