When Thunder GM Sam Presti traded for Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed at the trade deadline, this is what he had in mind.
It wasn’t just their direct impact — Perkins was in foul trouble and sat key stretches of this contest — but with them in the fold the Thunder are more committed on the defensive end then they have been all season. It’s reminiscent of last season when the Thunder played aggressive defense that fueled their transition game in the playoffs.
They are starting to look like that again, maybe a better version of that team. And that should worry everybody else in the West.
Oklahoma City’s defense, particularly in the second half, sparked a 96-85 statement win over Miami in Miami.
Miami shot 38.5 percent on the night, the “big three” shot 4-24 in the second half and the Heat registered just 94.4 points per 100 possessions, 15.6 points off their season average.
What should really make Thunder fans happy is this was a team effort — Perkins got in foul trouble, however Serge Ibaka and particularly Nick Collison did a good job clogging the paint and protecting the rim.
For those of us at home, tis game was fun to watch with plenty of highlight moments, as you would expect from two athletic teams. Some of the best came from the Heat at the end of the first half after a dunk-of-the-year candidate from Dwyane Wade sparked a Heat run. LeBron James had a couple monster dunks in that stretch, and for a bit the Heat looked like the team everyone imagined before the season started.
But in the second half the Thunder defense was controlling play and their offense was finding its spots, particularly Kevin Durant, who was making the best of it against LeBron James. Durant had 21 points on 10-15 shooting against James, according to ESPN. On defense, the Thunder made it hard on the big three, trapping Wade and LeBron on pick-and-rolls clogging the lane to force them to pull up.
The Heat made their late first-half move when they could get out on the run, but the Thunder controlled the tempo in the second half and slowed the game down. Durant led the Thunder with 19.
Once again, the game left questions about what the Heat would do in the playoffs. But for the Thunder, it looked like they are finding some answers. Answers that the rest of the West may not like.