This series is not over. From the Memorial Day Massacre to the Heat winning Game 1 last season, there is a long history of Game 1 of the NBA finals not mattering.
But Game 1 also gave hints of what could be the Heat’s undoing. They can no longer just expect to be the most athletic, fastest team on the court and overwhelm teams. They need to execute.
Here is a list of six things that need to change for Miami in Game 2.
1) Stop coasting. What we saw in Game 1 is what the Heat do all the time — they had a good first half with Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers stepping up, and they got comfortable. They took their foot off the gas and coasted for a while. Every time they do that this series the Thunder will pounce — to use Erik Spoelstra’s word, the Thunder are relentless. Miami is going to have to play its best basketball of the season for 48 minutes a game, not just in spurts. There are no more possessions off, no more quarters off.
2) Transition defense — try it. There was a moment in the second half of Game 1 where Derek Fisher — 37-year-old Fisher who has make a career out of being solid in the half court — led a fast break, beat every Heat player down the court, attacked the rim with Dwyane Wade there and scored over him. Lakers fans everywhere laughed. Fisher leads about three successful breaks a season and if he beats you down the floor and scores it’s on your defense. Miami was terrible in transition.
The best way to slow the break is to score more. But you’re going to miss and you need to get back, communicate and find your guy. The Heat didn’t do that in Game 1.
3) Defend in general, and stop switching everything. In the first half, the Heat trapped a lot off the pick-and-roll and that worked pretty well. But near the end of the first and at the start of the second half the Thunder started to adjust, so the Heat went to switching every pick. OKC ate that up and destroyed it. No more LeBron James on Kendrick Perkins (even if you are thinking about the switch).
And more energy on defense for the full 48. Please see item No. 1.
4) A couple guys from the bench needs to play quality minutes. That was essentially a six-man rotation for the Heat, who need to expend a lot of energy at both ends against the one team that can match them athletically. Scott Brooks could sit Sixth Man of the Year James Harden most of the fourth quarter because guys deep off the bench were playing well. LeBron and Dwyane Wade will wear down if they have to be the best players at both ends for 48 minutes.
The problem for Erik Spoelstra is: Who is that? Mike Miller is so injured he can’t play near the level needed. Joel Anthony doesn’t exist on the offensive end. A rookie in Norris Cole? Eddy Curry? When you sink all your money into three players it’s hard to get quality around them. (Don’t laugh Thunder fan, your cap/tax issues are just about to kick in big time.)
5) Get more out of LeBron James. This is a bit unfair as he was one of the few Heat players to show up ready to go for Game 1, but this is the reality of Miami right now — LeBron needs to have a legendary, epic game for the Heat to compete. That doesn’t mean he needs to score more — Erik Spoelstra needs to put him on Kevin Durant and have him defend. LeBron isn’t going to shut Durant down, nobody can, but you can make him less efficient, make him work for it. The problem is if you expect LeBron to expend that kind of energy on defense, somebody needs to step up the offense.
6) Get Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh involved in the offense. Nobody with the Heat will come clean about it, but does Wade look healthy to you? He shot 7-of-19 from the field and was just 1-of-5 at the rim — he can’t elevate and finish like himself. Spoelstra needs to find a matchup he can still win — get Wade matched up on Derek Fisher off a switch — and get him going.
Bosh — start him. Stop playing around. Next, get him in the paint. He took 10 of his 11 shots from beyond 10 feet — he has value stretching the floor, but he’s also a 6’11” post player. He can score on Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka from the block. In the regular season Bosh was about 50 percent in close, 50 percent from distance and Miami needs that balance again.