NBA Finals: Punch, Counterpunch

Posted at 06/15/12 1:32 PM

As Game One of the 2012 NBA Finals got ready to begin, three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant was flustered. Durant, as with many athletes, is a superstitious type, someone who has a very particular routine before every game. When he wasn’t able to go through the routine, and when some other things happened, his Oklahoma City Thunder looked out of whack against the Miami Heat.

ESPN.com’s JA Adande says that the young superstar’s routine before player introductions is quite elaborate. From an imaginary game of hackey sack with Serge Ibaka, to skipping over to Kendrick Perkins on the opposite side for a super low five, to getting some dap from Russell Westbrook, culminating in a hug from his mom Wanda Pratt at her courtside seat. Yet on the day of the first Finals game of Durant’s career, his mom made a wrong turn to the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It threw KD’s whole routine off, and the Thunder looked lost.

The Heat were in the Finals as a unit last year, and it showed. LeBron James, in particular, looked comfortable for the first three quarters of Game One, even as Chris Bosh continued to come off the bench for Erik Spoelstra’s unit. At halftime, Miami kept a 54-47 lead as, aside from Durant, the rest of the Thunder kept missing shots.

The second half though was another story. Russell Westbrook bounced back from a poor shooting start and got the entire OKC crowd energized after he felt that Shane Battier punked him. With Westbrook engaged, Dwyane Wade failed to answer for Miami. Wade only shot 7-19 field goals for a quiet 19 points, and Oklahoma City quickly figured out how to shine on the big stage of the Finals.

They took their cue from their young leader, the ruthless Durant. Scoring 17 of his 36 points in the fourth period, Durant showed that he has the killer instinct and finishing kick that three-time MVP James has been questioned on for the past year and longer. So strong were Durant’s and Westbrook’s games that the two of them outscored all of Miami 41-40 in the second half. James, on the other hand, still had his 30 points, but only 7 of them came in the final quarter. The result: a 105-94 win for Oklahoma City.

For Game Two of the Finals, Coach Spoelstra went for a different strategy. Returning Bosh to the starting lineup but playing him at center beside Chalmers, Wade, James, and Battier proved to be a good move. Sharper than they were in Game One, the Heat got off to a 20-5 start that sent the Thunder reeling. It didn’t help Oklahoma City’s situation that both Durant and Westbrook were hampered with two fouls each after the first quarter. In fact, it was largely Sixth Man of the Year winner James Harden who kept the Thunder in the game with 10 points as they trailed Miami 27-15 after one. The second quarter saw OKC getting some more production from Durant, though he still picked up his third foul before halftime. The Heat stayed in the lead by 11 at the intermission.

Most expected the Thunder to make their customary second half run in the third period. After all, they’ve done it throughout the playoffs to proven winners like the Mavericks, Lakers, and Spurs. This would prove to be a more difficult task though as James, Wade, and Bosh finally started playing like the “Big Three” that they were billed as when they came together last season. Even as Westbrook found his shooting touch and the Thunder tried to rally, the Heat fought them off with timely threes from Battier or a jumper from Wade, or even a dunk or two from Bosh.

Durant would get his fifth personal foul early in the fourth quarter but it would not get in the way of leading the Thunder’s furious charge. Tagging up with Westbrook and Harden, Durant would get OKC to as close as three points at 94-91. However, a timely bankshot by James and a Bosh dunk off a Wade drop pass would increase the edge to 98-91. Durant nailed a triple to get close once again at 98-96, but his baseline drive (which had clear contact with James) rattled out and James iced the game from the free throw line 100-96.

The Finals are now tied 1-1 as the scene moves to AmericanAirlines Arena and Miami’s infamous South Beach this Monday, Manila time. The Heat got 32 points from James but Wade also added 24 and Bosh contributed with 16 points and 15 boards to give the Thunder their first home loss of the playoffs. With three straight games in Miami, it’s conceivable that the Heat finish the series on their homecourt, but Coach Scott Brooks’ boys have proven themselves to be dangerous on the road as well as in Chesapeake Energy Arena. 1-1. Now we have a series.