For all the talk of youth and lack of experience for OKC, the Thunder looked less-freshman, more grad-student last night playing hard-nosed, comeback basketball winning game 1 of the NBA Finals 105-94.
The HEAT had their chances early, with surprising out-of-the-gates performances by Shane Battier who ended the game with 17 points and 4-6 from 3 point range. In the first period and half, it was the LeBron and Wade show with a side of Bosh. James and Wade looked great to start, James a bit slow to get going offensively until a wicked steal then transition dunk. At the end of the half, the HEAT were up by 7 with momentum playing in their favor. What could possibly go wrong?
Call on the Celtics right now, as they have their hands raised with the answer in the back of the classroom. Just three nights ago, they were in the same position up by the same point margin with the same level of confidence. How does that saying go, “..the more things change, the more they stay the same?” More of the same on-a-stick became the HEAT’s undoing, dropping game 1 forced to head back to the drawing board for game 2.
It is understood and predictable how both teams play their brand of basketball. Last night, it was the HEAT not executing their game to fullest potential, and not capitalizing on opportunities against the Thunder when they were right in front of them:
1. Durant and Westbrook: The HEAT allowed them to single-handedly outscore them 41-40 in the 2nd half. That’s unacceptable, for a team that predicates it’s strategy as a defensive team, you can’t allow the 2nd best one-two punch in the NBA to get hot like that if there is a chance to win. What’s worse is that the entire free world knows how both of them can turn it on that quickly, with the collective result being a 22-44 shooting performance from both of them. Disappointing to watch the HEAT stand in the middle of a warehouse of open space and not get out of the way of an inbound steamroller crawling right towards them.
2. Foul Shooting: Only one culprit on the HEAT’s side was Chris Bosh-he’s still getting back into the mix, but to get only one foul in-the-act resulting 1-2 from free the free-throw line; for the 6’10+ big guy the HEAT need to be getting more output at this stage.
3. Bench, minutes and rotations: The HEAT’s bench contributions have been waning down, down, further down into an abyss that sees almost know end at this point. Chris Bosh ended with 10 points which technically are considered bench scoring. However, replace Udonis Haslem in the starting lineup (where he usually starts, anyway), and how does the bench scoring look then? 6 points from the bench to OKC’s 19. HEAT Coach Erik Spoelstra opted to go with only a 7 man rotation last night (8 total entries, however Joel Anthony managed 2 minutes so not counting him). OKC rotates 8, but at a time where fatigue is getting to be an issue for Miller and Wade, plus add in a recovering Chris Bosh, the end result is sacrificing defense AND offensive energyk, game 1 being the ultimate casualty. Both of which, cannot be afforded against a young, strong and confident Oklahoma City Thunder.
It wasn’t all-bad for the HEAT-LeBron posted his obligatory 30 points and added 4 steals and 9 assists. His consistency as of late, to deliver a 45-55% shot efficiency with 30 points plus-plus-plus throughout the playoffs is so impressive, and is the post-season glue keeping this HEAT team competitive and playing for the trophy. On the tails-side, I wont’ get much into some small issues like Wade’s shooting skid as of late-while disappointing, there will be another return of Pacers-Series Dwayne Wade. He is clearly tired and battling, but he will find the way as he always does. He’ll have to anyway, if this series is to go more than 4 games.
For Game 1, it was entertainment that was expected and predictable. Both teams have seen pretty good renditions of themselves and how they execute basketball at the highest level. The margins for error are slim, what is of paramount importance is how the information known is executed in strategy and play. For now, the pendulum swings in favor of the boys-in-blue; will the HEAT counter with their own answer? They are too talented and too driven, so predictably yes-but only game 2′s final score will tell.