If this was indeed a preview of the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat at least have time to regroup.
The Thunder showed they were more than ready for a deep run in the postseason with a convincing 103-87 victory over the Heat on Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Forward Kevin Durant led all scorers with 28 points, but he had help. Five Thunder players scored in double-figures, including Serge Ibaka (19) and James Harden (19).
The Heat were led by Dwyane Wade’s 22 points. LeBron James finished with 17 points and seven assists. On this day, the Heat Big Three had no answer for Oklahoma City’s balanced effort.
“They were the aggressors,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “…They played more to their identity that we were. They were much more physical and forceful, not only from a physical standpoint but also from a mental standpoint.”
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Miami from the beginning was in trouble because it allowed the faster-paced Thunder to dictate tempo. Much of that had to do with the Heat committing 21 turnovers that led to 28 Oklahoma City points. The Heat called their offensive execution “sloppy,” but they also credited the long Thunder team’s defense.
“We started the game with a turnover,” James said. “From there on, we turned the ball over. Twenty-one turnovers, 28 points on someone else’s home floor, you ain’t never going to win against anybody.”
The Heat expected big games from Russell Westrbook, Harden and Durant, but what they were unprepared for was offense from center Kendrick Perkins. The Heat entered mostly concerned with Perkins’ intangibles, not his ability to score.
Perkins strayed from his identity by becoming yet another scoring threat for a team already loaded on offense. He tied his season-high by scoring 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting in the first half. He finished with 16 points.
“They (Ibaka and Perkins) did too much damage,” said forward Chris Bosh, who finished with 18 points and five rebounds. “It was all dunks and layups, I think Kendrick had about four dunks. That’s not our style. That’s not what we do. We just dropped the ball today, literally and figuratively.”
With the Thunder having four scoring options, the Heat were no match.
Free throws kept Miami close early, but the Thunder created separation late in the second quarter. A put-back layup by forward Udonis Haslem pulled the Heat to within 43-40 with four minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the half. Then the Thunder unleashed a run that forced the Heat to play catch-up the rest of the way.
Two free throws by Harden ignited a 12-2 run that put the Thunder in control. They needed just more than two minutes to create a 13-point cushion. The dazed Heat looked confused during the spurt, even to the point of James and Wade yelling at guard Mario Chalmers while on their way to the bench during a timeout.
Miami appeared to wake when Bosh hit a jumpshot that made it 62-53 with 9:03 left in the third quarter. The Thunder responded by scoring six straight points, extinguishing the short rally. The Heat made one more push in the fourth quarter behind reserve forward Shane Battier.
He hit consecutive 3-pointers to pull them within 91-83 with 7:12 left. The Thunder regrouped after a timeout by coach Scott Brooks. On the next possession, an offensive rebound by Ibaka led to him making a jumpshot from the corner. After James scored on a short jumper, Perkins closed things out with back-to-back dunks to push the lead back to 12. Wade did not attempt a shot in the fourth quarter.
“I’d rather not comment on that,” Wade said.
When asked later in the post-game if he wanted to be more involved in the fourth quarter, Wade said, “I don’t want to talk about the offense.”
Both teams entered by downplaying the significance of the game, preferring to look at it as just another date on the schedule. This is the second straight year they have met with potential home-court advantage in the Finals on the line.
The Heat refused to let the loss define the remainder of their season. They still hold the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and have a chance to gain ground with two games remaining against the first-place Chicago Bulls. The Heat end their three-game road Monday at the Indiana Pacers, a team they have beaten three times this season.
“We’ll learn from this and move on,” Spoelstra said. “We don’t have much time. We have to get prepared for another physical team that will challenge us on their home court in the same manner. Physicality and mentally, we have to do much better than we were (Sunday) and that’s obvious.”