The Oklahoma City Thunder drew first blood in the 2012 NBA Finals after defeating the Miami Heat, 105-94, in Game 1 Tuesday night.
Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 36 points in his first Finals game, and he got plenty of help from Russell Westbrook, who nearly had a triple-double. The Thunder point guard had 27 points, eight rebounds, and 11 assists. The Heat got 30 points from LeBron James, but was just 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter, and didn’t get much help from Dwyane Wade (19 points) and Chris Bosh (10).
Here are some observations from Game 1 of the Finals:
DURANT FIRES FIRST SHOT
The marquee matchup between the Durant and James lived up to the hype, and went according to the script. James came out swinging with an impressive first half to give the Heat a seven-point halftime lead. Durant then countered with a superb second half, including 17 points in the fourth quarter in which OKC outscored the Miami 31-21. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra gambled a bit by having James guard center Kendrick Perkins and it allowed KD to get into a groove against Shane Battier.
SEFOLOSHA’S SUFFOCATING DEFENSE
Thabo seems to have Wade’s number, dating back to his days when he was a member of the Chicago Bulls. Sefolosha’s length and activity bothered Wade a lot in Game 1, and Wade wasn’t able to get going offensively. The Heat guard was just 7-for-19 from the field and missed several makeable shots. With Wade under control, OKC coach Scott Brooks switched Sefolosha on LeBron in the fourth quarter and Thabo locked surprisingly was able to lock up LeBron, forcing him to 2-for-6 shooting. Sefolosha was so effective Brooks stayed him for much of the fourth quarter (28 minutes) and kept Harden (22 minutes) on the bench, a shrewd move by a young coach.
WESTBROOK TAKES CHARGE
For all those Westbrook critics out there, here is stat for you to digest: the Thunder are 25-5 when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant. Brooks has repeated the last two years that Westbrook makes the Thunder special. If you have a championship thoroughbred like Westbrook you don’t fence him in — you unleash him. And that’s exactly what the OKC point guard did in Game 1 as his energy and effort enabled the Thunder to erase a double-digit deficit and surge ahead of the Heat in the second half. The game changed when Westbrook started penetrating and collapsing the Heat’s interior defense, opening up the floor for Durant and others. Spoelstra must figure out a way to corral Westbrook or else this could end up being a short series.
BROOKS PRESSES THE RIGHT BUTTONS
Once the Thunder got the nerves out of the way they rolled in the second half thanks to a couple of bold adjustments by their fourth-year coach. Aside from keeping Sefolosha in the game longer than usual, Brooks also called on Nick Collison’s number instead of sticking with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Collison rewarded his coach by scoring eight points and grabbing 10 rebounds off the bench. Collison’s hustle and energy gave OKC extra possessions with tip-ins and offensive rebounds, and his ability to score on screen-and-rolls and baseline drives took advantage of a small Heat lineup.
WHERE IS WADE?
LeBron absorbs a ton of Heat for his fourth-quarter failures, but Wade shouldn’t be absolved for Miami’s downfall. Wade just doesn’t look like the D-Wade of old. He struggled against Sefolosha, but more alarmingly he couldn’t punish James Harden, Westbrook or Derek Fisher when he was matched up against them especially in the low block. Wade had his knee drained last month and he has been battling all sorts of injures (ankle, knee, finger) all season. You have to wonder if they are all taking its toll on him.
CATCHING UP TO THE THUNDER
LeBron and Wade normally are the fastest guys on the court, but they met their match in Westbrook and Durant. OKC had a 24-4 advantage in fastbreak points, an alarming stat considering speed and uptempo is Miami’s best weapon. Spoelstra said the Thunder were quicker to seemingly every 50-50 ball and turned turnovers into points in a matter of seconds. In any other series, Miami would embrace a track meet. But against OKC, the Heat may have to dial it down and slow the pace.