The Oklahoma City Thunder held serve in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, defeating the Miami Heat 105-94 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The big stories (and not incorrectly so) are:
- Dwyane Wade's 7-19 shooting for 19 points is to blame for the Heat's loss.
- LeBron James's passivity early in the 4th quarter is partially to blame for the Heat's anemic offense the last twelve minutes of the game.
- Kevin Durant's blistering 4th quarter performance (17 pts) won the game for the Thunder.
Strategically, however, there were several silent factors that permitted these stories to develop. Here are five of those factors and how the Heat can adjust to win Game 2 (it may not be as hard as it looks):
If the Miami Heat want to win this series, they need to slow down the game's pace and win the battle of the boards. That means Chris Bosh needs to be a low-post presence on both ends of the floor.
That being said, what is Chris Bosh doing hanging outside the wings and corners for routine 20-footers? Moreover, what is the Heat power forward doing taking three 3-pointers?
Bosh's reluctance to get into the paint led to an anemic 4-11 shooting, five rebound night. As a result, OKC out-rebounded the Heat 43-35. Bosh's new-found style also didn't help Miami get into an offensive rhythm.
Now is not the time for Chris Bosh to transform himself into a 2-Guard or a small forward. He will need to re-emerge as a low post presence if the Heat are to get into their comfort zone on both ends of the floor.
Ask either the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies or Dallas Mavericks. The way to get Russell Westbrook out of his comfort zone is to rotate man on man defenses so he can't get to the high post. Once Westbrook gets there, he's unstoppable.
It was confounding to watch just how easily Westbrook got to his favorite area of the court last night in the second half. The result was one Westbrook pull-up jumper or slash to the hole after the next.
Westbrook finished the game with 27 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds.
Giving the athletic OKC point guard that latitude is pretty much the death switch for any opposing team. It allows OKC to accelerate the pace of the game and hit a barrage of high percentage shots. If Miami continues to allow Westbrook free reign in the high post, the Heat may not win more than two games this series.
Here are some interesting statistics:
However, the Heat were one of the better teams in the league at not allowing teams to reach the charity stripe (12th in the NBA). The Thunder, meanwhile, gave up the eighth most free-throws in the league.
Both teams thrive on exploding to the rim and drawing fouls. However, what these statistics glean is that the Heat should have a free-throw edge by baiting the Thunder to foul more and not falling for the same trap while on defense.
Monday night's stats: Thunder 27 free-throw attempts to the Heat's 18. Notably, two of the Heat's "Big Three," Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, visited the line a total of seven times. That number needs to be doubled in Game 2.
The Heat somehow turned into the 2012 San Antonio Spurs in the second half, except with less offense.
According to this SB Nation chart, Oklahoma City generated a lot more offense in the second half than the first.
In the third quarter, the Thunder's field-goals converted didn't increase. But their attempts did. That allowed the Thunder to get into their comfort zone, build up momentum and then thrive amid a much more free-wheeling pace in the fourth quarter.
If Erik Spoelstra uses one word excessively the next couple of days, it's going to be "Grind." Miami must slow the game's pace down for all four quarters. Which leads to the last point...
A vast percentage of the time, Oklahoma City will win a finesse game against the Heat. The Thunder have younger legs, better jump shooters and a more adept transition offense (particularly as Dwyane Wade looks sluggish).
In Game 1, the Heat fouled the Thunder 19 times, a relatively low number. If the Heat are going to throw the Thunder off what has been a massive confidence streak since Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, it may be time to play a more physical game and mete out a few more clean fouls early on and outside the bonus.
The result may be that the Heat slow down the pace of the game. They may also throw the young Oklahoma City squad off their game.
This strategy may be necessary if the Heat are going to alter Oklahoma City's style of play, and, conversely, get into their own rhythm.