There's a moment in most playoff series that can't be defined by stats. It's not quantifiable—it's really more of a realization. It's that moment where you think to yourself, "Man, team X is just better than team Y."
Normally, that moment doesn't come right away. Teams struggle and fight for the first few games. The underdog might steal an early game and get a split on the road, the favorite might just not be what we thought they were. But we usually don't really know how a series will play out until Game 5 or 6.
I don't normally jump the gun like this. I usually don't overreact to one game, no matter what happens. But after watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals last night, I couldn't come away with anything that didn't lead me to that moment of realization. All I kept thinking was, "Man, the Thunder are just better than the Heat."
Here's what we know for sure: For Miami to win the series, they have to win a game in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City is now 9-0 at home in the playoffs. If Miami is going to win there, it's going to take an awesome game by LeBron James, excellent shooting by their role players and an off night for at least one of OKC's stars.
Well, that's exactly what happened in Game 1. Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers combined to give them 29 points on 6-of-10 shooting from three-point range, LeBron scored 30 points to go along with nine rebounds and four assists and James Harden only scored five points.
Everything went right for the Heat. And the Thunder still ran them out of the gym. Maybe they'll get better games from LeBron at some point in the series, and maybe their role players will step up, but Game 1 was the only time they'll ever get that perfect storm of all three things going right for them at once.
Don't let the final score fool you—this game was not close. If you throw out the first quarter (when Oklahoma City showed some very understandable nerves), the Thunder outscored the Heat by 18 points.
There are a ton of potential explanations for why this happened. Oklahoma City out-rebounded Miami by eight, their bench shot over 50 percent from the field and Kevin Durant went off for 36 points. But I find that usually the simplest solution is the correct one: The Thunder are simply a better team than the Heat.
At their worst, the Thunder are an outrageously talented group of young players, a stable of athletes ready to run with anybody and match the intensity level of even the strongest opponents. They may make mental errors, but they'll always be able to keep up because they have the most talent.
At their best, the Thunder are what Miami was supposed to be—a superlative group of individual talent molded into an unstoppable force that wins because they have found a way to make the whole greater than the massive sum of its parts.
That's what the Thunder have become. They have somehow managed to make Miami look slow by beating them at their own game, but when they play it, they do it in a way that doesn't feel forced or uncomfortable.
Look at the third quarter. Kevin Durant took a few early shots but saw that he wasn't quite in a rhythm. Even though Russell Westbrook struggled in the first half, Durant had enough faith in him as a teammate to let him carry the offense for the quarter while he waited in the wings for the fourth.
It didn't happen because it was "Russell's turn" as it so often feels like with Miami. Westbrook took over because at that point in the game it was what gave the Thunder the best chance to win. Westbrook and Durant have mastered the art of passing control of the team between them in a way only possible when two unbelievable talents grow up together on the same team.
Westbrook went on to dominate the quarter, shooting 5-of-7 from the field but doing it in such a way that you felt like it was 15-of-17. He barreled to the rim time after time, continuously exploiting Miami's lack of an interior presence.
When the Heat tried to counter, they found that they simply couldn't get to the rim. The defense of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins forced everyone but LeBron to shoot jumpers. Even Dwyane Wade was trapped on the perimeter, shooting only 7-of-19 from the field.
They could only watch as Durant and Westbrook forced turnovers and raced out in transition for easy buckets, a Heat staple. They could do nothing, as Durant hit shot after shot in the fourth quarter, his point of release so high that even all-world defenders like LeBron and Shane Battier couldn't bother him.
Don't let the steady stream of "LeBron has changed and the Heat are poised to win the title" articles fool you, this is the same team that lost to Dallas last spring. The Heat don't win because they're better than their opponents, they win because they're more talented.
Suddenly, they're facing a team that can do everything they can, but better. The problem is they have literally no other way to win. They are never going to out-discipline the Thunder—they don't have the type of half-court set offense to play that way. But if they try to run with the Thunder, they're just going to get stampeded by a team far younger and more talented.
They have to pick their poison. They can choose to let LeBron and Dwyane Wade continue their hot potato act and lose to a duo that has mastered it, or they can try to make a last-second switch to team ball and get trounced by a team that does it better than anyone in the league. Sure, they can run the offense through LeBron and hope he dominates like he did against Boston, but the Thunder actually have the personnel to defend it and the discipline not to screw it up.
There are no clever coaching tricks Erik Spoelstra has up his sleeve, no internal epiphanies LeBron James can have about how he carries himself and no barrage of three-pointers by role players that can change the one key fact that will define this series: The Thunder are better than the Heat.
So call me a hater, say I don't know what I'm talking about and feel free to bash me, but none of that is going to change what's right in front of us. The Thunder are the better team in this series by a fairly significant margin.
Assuming that doesn't miraculously change overnight, this series is over.