In the first meeting of the season between Oklahoma City and Miami, the Thunder charged back from a 22-4 deficit to claim a 112-95 blowout victory in Miami on Wednesday. Oklahoma City improved its West-leading record to 37-10. Miami dropped to 32-13 with the loss.
• Kevin Durant keeps streaking as Thunder go small.
There's no hotter team in the league than the Thunder, who have won nine straight, and no hotter player than Durant, who topped the 30-point mark for the 12th straight game and finished with 33 points (on 12-for-23 shooting), seven rebounds and five assists. Wednesday night delivered a memorable MVP showdown between Durant, the leading challenger, and LeBron James, the back-to-back winner. Their head-to-head play peaked with a third-quarter flurry, in which the league's top two All-Star vote-getters combined for 16 points in a 2:22 stretch. James would end the night with a game-high 34 points (on 12-for-20 shooting), three rebounds and three assists.
That third-quarter sequence whet the league's collective appetite for a 2014 Finals matchup, but it wasn't the game's turning point. Indeed, the shift in the game flow was so dramatic that it could be read by an astronaut in outer space. Miami claimed a 22-4 lead over the game's first 6:30 before being outscored 108-73 the rest of the way. The Thunder had made up the 18-point deficit in full with more than four minutes remaining before halftime, and they never surrendered the lead after a Durant three broke a tie with just under two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Everyone always says that NBA basketball is a game of runs, but come on ...
Although it wasn't perfectly aligned, the pick up in play from Oklahoma City happened shortly after starting center Kendrick Perkins went to the bench less than five minutes into the game, replaced by Jeremy Lamb. Perkins, who was named to SI.com's All-Atrocious Team earlier this season, never returned, as coach Scott Brooks elected to start versatile forward Perry Jones in his place for the second half. Long a Perkins loyalist, Brooks was rewarded for his rare decision to break from tradition with a quick 9-2 Thunder run to start the second half, a push that killed any chance for Miami to generate some badly-needed momentum.
That Brooks finally pulled the plug on Perkins, and was rewarded for it, is remarkable in and of itself. After all, it's not every day you see a player post a minus-13 in five minutes when his team wins by 17 points. But the five-man combination he settled on to start the second half added a layer of intrigue, and Miami shouldn't be faulted if they feel like Oklahoma City's big night came from nowhere. Entering Wednesday, Brooks had used the small ball five-man lineup of Durant/Jones/Serge Ibaka/Reggie Jackson/Thabo Sefolosha for just 12 minutes all season, without much to show for it. Against the Heat, the group played nine minutes, nearly doubling its time together this season, steering the game on both ends with hot outside shooting, turnover-generating defense and the right combination of athleticism and quickness to match-up against a Heat lineup using Chris Bosh in the middle.
Miami -- even with 67 points on 46 shots from the Big 3 -- looked overwhelmed to a degree not often seen. Some incredibly hot and timely marksmanship from Derek Fisher and Lamb, who combined to shoot 9-for-11 from deep off the bench, helped put this one totally out of reach, and their success underlined Oklahoma City's potential when going smaller. This seemed to be a case of the Thunder giving the Heat a taste of its own medicine. For years, Miami has outgunned opponents who have been unable to make the Heat pay for playing Bosh in the middle. Here, Oklahoma City escaped with a commanding victory by riding beef-free lineups against a Heat team that couldn't make the Thunder pay.
Perkins has usefulness in certain situations, but we shouldn't be shocked that the Thunder's defense held up without him. This season, Oklahoma City's defensive rating is slightly better without him (99) than with him (99.3), and their offense improves drastically (from 102.7 with him to 110.8 without him) when the Thunder have a functioning five player rather than playing four-on-five. These results, and Brooks' willingness to break from his standard, should be cause for excitement for Thunder fans, many of whom have been screaming for such changes for years now. The truly titillating thought is what happens when Russell Westbrook returns, adding major explosiveness to lineups that are stocked with Durant and plenty of athletes already.
• The must-have accessory for the trash-talker in your life.
Back in September, The Point Forward unveiled our Top 100 Players of 2014, placing Durant at No. 2, Heat guard Dwyane Wade at No. 8 and Rockets guard James Harden at No. 11. Durant told Cinesport.com soon after the rankings were published that he believed Harden, his former teammate, should have been included in the top 10 instead of Wade.
“I think you’re missing on James Harden,” Durant said. Asked which player Harden should replace, Durant replied, without hesitation: “Dwyane Wade.”
Wade then posted a response to Durant’s statement on his Instagram account. Dating the note 9/24/13, Wade wrote: “Kevin Durant said James Harden should replace me in the top 10 … Note to self: Make him respect your place in history … again …"
In a response to Wade’s response, Durant wrote on Twitter: “Show me, don’t tweet me.”
ESPN's Doris Burke reported during the pre-game broadcast that Wade has taken to wearing "Note To Self" wristbands to help fuel his fire as the Heat chase a three-peat and the fourth title of Wade's career. The broadcast included video reel of Wade sporting the motivational bands on both wrists.
The bands -- which are available in black, red and an All-Star blue model -- are being sold on LyfeBrand.com for $5 a pop.
It won't be long now before "Show me, don't tweet me," is a slogan adorning wristbands, T-shirts, hoodies and coffee mugs. That is, if such merchandise doesn't already exist.
• Derek Fisher hits the banking Bryce Drew.
They say that it's better to be lucky than good sometimes, and Oklahoma City enjoyed a swing of good fortune at the end of the third quarter. Jones made the mistake of fouling a jump-shooting Ray Allen in the quarter's closing seconds, a big no-no, and the Thunder breathed one sigh of relief when the 89.4 percent free-throw shooter split the pair.
What happened next, though, was hilariously improbable and improbably hilarious. With 2.1 seconds remaining in the quarter, Nick Collison tossed a baseball style pass from the baseline to Jones, who redirected the ball with a tap to Fisher, who came peeling off toward the left angle. The Hail Mary slash hook and ladder play -- which brought to mind "The Bryce Drew Shot" by Valparaiso in the 1998 NCAA tournament -- worked perfectly, as the veteran point guard lined up and released a wide open three-pointer well before the buzzer sounded. Fisher's shot banked in hard off the glass, just to put the cherry on top of the wild sequence.