In a game where youth and length were on display, there was a lot of testiness between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder, with a scrum even exploding in the second quarter between the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and the Heat’s Jermaine O’Neal—both drawing technical fouls in the exchange.
Yet, Miami found themselves unable to fight in the way needed to get a win against Oklahoma City; being handed their third loss of the season, as they were trampled by the Thunder, 100-87.
Miami came into last night’s game at AmericanAirlines Arena knowing the Thunder was young, talented, and hungry for a win. The Heat were said to be determined to prevent that, and the way they started off the game, going up 16-11 midway through the first quarter it appeared their words were anything but hollow.
After that, it seemed like Miami decided to forget those words and take the night off, as they allowed the Thunder to go on a 20-1 run that extended into the second quarter to take a 31-17 lead, with the 6-11 Kevin Durant doing most of the damage scoring 10 points during the run and looking like a two-guard.
Oklahoma would be up 37-26 in the second before Miami would temporarily show some moxie; fighting back for a three-point deficit at the half, 45-42.
That feistiness would end as soon as the halftime was over and the teams once again took to the court, with Oklahoma City easily outshooting the ice-cold Heat and using a 14-2 run to stretch their lead to 65-50. That 15-point edge would be the exact margin they’d have entering the final period, too, as they ended the third up 74-59.
Of course, Miami fans had to have been confident even then, right? The Heat had Flash .
I imagine every single fan in AmericanAirlines Arena felt that their superhero would once again pull off a great comeback, and while Wade played well, it was Daequan Cook who led the only attempt at a comeback in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of his 17 points in the period.
After Westbrook nailed a three-pointer with 6:40 left in the game to give the Thunder an 87-72 lead Cook scored five points and Wade added a three-pointer of his own to bring Miami within nine points. They would never get much closer, pulling to within eight once, but finally falling to the younger Thunder team.
Oklahoma City simply wanted the game more, and Kevin Durant played as if he were the MVP of the league.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to that kid,” Heat forward Quentin Richardson said. “He’s 6-foot-11 and playing like a two-guard. That’s a tough cover for anybody in the NBA, as tall as he is, as quick as he is, and he has an unbelievable jump shot.”
Michael Beasley, a childhood friend of Durant’s, was even more impressed. “He’s 6-11 with a seven-foot wingspan,” said Beasley. “There’s not a whole lot you can do. He looks over the defenders, moves like he’s 5-10. He’s just playing unbelievable right now.”
Durant finished the night with 32 points on 11-of-23 shooting (9-of-9 from the FT-line) to go along with nine rebounds, five assists, a steal, and a blocked shot, yet he wasn’t alone in doing the damage to the Heat. Russell Westbrook poured in 24 points himself on 9-of-13 shooting (4-of-4 from the FT-line) to go along with his seven assists.
Three other Thunder players finished in double-figures on the night, as Jeff Green scored 13, and Nenad Krstic, and Nick Collison each put in 10. Thabo Sefolosha only came up with 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting from the floor, but did tie Durant by ripping down a team-high 9 rebounds to go along with his four assists and four steals.
The Heat were once again led by their superstar guard, Dwyane Wade, who scored 22 points on 6-of-19 shooting (9-of-12 from the FT-line) to go along with six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and two blocked shots.
Although he extended his franchise-record of consecutive games with at least 20 points to 23 games, he was harassed in this contest continuously, committing six turnovers and shooting just 25 percent from beyond the arc.
Miami also got pretty good production out of Jermaine O’Neal on the night, as he put in 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting while also ripping down 10 rebounds to notch a double-double on the night.
He was joined in double-figures for the Heat by the aforementioned Daequan Cook, who poured in 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field, including 4-of-9 from downtown. Cook, who is slowly coming back from the shoulder injury he suffered against the Indiana Pacers looks to have found his stroke, which will help the Heat going forward.
What won’t help them is getting little or no production from Quentin Richardson, who scored only two points on 1-of-3 shooting, and the struggles of Miami’s two young players, Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers, each of whom had a tough time dealing with the athletic players of the Thunder.
Beasley ended the night scoring only eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, but even more egregious, didn’t record a single rebound in the 23 minutes he was on the court.
Chalmers, while not playing horrendously, never established himself as a presence on the court, and was nearly as non-existent as Q-Rich, scoring seven points on 3-of-5 shooting and notching four rebounds and two assists.
Udonis Haslem had a workman-like night, putting in five points on 2-of-7 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds, while Carlos Arroyo also came off the bench to put in four points on 2-of-2 shooting to go along with his three rebounds and two assists.
No matter the stats, though, this game came down to a will to win, and the Oklahoma City Thunder showed that their youth has that burning desire to prevail. Miami has shown that fire as well in games this year, but other than the second quarter of last night’s game, I never witnessed it in the contest.
Considering Miami has escaped with some close wins over some of the worst competition in the NBA (New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards), perhaps some of the criticism John Lorge leveled at me and the Heat in the comments section of my recap of the victory over the Nets seen here might have been correct.
I’m still one to believe John is seriously underestimating Miami’s talent pool, but I have to admit that talent really wasn’t on display last night.
Miami won’t get much time to reflect on this loss, though, which could be a good or a bad thing; who knows.
Tonight they face off on the road against the team, the Atlanta Hawks, that knocked them out of the playoffs last year by winning Game 7 of their First-Round Playoff matchup, 91-78. In the Hawks, the Heat will find a similar group of talented young players eager to prove last year’s playoff win was indicative that they’re the better team.
One thing that might prevent the Heat from losing this contest is if they can get their own youth to live up to the potential everyone sees in them. Michael Beasley will have to come to play tonight and must score in double figures. More importantly, he will have to work hard on the boards and clean them up for the Heat. Zero rebounds by Michael will spell doom for the Heat.
Quentin Richardson will also need to get his act together. While he’s playing splendid defense most of the time, we are going to need him to contribute throughout the season on a more consistent basis. Scoring 20 points one night and zero the next just doesn’t cut it.
Mario Chalmers also needs to mature far more quickly than he has been. While his defensive ability is second to none, his lack of fundamentally sound defensive technique has gotten him into more trouble than I can talk about here.
Finally, and most importantly, if the Heat are to win against the very talented Atlanta team in their own home arena, they will need to continue to get great production from Jermaine O’Neal and Udonis Haslem. Both have been playing great ball this year, and if that continues, and the two youngsters can find their way, the Heat will not only have a great chance at winning tonight, but all throughout the year.
Wade will be Wade, and is likely to go off on the Hawks tonight, who he typically scores a great deal against, but he needs more from his teammates. Here’s hoping he gets it tonight.
Miami is 7-3 on the year so far, and while that’s good, I’d love nothing more than to be reporting a couple weeks from now that they’re 17-3. A 10-game winning streak isn’t beyond this talented young group, despite what John Lorge may think. Perhaps they’ll prove it to him.
Quotes taken from the AP and Miami Herald recaps of the game.