The small lineup comes up big. Miami did the expected, reinserting Chris Bosh into the starting lineup. What was unexpected was the decision to play Bosh at center. That left Shane Battier and LeBron James as the forwards to play alongside guards Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, a lineup the Heat did not start together during the regular season or playoffs. But another sharp shooting night for Battier (more on that below) and a strong game from Bosh (16 points, 15 rebounds) coupled with a quicker defensive team in transition (after racking up 24 fast-break points in Game 1, OKC didn't have a single fast-break point in the first half, finishing with 11 overall) helped build a 17-point first-quarter lead that Miami nearly gave away but never relinquished.
Another slow start doomed the Thunder. Oklahoma City has been playing with fire lately, falling behind San Antonio and Miami by double digits in the first half. Coach Scott Brooks admitted to me before the game that he was concerned about slow starts.
"We definitely talked about it," Brooks said. "We have to come out better, better defensive balance, better offensive execution. It's tough to come back when you're down [big]."
Well, the Thunder did it again in Game 2, falling behind by as many as 17 points and trailing at halftime by 12. They were sloppy and undisciplined early, shooting 25 percent from the floor in the first quarter. They rallied again in the fourth quarter and came within two points but never overtook Miami, as Kevin Durant missed a potential game-tying shot with about nine seconds left. The Thunder have done a remarkable job digging themselves out of holes, but against a team with the firepower of Miami, it just can't get away with it all series.
Shane Battier shines (again). That $3 million per year for Battier looks pretty good now, doesn't it? After racking up 17 points in Game 1, Battier pumped in another 17 on Thursday, knocking down 5-of-7 three-pointers after hitting 4-of-6 in Game 1. Throw in his pesky defense, and Battier is emerging as the unheralded star of this series.
Shake it up. Brooks has stuck with Kendrick Perkins through good times and bad this postseason, but it may be time to sit the beefy center down. Miami's small lineup leaves it vulnerable under the rim, but the offensively challenged Perkins has not been able to take advantage of the mismatches. He has just eight points in this series, and while he has rebounded well (7.5 per game), Oklahoma City may start experimenting more with a Serge Ibaka/Durant front line. That combination would allow the Thunder to get James Harden's offense (21 points in Game 2) in the starting lineup and make them more athletic in the open floor. Even with the small lineup, the Heat crushed the Thunder in points in the paint (48-32). Changes, they could be a-coming.