Easy Looks for Miami to Start the Game
The Thunder were far too cautious with their defensive assignments to open the game. After allowing Miami to knock down 14 three pointers through the first two games of the NBA Finals (including 9 by Shane Battier), Oklahoma City was cheating up high during much of the first quarter. This allowed the Heat players to cut off of their defenders and get into the paint area with ease. Chris Bosh had three cuts into the paint area (from the high post) that translated into dunks or layups. In all, Miami converted on eight baskets that were either layups or dunks in the opening quarter. Even though Battier has been impressive from beyond the arc, the Thunder simply can’t cheat up high like they did in the first quarter. James, Wade, and Bosh are excellent moving without the ball. Oklahoma City will be better served forcing Battier to knock down long range shots (and Chalmers for that matter), as opposed to giving up easy looks at the rim.
The Thunder Continue to Play Well Beyond their Years
You have to be impressed with the maturity of this Thunder team. Keep in mind, four of their key players (Durant, Ibaka, Harden, Westbrook) are 23 years of age or younger. Very rarely, do you see such a young team play with the composure that the Oklahoma City has displayed during this postseason. Their opening half in Miami was no different, as they weathered numerous Heat runs to keep the game manageable. After the Heat built an eight point lead early in the second quarter (30-22-10:15 mark), the Thunder clamped down defensively holding Miami without a point for the next 4 ½ minutes. Oklahoma City did a much better job of contesting shots in the paint area in the second quarter. The Thunder blocked or altered at least a half dozen Wade shots in the paint during the quarter.
Do Westbrook’s Positives Continue to Outweigh his Negatives?
All the talk about Westbrook modifying his game after the Thunder’s Game 2 loss was comical. Listen, does Westbrook over dribble at times? Absolutely. Is his shot selection horrendous at times? Probably. However, he is such a dynamic player that can alter the game on both ends of the court, it would be ridiculous for Scott Brooks to change his style of play. Bottom line, the Miami Heat aren’t going to stop Westbrook in this series (neither Wade or Chalmers can matchup), they’re just not. Only mental lapses by Westbrook himself will keep the All Star from reaching his full potential. Unfortunately for the Thunder, such a mental lapse surfaced around the midway point of the 3rd quarter. With his team leading by seven (60-53), Westbrook would dribble out of control at the 6:25 mark and turnover the ball (led to the Heat’s first FG of the 3rd quarter). On the next possession, he would over dribble at the top of the arc and settle for a 25 foot three pointer (miss). Next time down, Westbrook would over dribble yet again and throw up a wild one handed layup (miss yet again). And finally (which would be his fourth consecutive poor possession), he would force the issue and get called for a charging call (5:01 mark-3rd Qtr). Even though it was Westbrook’s first foul of the game, Scott Brooks decided to sit him for the rest of the quarter (a move I didn’t necessarily agree with). With Westbrook and Durant (4 fouls) on the bench, the Heat would outscore the Thunder 15-7 over the finally five minutes of the 3rd quarter.
Miami Nearly Implodes in the 4th Quarter
The Heat did everything in their power to allow the Thunder to hang around in the 4th quarter. Miami turned the ball over nine times during the final quarter, allowing the Thunder to get as close as one. The Thunder’s comeback was highlighted by one of the better plays of the Finals so far. Thabo Sefalosha pressured Dwayne Wade heavily in the back court, and initiated a steal, which resulted in a reverse dunk (1:55 mark). The Thunder appeared to have all the momentum at the point. However, they would only score two more points the remainder of the game (including an errant inbound pass with 15 seconds remaining). In games as closely contested as these, sometimes it’s the little things that make the difference. Tonight, it was the Heat’s ability to convert at the charity stripe. Miami connected on 31-35 free throws (compared to just 15-24 for the Thunder). The biggest question mark for the Thunder heading into Tuesday is whether or not they can regain tempo. For the second consecutive outing, the Heat clearly dictated the pace of the game. I’m not sure if the Thunder can win this series if they don’t start initiating fast break points consistently.
Check back Tuesday night for our continuing coverage of the NBA Finals
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