It takes a lot for the Miami Heat to collectively muster the energy to fully compete for 48 minutes in a regular season contest.
Unless it’s against the Oklahoma City Thunder, you’re probably not going to see the Heat playing with maximum effort. You see, when it comes to the Thunder, the Heat are looking to make a statement. Not just because Oklahoma City is arguably the best team out West and the fact that they were the Heat’s Finals’ opponent, but because these two teams possess arguably the two best players in the league.
Pitting LeBron James and Kevin Durant against each other is heaven sent. LeBron is a ferocious, high-flying, high-octane wrecking machine capable of doing everything on the court. Kevin is a jump-shooting fiend that only needs one dribble from the three-point line to throw down a dunk thanks to his extraordinary length. Even though these two are great friends outside of the court, they play each meeting like it’s their last.
For the fifth consecutive time, it was LeBron coming out on top. With 29 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals and a block, James helped lead the Heat to their biggest win of the season in the form of a 103-97 victory over one of the NBA’s hottest teams in the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Outside of missing all three of his three-point attempts, LeBron was unstoppable. Thunder coach Scott Brooks had five different Thunder players defend him, all coming up with no answer as James used 20 shots to get his 29 points. LeBron had a field day converting his mid-range jumper and getting to the rim when his defender made the mistake of playing him too close.
He was supported by Dwyane Wade’s 21 points, Mario Chalmers’ 20 points on 14 shots, and Chris Bosh’s 16 points and six rebounds.
Chalmers deserves an immense amount of credit for his outing. While the rest of the team combined to shoot 4-of-20 from beyond the arc, Mario was 4-of-8 while also making his presence felt on drives to the rim. When he’s playing with confidence that leads to him playing aggressive, Mario is one of the better point guards in the NBA.
On the other end of the floor, Durant did all he could to keep the Thunder alive late, but fell short with a missed three-pointer with James draped over him. Durant would have tied the game with seven seconds remaining. However, LeBron was right on top of him as the shot caromed off. Oklahoma City still had a chance to tie as Russell Westbrook caught the rebound beyond the perimeter, but missed after kicking his leg out, ala Reggie Miller, in a desperate hope to draw a foul.
Durant finished with 33 points, seven rebounds and three assists, despite picking up three fouls in the first half and going into the fourth quarter with four fouls. Westbrook’s contributions were all over the place as he finished with 21 points on 19 shots and 11 rebounds. However, he coughed up the ball five times while only dishing out three assists.
Miami’s defense was locked in from the get-go. Oklahoma City went into the game averaging 105.1 points per game, good enough for second in the league, and shooting 48 percent from the field, also good enough for second best in the league. The Heat held them eight points below their season average, while also holding them to 42 percent shooting from the field.
It’s the eighth consecutive game the Heat have held their opponent below 100 points.
Oklahoma City managed 5-of-16 shooting from beyond the arc. Their ability to get to the line (38 times to the Heat’s 19) was enough to keep them in the game as they used a 32-19 scoring advantage at the line to keep it close. However, the Heat took advantage of every last free throw they attempted, converting all 19 of their attempts.
Four of those attempts came off intentional fouls and two came off of technical fouls.
The Heat started out on fire, scoring the first seven points and needing only four minutes to build up a 15-3 lead. Free throws, however, kept the Thunder around; using 14 first quarter free-throw attempts to close the gap to three points after one. While the Thunder lived at the line, James was in his usual form finishing with 19 points after the first half.
Oklahoma City would take advantage of a slow start by the Heat in the second half, gaining their first lead of the night off a Durant jumper with 7:05 remaining in the third. The Thunder would lead by as much as four following a Serge Ibaka jumper, but it would be the biggest lead Oklahoma City would possess. Miami would take back the lead, going into the fourth with a one-point lead.
In the middle of the Thunder’s comeback, tensions were raised following a foul by Shane Battier on Russell Westbrook. The Thunder guard was displeased that he was fouled marginally hard by Battier and Wade on a fastbreak and immediately ran over to confront Battier, before he held himself back. However, Ibaka escalated the non-situation by proceeding to push Battier and Wade.
Wade and Ibaka would be issued dual-technicals.
The fourth quarter featured the Heat beginning to run away with it. Much like the final minutes of their loss against Golden State, however, the Heat began to make risky plays on offense and began turning the ball over with little care. A 96-90 lead with 3:24 remaining turned into a 96-95 lead following a Durant drive and dunk with 44 seconds remaining.
Thanks to some miscommunication by the Thunder, Bosh found himself wide-open for a dunk to give the Heat a 98-95 lead with 25 seconds left. Durant would make a jumper eight seconds later, but a pair of Ray Allen free throws and a few missed jumpers by the Thunder would preserve a Heat victory.
The Heat have won five games in a row, but have no time to reflect on the win against Oklahoma City. They have a date in Charlotte tomorrow taking on a desperate Bobcats team that has lost 15 consecutive games. It’s the start of a four-game road trip that has the Heat also making stops in Milwaukee, Detroit and Orlando.