OKLAHOMA CITY -- Three thoughts after Oklahoma City's 105-94 victory over Miami in Game 1 of the NBA Finals ...
Kevin Durant was the best player on the court. In the first of what will undoubtedly be many NBA Finals games in his career, Kevin Durant settled the Thunder at the beginning and carried them at the end. Through the first three quarters, while his teammates were noticeably jittery, Durant made 6 of 10 shots. The Thunder probably should have involved him more, but in these playoffs, Durant has often laid in wait for the fourth quarter and then dominated it. Game 1 against the Heat was no different than Game 2 against the Mavericks or Game 4 against the Lakers or Game 4 against the Spurs. Durant finished with 36 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, and he applied the finishing touch with a late pass, drawing two defenders and dishing to Nick Collison for the dunk. The subsequent "M-V-P" chants were an obvious tribute to Durant and a clear jab at LeBron James, who lost the first individual battle of the Finals.
The Big Three wilted again at closing time. Miami controlled this game for most of three quarters, but in the fourth, they experienced some nasty flashbacks to the Finals last year against Dallas. While Durant and Russell Westbrook took over, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took a backseat. Wade made three field goals in the fourth quarter, James two and Bosh one -- but that was hardly the only stage of the game in which they struggled. The three of them were a combined 22 of 54, with James and Wade combining for seven turnovers. In this series, the Heat stars will need to outplay the Thunder stars, and in Game 1 that did not happen. If anything, the Heat relied on their role players, and initially it worked. In the first half, Shane Battier scored 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, Mario Chalmers added 10 on 4-of-6, and Udonis Haslem pulled down nine rebounds. But Battier and Chalmers cooled in the second half and the Thunder's superior depth eventually won out.
The Thunder needed some time to get comfortable. No one in Oklahoma City's core is over 23, and for a while they looked their age. The Thunder led the NBA in free-throw shooting this season, and ranked first among teams in the postseason at better than 83 percent, but they missed seven of their first 18 attempts Tuesday. Durant was the only player making outside shots early, but he got just one attempt in the second quarter, as Westbrook continually let fly. Defensively, the Thunder appeared lost in rotations and allowed wide-open jump shots. The Thunder have been rattled at times in these playoffs, but have always recovered, and they did again. Westbrook found a rhythm, found Durant and the Thunder polished Miami just as they did San Antonio. By the fourth quarter, they looked at home on the Finals stage, a foreboding notion for the Heat.
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