Game 1 looked from the early on like it was going to be a big, surprising night for the Miami Heat on the road. As 5-point underdogs, the Heat jumped out to a double-digit lead early on in the second quarter, and looked to have their high-scoring offense clicking on all cylinders. Then everything changed. The Thunder cut the Heat’s lead to just 4 points at half time, and behind a magnificent effort by OKC star Kevin Durant, who scored 17 of his 36 points in the final 12 minutes of the game, the Thunder simply walked away with Game 1, in what ended up being a comfortable 105-94 victory in front of a quite-literally thunderous OKC crowd. Shooting a ridiculous 51.9 percent from the floor as a team while outscoring the Heat 58-40, Oklahoma was able to pull away as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook alone outscored the Heat in the second half of Game 1, 41-40. For the Heat to rebound in Game 2 tonight, with tip-off set for 9:00 PM ET time at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, they’ll simply have to come up with a better defensive solution throughout four quarters of play, or risk heading back to South Florida with their tails hung between their legs and a lot of head scratching to do.
Game 1 produced some pretty interesting revelations about both teams and how they match up in this series. For the Thunder, it’s plainly evident that from the get-go they have a major advantage with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who combined for 63 points and 18 rebounds on Tuesday night. Just one other player, Serge Ibaka, managed to score in double figures, and what was perhaps even more surprising is that the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year James Harden didn’t even get involve in the scoring for Game 1. After averaging nearly 18 points per game through the first three series of the playoffs, Harden produced his lowest points total (5) of the playoffs, and matched his lowest output for the entire year. That actually bodes very well for the Thunder in this series, as if Harden can be a relative non-factor in a game and OKC can still win by a double-digit margin, it’s very evident that the Thunder have offensive superiority over the Heat overall.
The second interesting takeaway from Game 1 was the game being played around the basket, whereby the Thunder completely dominated in the first showdown against the Heat. Outscoring Miami 56-40 around the bucket, and outrebounding them 43-35, OKC truly looks to have a big advantage with more physical players around the hoop, with bigger options to help shut down the Miami Big Three, who like to penetrate towards the hoop for easy shots. Nick Collison was a notable standout for the Thunder in the first showdown, nearly producing a double-double with 8 points and 10 rebounds, and alongside Serge Ibaka (10 points, 6 rebounds), these two could help to give OKC an enormous boost of presence to help take some weight off the Big Thunder Three of Durant, Westbrook and Harden.
Another couple of interesting results from Game 1 to look at include the turnover margin, which stood dead even at 10 apiece for Miami and Oklahoma City, as well as the assists, in which surprisingly the Thunder took the lead in with 22 to Miami’s 20. OKC ranked near the bottom of the league in assists, relying on individual players to produce their own open looks, but led by Russell Westbrook on Tuesday night with 11 assists to nearly give him a triple-double, an improved Thunder passing game was not expected by the Heat, and showed how effective OKC could be especially in the later stages of the game with a lot of ball movement. If the Thunder can continue to move the ball around, giving open looks to an already hot-shooting team lead by one of the hottest open-court shooters in Kevin Durant, Miami is going to be in for another long night ahead. However, if Miami can regroup and focus in on the swarming defensive style they were able to exhibit in the final few games against Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat may stand a chance at keeping the Thunder out of rhythm, and shifting the balance of Game 2 over to their side of the court.
Looking around for other clues as to what could make Miami successful in Game 2 tonight, we have to start by understanding that the Heat didn’t necessarily play poorly throughout Game 1, they just didn’t play as well as the Thunder, who dominated by virtue of two incredible opening-game performances by Kevin Durant and Russell Westrbook. Miami shot a respectable 46.2 percent from the floor, hit 42.1 percent of their 3-point attempts (8-19), and had 5 players in double figures, including 4 of their starters. LeBron James had one of his best Finals games of his career, amassing 30 points and 9 rebounds, on 11-for-24 shooting. So what was the big difference here? Closing out the game. Miami looked as if they just didn’t know what to do with the Thunder offense down the home stretch, getting schooled around the basket on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and had really no second-half answer for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who as mentioned previously outscored the entire Heat team by themselves after the first 24 minutes of play.
Understanding that however, may be the adjustment that Miami needs to make for Game 2; If they can slow down Durant and Westbrook in the second half of Game 2, and keep their offense balanced, they have the chance of tying this series before heading back home. However, that is much easier said than done, and will require the efforts not only of a few strong defensive players like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, but must also call on the big men of the Heat to really stand up and stay strong down the stretch. Chris Bosh needs to be much better in Game 2, having produced just 5 rebounds and none of those on the offensive glass, while going 4-for-11 for 10 points. Udonis Haslem has to come out of his offensive shell. While he’s continued to be strong on the boards, pulling down 11 in Game 1, he was just 2-for-6 shooting with 4 points on the night. Without these two players helping out against the penetrating drives of Durant, Westbrook, and likely for Game 2 a resurgence from James Harden, the Thunder are once again going to walk away victorious. However, if Haslem and Bosh dominate in the paint, help the Heat win the rebounding margin, and both score in double figures, there’s plenty of reason to expect the Heat to be right in this ballgame, with an opportunity to win at the end.
Betting Lines for the Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder at Betonline Sportsbook.
After starting out as -220 favorites to win in Game 1, the odds have move north on the Thunder, taking Oklahoma City as -250 favorites to win tonight straight up on the money line. Miami will be the largest underdogs of this year’s NBA playoffs, at +210 odds to win.
Against the spread, Miami will get 5 ½ points to play with at -110 odds, while the Thunder will need to cover 5 ½ points with the same odds. There is no doubt that if both Durant and Westbrook have similar nights again, and if James Harden enters the picture as well, OKC won’t have a tough time covering this spread over the course of the final few minutes of play.
For the over/under, the line has shifted just half a point from what we took yesterday, at 196 on the total points line today. It took the very final minute to realize a win for over pickers in Game 1, and with the bookmakers seemingly dialed right in to the points total, expect another tight call on this line today as well. With the Thunder still scoring upwards of 103 points at home, and Miami likely set to throw down with a better effort tonight in the second half of Game 2, look out for another close breakthrough of the total points.