June 13, 2012
That's 1 for OKCThunder rally past Heat in opener
By RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency
OKLAHOMA CITY - Game 1 of the NBA Finals did not disappoint.
Amid massive hype and in front of a sold-out, emotionally charged crowd, the hometown Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a poor start and a seven-point halftime deficit to take a 1-0 lead on the Miami Heat thanks to a convincing 105-94 victory.
Kevin Durant scored 11 of his squad's 22 points in the first quarter than exploded for 17 in the final frame and 36 in all, raining three-pointers on the helpless Heat.
The young superstar had the second-best Finals debut since the NBA-ABA merger (Allen Iverson scored 48 points back in 2001) and even asked to guard LeBron James at times, putting a smile on head coach Scott Brooks' face.
"That's the bottom line, we are a defensive team. Our players demand it from each other," Brooks said,
"He's determined to play great defence and I give him a lot of credit. He wants the tough matchup.
"Kevin's a two-way player and that's what makes us a very good team."
A year after crumbling under the pressure of a trip to the Finals, James came through with a strong effort of his own -- 30 points and nine rebounds in all -- and the relaxed Heat surged to an early lead while Durant's teammates stunk up a momentarily quiet Chesapeake Arena.
Durant hit three of his first four shots in the first, keeping his side in it while his mates missed six in a row.
Meanwhile, an opposite situation was unfolding at the other end of the floor where James started 1-for-5 while the rest of the Heat went a scorching 10-for-16.
James came on in the second quarter, scoring 10 points, while Durant settled for a pair, but OKC made a run late, shredding Miami's defence to head into the half down only seven.
Brooks wasn't pleased with the opening 24 minutes.
"I don't think that we played with enough force in the first," he said.
"I thought we showed a lot of toughness in the second half, battling and competing for every possession. They made some tough shots in the first half, (Shane) Battier made six threes."
With Dwyane Wade struggling mightily due to a knee injury (he shot just 7-for-19), it was the veteran Battier who stepped up with 17 points.
But Durant hit a three to start the second half, a foreshadowing of what was to come.
With Thabo Sefolosha terrorizing Miami in the passing lanes and making life difficult for James, the Thunder seized control, taking a one-point lead into the final frame.
As has been its trademark, the Thunder hung around early and powered through late.
Unlike in its previous series where the San Antonio Spurs took a 2-0 series lead before dropping four straight, the Thunder was able to get a crucial opening win.
OKC worked the ball around wonderfully for most of the game, either creating open looks, or getting the Heat into foul trouble.
Sefolosha, who helped contain Tony Parker in that series was again an unsung hero, while fellow role players Nick Collison and Derek Fisher also provided great work.
Fittingly, it was Collison who stuck a fork in the Heat with his second dunk of the quarter with 29.3 seconds remaining.
Still, it was Durant who carried the play.
The NBA scoring champ three years running was his usual unstoppable self. One by one Heat players took a turn trying to stop Durant.
Like everybody else in the league, they failed.
In fact, Durant might have done even more damage had his point guard, Russell Westbrook, ceded the ball to him more often. Westbrook launched 24 shots to Durant's 20 and often overdribbled, getting himself into trouble.
To be fair, Westbrook also had his share of brilliant moments and did far more good than bad for the home side in a 27-point, 11 assist outing.
Miami, older, less mentally tough and with far more pressure hanging over its players, is now in trouble.
A massive response will be needed on Thursday in Game 2.
Against Durant and against one of the most rocking crowds in all of sports, it will be an awfully demanding challenge.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra was relaxed post-game, but expressed admiration for the Thunder.
"This one's behind us now," Spoelstra maintained.
"We'll regroup and gather ourselves for a long series. This group has toughness, it has resolve. We have the toughness to bounce back."
Still, Spoelstra admitted it won't be easy.
"They're relentless, they keep on coming. They beat us in a game that's very similar to us when we're playing well.
"We have to adjust to their speed."
The scary thing for Miami is Durant plans to up the ante next time out.
"I've got to watch film and see what I can do better to have a better Game 2," Durant said.
The answer is not much.