It didn't start well, but eventually the Thunder rolled the Heat by 11 points after trailing much of the first half by double digits. Much like Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio, the Thunder had to weather great 3 point shooting early, only to dominate the second half completely.
Kevin Durant was superlative, scoring 17 of his 36 points in the 4th quarter, shooting 60% on the game, and Russell Westbrook ran the whole gamut of Westbrookness, eventually icing the game with a series of explosive moves to an unprotected rim on the way to 27 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists. Forget his number of shots - the key is his number of turnovers. 2 turnovers in 42 minutes suits the Thunder just fine.
OKC's dominant players delivered big, but the play of some key role players will decide the series.
Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, and Thabo Sefolosha made valuable contributions.
The oft criticized Fisher scored six points in 25 minutes, but he allowed the Thunder to play with much fresher legs than the Heat from the 3rd quarter on. Punishing Fisher's presence on the court pushes Miami out of their game plan so the Thunder will continue to steal valuable minutes with Fish until Miami does something about it.
The revelation of the playoffs for Scott Brooks is that the Thunder small ball line-up is the best group in the NBA and Sefolosha is the unheralded key to making it work. His 9 points over 29 minutes is incidental to the value of a player that can check Kobe Bryant, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, and Lebron James and, in combination with players like Westbrook, Ibaka, and Durant, form the fastest transition team in the league. He has become the poor man's Scottie Pippen (eerily same build and athletic ability, just none of his skill) and the box score doesn't do his play justice.
Finally, Nick Collison, God bless him, must have been caught in a hotel room in a three way with the ref's wives in pre-game. He played flawless defense in his 21 minutes and still managed to draw three fouls of the "Well, they're stars and you're not" variety. It's troubling NBA bullshit and why this series goes to 6 or 7 games. Nick contributed 8 points and 10 boards (5 offensive) and was Mr Energy Guy during the key Thunder run.
The media is already casting Game 1 as a duel between Lebron and Durant (with Durant the victor), but Lebron played pretty damn well and it's not really reflective of what went down. The Heat lost because Spoelstra doesn't have a bench he can (or won't) trust, Dwyane Wade's game still has no real basis in shooting (7 of 19 from the field), and no NBA team can run with OKC for 48 minutes essentially playing 6 guys.
If Miami wants to steal Game 2, they'll have to trust players like James Jones and/or Joel Anthony for key minutes to give themselves a chance. They also need to tear a page from Pat Riley's Knick teams with respect to tempo. Before they were worn down late, Miami saw great success early when they placed OKC into half court situations. Making the games ugly - at least away - is a good recipe for keeping it close.
Conversely, OKC has to feel good that Durant continues to rise above every challenge, no individual on Miami's team can deal with Westbrook (though there are team solutions), and James Harden got to spend Game 1 relaxing.
Here's to another great game on Thursday.