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Heat-Thunder Game 1: Miami didn’t choke; worse they were themselves

Jun 13, 2012, 3:19 AM EDT

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One Getty Images

The easy mantra out of Game 1 of the NBA finals is that the Heat choked. LeBron choked in the fourth quarter. Again.

But that’s not what happened. The reality is scarier for Heat fans.

Miami was exactly who they are. Who they have been all season, all playoffs. And unless they can find a way to grow and evolve past it this season will end just like the last one.

From Christmas Day until Tuesday night the pattern had always been the same for Miami — they didn’t need to bring it for four quarters to win. They were always the most athletic team. The faster team. The team that could overwhelm you with effort on defense and turn that into fast break points. And they’d do all that in spurts of great defense and ball movement and transition offense. Then they’d revert to stretches of stagnant ball and good defense. And that was enough to win.

That’s not good enough anymore.

Oklahoma City is up 1-0 in the NBA finals because they were the more athletic team, the faster team. The team that overwhelmed with defense and turned that into fast break points in the second half while Miami went into it’s shell. OKC won 105-94.

OKC can match Miami athletically and they execute for Scott Brooks for 48 minutes in a way the Heat simply do not for Erik Spoelstra. As they did against the Spurs, the Thunder showed an ability to elevate their game to the moment, to adjust and attack. Can Miami match that?

Miami is nowhere near out of this series — more teams than you can count lost Game 1 of the NBA finals and came back to win it all. Including Dallas last year.

But to that Miami has big questions to answer — how do they get Dwyane Wade attacking in the paint not settling for jumpers? (I’m still not convinced his knee is bothering him more than he is letting on.) How do they get LeBron James some rest so he is fresher and more aggressive late? How can they get Chris Bosh going? Is it time to take LeBron off Kendrick Perkins at times and just sick him on Durant the whole game? How can they improve their transition defense so the Thunder don’t run them out of the building on Thursday?

The Heat looked slow in the second half Tuesday — they looked like a team on a regular season-back-to-back, fading as the game went on. They settled for jumpers and as a team were 2-8 shooting outside 10 feet in the fourth.

Part of it are Xs and Os adjustments — Miami had great success trapping off the pick and roll in the first 20 minutes, and when the Thunder had a little success breaking it the Heat went switching the picks. OKC ate that up. The Thunder ended with 56 points in the paint. LeBron was on Kendrick Perkins so he could be on Durant to trap off the pick, to switch onto KD. Not that it mattered to Durant in the second half who was defending him.

Miami’s defense, by design wants to push you into isolation plays. A good strategy against 28 other NBA teams, but Oklahoma City thrives with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in isolation. The Heat need better team defense.

“When we’re not defending we don’t get opportunities in the open court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Then when we don’t attack we don’t get as many opportunities in the paint or at the free throw line.”

The other way to slow down the Thunder attack is to make them take the ball out of the basket.

LeBron James simply can’t be good — ne must be exceptional. Tuesday night he was simply good, scoring 30 points, He was 2-of-6 for 7 points in the fourth. That’s not enough. Wade doesn’t look right and Bosh is coming off his injury, LeBron has to do more. Which is hard when Thabo Sefolosha is crowding you. But it’s the reality of where the Heat are — LeBron has to be a monster. Game 6 vs. Boston monster.

Shane Battier needs to hit shots again. Mario Chalmers needs to hit shots again, and other guys need to step at both ends. For 48 minutes.

But the Heat really haven’t done that all season or playoffs long. Can they change now?

  1. Scott - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:43 AM

    I love those who rip on Lebron. 30 points sucks…riiiight. It’s easy to see the haters. As a Heat fan, I have to put the loss and most of the playoff losses on Wade. Dude doesn’t have IT anymore. He’s Allen Iverson. Played extremely reckless early in his career and now after 8 years is DONE. Sure he may play another 5-6 years and will get max money the whole time, but his time as a top 10 player is over. And this Heat team that was once Wade’s team is now completely Lebron’s. Riley won’t do it, but Wade should be traded this summer for a competent big and/or a solid outside shooter.

    The Heat may come back to win this thing, but the DWade story has nowhere to go, but down hill.

    • 1historian - Jun 13, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      You use the word ‘haters’ too easily.

      2 years ago when Riley pulled the stunt of getting all 3 and then made a huge show out of it, the combination of that and the ‘decision’ fiasco by Lebron it pissed people off, most of those people admittedly being non-heat fans, of which I am one. I’ve gotten over it (not that you asked or give a s..t which is your right) but some haven’t, which I can’t understand.

      Nonetheless the Heat are easy to “not like”, or hate, if you will, but just saying that anyone who doesn’t like your team is a hater is inaccurate.

      FYI – I am a Celtics fan and am rooting for the Thunder. In a few months I will morph into a Pats fan and will become my lovable, obnoxious and arrogant self, especially when we play the fins.

    • scalfor3 - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:50 AM

      d wade is obviously playing hurt. i doubt if you were saying he was “done” when he dropped a 40burger on indy.

      you are right though, lebron has taken his team. no question about that

      • canehouse - Jun 13, 2012 at 12:06 PM

        it’s definetely Lebron’s team… hope Wade sits out of the Olympics and get’s his knee right. He is ,far, far from done… but also not his old self anymore. Don’t ever count him out… he shines at his best when he is doubted.

  2. loungefly74 - Jun 13, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    The Heat were not hitting their jumpshots late in the game…and KD was on fire in the 4th…a recipe for the OKC win. Let’s face it, when 2 of the big 3 on the Heat’s roster is off…especially in the 4th, they become very mediocre.

    Also…happy for Scott Brooks…a hometown hero of mine. a very cool guy. he would be at the rec centers playing pick up games with us scrubs. With my Laker’s out and no horse in this race, I wish Brooks the best of luck. Always gotta support the “Local” guys.

  3. reedme16 - Jun 13, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    You would think the massive over a Heat loss would be old by now! It’s 1 loss on the road in which both teams were feeling each other out. Calm down.

    And Wades problem is that he gets frustrated when he is not getting calls on drives and then he gets passive and he starts giving jumpshots. The.Heat just need to transition their offense to the Thunders defense. Attack more, play faster.

  4. heat256 - Jun 13, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Great win for OKC, a lost opportunity for MIA. Why they stopped passing like they did in the first half was infuriating. They have to turn up the D and rotate better on Westbrook and KD. They need to give Wade and James a bit more of a rest too, even if that means Cole and Jones get 5-8 min each. If you told me Battier and Chalmers actually had good nights I’d have figured the Heat would have won and won handily. They got beat at their own game. It’s up to them to adjust and steal one.

  5. joeksnuffy - Jun 13, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Here it is again, a writer drawing conclusions after one win for the home team. I remember someone writing that San Antonio were simply the better team when they were up 2-0 after two home games against OKC. It’s just one game. Miami outplayed OKC the entire first half. They were within 5 or 6 points late into the 4th quarter. All this on the road. How is it so clear who is the better team? Yes, OKC pulled away at the end. But, Miami looked like they could beat OKC in OKC. If Miami can make some adjustments and steal game 2, they will have 3 home games in a row.

    • bougin89 - Jun 13, 2012 at 6:17 PM

      I agree that this series is far from over and you cannot draw conclusions from the home team winnign game one, especially with the electric crowd in OKC last night but this is by far the best team the Heat have seen in this year’s playoffs. The Celtics were a battle tested and tough matchup without Bosh but all of their players save for Rondo are well past their prime(even though Garnett turned back the clock for that series). The Heat arguably are a less athletic team 1-5 and rigth now the Thunder’s one-two punch of Durant and Westbrook is much better than the Heats Lebron and Wade unless Wade steps it up.

  6. joeksnuffy - Jun 13, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    I’m no Miami fan, but it’s funny how the criticisms are raining down on LeBron. Dude put up 30. They were saying he ONLY had 7 in the 4th. But, 7 points per quarter is 28 for the game. What do they expect this guy to do? I certainly wouldn’t blame him for this loss.

    • michflaguy - Jun 13, 2012 at 5:14 PM

      You are so right.
      Wade is screwing up for Miami…not LeBron.
      LeBron kept this fairly close and was the only reason it was not a 25 point blowout.
      Dude can’t do *everything* by himself.
      Wade is letting him down…and LeBron needs to do something about THAT if he wants to win a ring.

  7. uscfan1988 - Jun 13, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    LeBron had 7 points and 4 of which were when the game was basically out of hand. He didn’t show up in the fourth quarter and didn’t want to guard Durant.

  8. michflaguy - Jun 13, 2012 at 5:10 PM

    Spoelstra has no backbone. As soon as he sees Wade jack up two consecutive 3-point bricks in the 3rd quarter, he needs to yank Wade’s a$$ off the floor and sit him for 5 minutes. Any REAL coach would do this instead of watching the game slip away with miss after miss.
    Wade is just a part of the solution when things go well for the Heat, but he is always a BIG part of the problem when things go bad for the Heat.
    LeBron took over this team in game 6 at Boston…now it’s time to take Wade to the wood shed when he gets stupid…like in the 3rd quarter last night.
    What does LeBron want more…rings or friends?
    Tell him to go ask Magic & Jordan that question if he truly wants to know the answer.

  9. allball23 - Jun 13, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    Good Article Kurt. The heat can’t rely on talent and athletisim to win this series because the Thunder trump them in both departments. LBJ will have to be spectacular for them to win.

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