The Oklahoma City Thunder came out with a big win in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, taking down the Miami Heat 105-94. Miami jumped out to an early lead and held on through the half, but OKC’s defense came out strong in the third quarter and failed to let up the rest of the game, holding the Heat to just 40 second half points.
The combination of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook alone scored 41 second half points.
This was a big game for the Thunder to win. Besides the fact that you always want to win your home games to keep home court advantage, historically, if you win Game 1, you have a 65% chance of winning the title. All the talk lately was of Miami’s back-to-back wins against the Celtics to close out the series, but now the Thunder have all the momentum.
OKC’s defense was able to take huge strides from the first half to the second half. Thabo Sefolosha was strong guarding LeBron James, with his length and speed providing a benefit against someone with James’s athleticism. He was helped immensely by the work of Nick Collison, who played excellent help D, forcing James and the other Heat players into tough shots around the hoop.
If OKC is able to maintain this level of play, as much as their young squad excels on offense, it will be the play of their big men that make the difference. With two incredibly defensive-minded starters down low in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder already have a formidable front court that will hamper the ability of James and Dwyane Wade to get to the hoop. With consistent backup play out of someone like Collison, the Heat should expect some low scoring quarters.
The Thunder bigs forced the Heat into jumpers throughout the game. Miami took only 22 shots at the rim as compared to 36 from OKC. From that range, they shot 59% for 26 points, while the Thunder shot 72% for 58 points, a massive difference. Shots at the rim are generally expected to fall and holding the Heat in particular to such a low number of shots along with a low shooting percentage is what put the Thunder ahead.
Miami took an astounding 44 shots from outside of 10 feet last night, making only 16 of them. Everyone knows the mid-range jumper is the least effective shot in basketball, and forcing the Heat to take those shots at such a high rate all night put the Thunder in an excellent position to win.
Oklahoma City seemed to have a great strategy going into last night’s game. They know it’s impossible to hold down James and Wade; those two will score their points and they combined for 49 last night. But 49 points isn’t going to win them the series. More importantly, the Thunder were able to hold Chris Bosh to a mere 10 points and the Heat bench to only 6 points. Shane Battier had a surprisingly effective offensive night, going off for 17, but it is unlikely he will be able to maintain any sort of offensive consistency to be much of a threat for the series.
The other factor that led OKC to a win in Game 1 was their ability to limit fouls. James shot only 9 free throws as compared to the 17 he shot in Game 7 against Boston. Wade shot 5 free throws and the team as a whole only shot 18. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, shot 20-27 at the line.
Smart play and defense were what mattered last night. The Thunder are a young and relatively inexperienced team, but they played with the look of a seasoned champion in Game 1. Miami will come back strong in Game 2 on Thursday, but if OKC can carry over their effective play from last night, that may not make a difference.