By John Schmeelk
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Before I go into the litany of bad trends I already see developing in this series, let’s view the game last night with some perspective. The Heat were coming off a grueling seven game series against a tough as nails Celtics team, and only had one day off to prepare for the NBA Finals. The Thunder were well rested, and after shaking off rust and or nerves in the first half, they were clearly the more energetic team. This was a game the Heat were supposed to lose, despite their early lead. That being said, the Thunder crafted a nice little recipe that should create victories for the remainder of the series.
Most of the focus is on the superstar battle between LeBron and Durant, but that’s not going to be the deciding factor in this series unless one of the two really tanks. The Heat have no chance if Durant outplays LeBron like he did last night, but that won’t happen often in this series. It will either be a wash or if Durant has a bad shooting night, the advantage will shift to James. But generally, this isn’t where the series will be won or lost and that’s where things get scary for the Heat.
It starts defensively, where it’s abundantly clear the Heat don’t match up well with the Thunder. Now, if LeBron could cover every Thunder player at the same time, they would be fine but even he can’t do that. Miami has no one that can stay with Russell Westbrook off the dribble, not even Dwyane Wade. If he is able to drive the lane like he did in Game 1 for the entire series, this thing could turn ugly fast for Miami. Shane Battier can’t guard Kevin Durant either, leaving very little options for the Heat. They will really be in a bad spot when James Harden starts playing to his potential. I’ll have more on this tomorrow.
Offensively, the Thunder adjusted quickly to Miami’s trapping pick and roll defense. Everyone should credit Serge Ibaka for forcing the Heat to start switching and go away from their usual trapping style. After he made a couple of plays off traps, the Heat went away from it, opening up things for Westbrook. On the other side, the Thunder quickly figured out how to turn LeBron James into a jump shooter. Durant took a few steps back from LeBron and forced him into shots from perimeter while challenging late with his length. On some nights he will make those shots, but on others he won’t. It’s the best way to keep him under control.
In a game where the Heat got 29 combined points from Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, they didn’t get enough from their other stars to get the win. Whatever is wrong with Dwyane Wade, he either has to play through it or get healthy. If the Dwyane Wade from Game 1 shows up the rest of this series, this thing is a wrap. The Thunder are too good for LeBron to do it alone. Chris Bosh needs to bring his A game too, and figure out a way to get 20 a game against Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and the very feisty Nick Collison. Collison might very well turn into a pivotal player in this series, thanks to his defense on and off the ball.
There are no easy outs here for the Heat. They are playing a more athletic, deeper and younger team in the Thunder. They are a team focused around stars, but right now two of them (Bosh and Wade) for a variety of reasons, aren’t playing like ones. Their defense doesn’t look like the imposing force it has been all season. Their coach lacks options and answers. Unless these things change, the Thunder will be celebrating a title a lot sooner than people think.
I’ll break down the matchups in the series tomorrow… You can follow me on twitter for everything NBA playoffs, Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York Sports at: https://twitter.com/#!/Schmeelk.
Can the Heat rebound from their Game 1 loss and win Thursday’s game in OKC? Be heard in the comments below…