Durant, Westbrook claim battle of superstars vs. Heat in Game 1
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Years from now, when the Thunder are accustomed to making the NBA Finals, perhaps the franchise will wise up and put its superstars on opposite ends of the locker room, to spread out the media horde. In the meantime, Kevin Durant dresses next to James Harden, who dresses next to Russell Westbrook. Tuesday night, they really could have used a police escort to lead them from the shower to their underwear.
Durant gently asked reporters to clear a path for him. Westbrook walked out of the shower and said, "This isn't happening," and made it clear he needed his space. Something about their personalities was summed up, right there: Durant, always polite and instantly likable, and Westbrook, a little too direct and always determined.
Durant scored 36 charming points, Westbrook put together a fierce 27-point, 11-assist, eight-rebound night, and they looked like the best tandem in the sport in leading the Thunder past the Heat 105-94 in the series opener. It was hard to believe that two summers ago, LeBron James got to choose his first two teammates in the mother of all pickup games.
James went to Miami to play with two superstars, and in Game 1 of this year's Finals, he played with none. That simple math won't work for the Heat. Oklahoma City is too good, too deep, and has way too much Durant and Westbrook. (Fact: Westbrook once missed a dunk because he stubbed his toe on the backboard.) (Fact: That wasn't a real fact.)
I know we all like to talk about LeBron, as though the game starts and ends with him. I do it myself. Well, he didn't play his best game, but I don't see how anybody could complain about his 30-point, nine-rebound, four-assist, four-steal evening. Yeah, LeBron could have hit a couple of more shots in the fourth quarter. If you want superheroes, watch a cartoon.
The story of this game is what Durant and Westbrook did (Durant scored 17 points in the fourth quarter alone) and what Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did not do (play like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh).
Wade finished with 19 points, but he needed 19 shots to do it, and too often, he dominated the ball but not the game. The Heat won't say that, of course. I suspect most people won't, because in the NBA culture, Wade is a made man. He led his team to a title and earned his superstar status.
"He's one of the best players on the planet," Heat forward Shane Battier said. "Especially on offense, you're not going to tell him what to do too often."
But Battier also said his team was undone in the second half by "way too many careless turnovers, long rebounds after poor shots," and I can't help but notice that Wade was 4-for-11 in the second half, and Bosh was 1-for-5. That's 31 percent shooting by two guys who are supposed to be stars. Bosh has been hurt, and for all we know, Wade is hurt too. Their lousy performances may be explainable, but they are still lousy, and this is no time for lousy.
"You can't just allow teams to lock in and stare at you while you try to make a move," Battier said, and again: He did not criticize Wade at all, but what he said sure seems like it applies to Wade.
This has been an ongoing concern. Sometimes Miami's players look like champions and sometimes they look like they are standing around waiting for the pizza-delivery guy.
In the first half, Miami moved the ball quickly and found open shooters. In the second half, Miami stood and watched guys take jump shots. The effect was calamitous: Too many of the shots missed, and when they did, Oklahoma City got easy transition baskets. The Thunder got 24 points on fast breaks, and the Heat got ... four.
"We played our least intelligent half of basketball in about two months," Battier said.
Of course, that's how Miami saw it. Harden said the difference in the second half was "energy," simple as that. Westbrook and Durant said bluntly that their team did not play hard enough in the first half.
Wade was defensive about his offense afterward. He was asked a simple question about picking and choosing his shots, and he said, "Sorry, man," and "I'm a winner" and that he was "just doing whatever it takes to win the ballgame, not necessarily sitting up here worrying about scoring 30 points. I know that's going to make you guys feel better. I'm all about winning."
This is how it goes in the playoffs sometimes. Each team lives in its own reality until one of them proves its point.
The Heat can't escape this, though: Wade and Bosh have to play better. Oklahoma City won the superstar tally 2-1, and that's why the Thunder lead the Finals 1-0.