Miami is the team in its second consecutive trip to the NBA finals, the team that talked about its new attitude, how it learned from last season, about LeBron James’ new glare, and was more comfortable on the stage.
But like they did throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs — and like they did last finals — the Heat took plays off, quarters off in Game 1. And that costs them. The Thunder are just too good to coast against.
Miami had a 13-point first quarter lead and watched it evaporate under some pressure from the Thunder in the second half. OKC played better defense and the Heat became jump shooters, shots they missed. Meanwhile Kevin Durant was knocking down his jumpers on his way to scoring 23 of 36 in second half, as the Thunder scored on 21 of the last 29 possessions.
The result was a poised Thunder team pulling away from the Heat, winning 105-94 to take a 1-0 series lead in the NBA finals. Game 2 is Thursday night.
One game does not a series make — the NBA finals have a long history of teams losing the first game and coming back to win the series. Including Dallas last year.
But this game looked like the Heat have played all playoffs long. So far that has been good enough. It will not be anymore.
In the first half Miami got great performances from its role players — Shane Battier had 13, Mario Chalmers had 10 and the Heat were 6-10 from three from three. LeBron James had 14 but a quiet 14. Dwyane Wade was making good decisions.
Yet at the half, the Heat were only up 7, 54-47. You knew a Thunder run was coming. If you watched the Heat all season you knew a slump was very possible.
And you didn’t have to wait long. The Thunder came out with a lot more defensive intensity in the third quarter, they went on a 9-3 run and the game was tied. Miami shot just 33 percent for the quarter.
And that let the Thunder get out and run — they won the fast break points this game 24-4. Running is supposed to be the Heat’s thing, but they ran into a team as athletic as they are.
“They pounded us on the break and that led to everything else,” Chris Bosh said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to stop this team’s fast break because that really gets them going, especially here on their home court.”
One way to do that is to make shots — the Heat didn’t in the second half. They started to settle for jump shots. Credit the Thunder and particularly Thabo Sefolosha for that — he shut Wade off (7-of-19 shooting) and spent key stretches on LeBron (11-of-24 shooting).
Meanwhile, Durant and Russell Westbrook owned the show. Westbrook had 12 of his 27 in the third, Durant had 17 of his 36 in the fourth. The Heat defense wants to take away your passing lanes and force you into isolation basketball, it’s their design. But it doesn’t really work against the Thunder because Westbrook and Durant thrive in that setting.
“We’re a better defensive team than we showed tonight,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game. They need to prove it.
Each quarter the Thunder seemed to get more comfortable on the stage and with the matchups. The Heat did their coasting thing again.
If that doesn’t change, three out of the next five games in this series will look a lot like this one.