I’m not going to go into in depth analysis on x’s and o’s, if you want that go to www.nbaplaybook.com or follow @SebastianPruiti he’s the best at breaking down offenses and defenses in depth. What I will do is share some of my simpler observations from game 1. Both teams are structured differently. The Thunder have shot makers that don’t have to dominate the ball although can impact the game with their ability o make shots and score in Kevin Durant and James Harden. Russell Westbrook is the very talented game changer who is a two guard playing the point guard position. All three of their big men don’t need touches and play great defensively. As a team they move the ball and look to run on any occasion. The Heat feature two perimeter players that are streaky shooters that dominate the ball and like to consistently take tough contested shots. Their one post scorer is Chris Bosh, but gets most of his touches on the perimeter and face ups from 17 feet out. They play great team defense and feature little shot blocking, but are very effective on rotations and team defensive schemes.
In game one the Heat started the game as well as one could against the juggernaut Thunder. The ball didn’t stop on the perimeter as Miami penetrated the Thunder defense and kicked to Shane Battier who hit three early three-point shots. As the game went on you can see the tempo changing in OKC’s favor as the Heat continued to settle for deep, tough, contested shots. This opened up the Thunder transition game which opened up easy scoring opportunities. The young Thunder were not intimidated and ran their offense as they continued to get open looks. They penetrated the Heat defense and continued to move the basketball. As Miami found out its easier to score when the ball is moving rather than settling for tough shots. Battier was great early who finished the game with 17 points on 4-6 shooting from three-point range, but they went away from him for most of the second half. Instead of penetrating the Thunder defense they reverted back to what they really are and that is an isolation offensive team.
Look for James Harden to have more of an impact in game two. He couldn’t find his groove in game one as he had throughout the playoffs. The Heat did a good job early in getting the ball out of Harden’s hands with hard shows on pick and roll and good help rotations. Part of the reason why he didn’t score as much as he usually does is due to the fact that Fisher and Westbrook played very well while he was in the game with them. I don’t think that the Scott Brooks or James Harden were too upset in his 5 points on 6 shots as the result was all that mattered.
The Thunder made their biggest impact with their transition game outscoring Miami in that department 24-4. Most of the transition scores were due to Miami’s deep jumpshots early in the shot-clock that led to transition leak-outs. Westbrook and Durant were unstoppable combining for 63 points and 16 rebounds. Their bench gave them a spark with Nick Collison and Derek Fisher leading the way with their energy and veteran play combining for 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Kevin Durant continues to make plays in crunch time for the Thunder. Not only is he showing his domination as a scorer, but also his versatility and making passes to open teammates when Miami sends multiple defenders to him. That is the biggest addition to his game that he has added in the past year. His 37 points (17 in the fourth quarter) was a total domination of the Heat defense. The Thunder as a team is showing that making the extra pass will lead to something better rather than settling for a tougher shot. Miami needs to adopt this mentality or they will find themselves in another up hill climb as well as another track meet chasing the Thunder in their transition game.
Miami was so effective when driving the ball without holding it forcing the Thunder defense to rotate and work opening up driving lanes. LeBron and Dwyane Wade both were tough to guard when they made quick drives against OKC’s defense. I wasn’t as critical as others of Wade’s lack of production, but more as far his lack of aggressiveness to drive instead of force long jumpshots. LeBron James also needs to do a better job at driving the ball into the paint. He had such an impact on almost every drive for scores or opening up teammates for open looks that he should continue to use this weapon. He is almost impossible to guard when he has a running start on drives, but makes himself easier to guard when he settles for long jumpers. For the Heat to win this game on the road they need to have the majority of their possessions contain multiple penetrations forcing the Thunder defense to scramble. The Heat could have put a lot more pressure on James Harden by isolating Wade and driving against him forcing Harden to move his feet on defense which is a weakness of his.
One other glaring deficiency in Miami’s game plan was the lack of post looks by Chris Bosh. Bosh had most of his looks on the perimeter which did very little for Miami throughout the game. By going to him on the block it gives the Heat the ability to space the floor and get the ball out of Wade and LeBron’s hands and give them another weapon to go to. By having Bosh settling for jumpshots it limited his ability to draw double teams and kick to other players, go to the free throw line, and put him out of position for offensive rebounding position. Also by having the ball on the block it could put the Thunder big men in foul trouble especially with Ibaka who is better as a weak side defender than a on the ball post defender and with him out of the game takes shot blocking out of the lineup.
If the Heat continue to throw double teams and help on Harden, OKC can run him into some dribble hand offs. Not only can it open up his offensive game to score but also take advantage of rolling their big men to the rim and utilizing Harden’s passing ability. OKC’s big men are not scorers on the block, but are very effective when they roll hard to the rim this will give them easy looks to score as well as open up weak side shooters as Miami’s defenders will help to bump their big men rolling. I think this can open up some easy scoring looks for the Thunder as it will take some pressure off of Westbrook, Durant, and Harden on the perimeter to score.
Look for game 2 to be a war as Erik Spoelstra will make adjustments to slow down the Thunder offense. If the Thunder score 105 points again the Heat have little chance as they need to have the game in the 90’s to have a chance on the road against OKC. Look for Westbrook and Durant to continue to attack and push the tempo for the Thunder.