And it all started off so well.
When the Miami Heat broke out to an early double-digit lead and a seven point lead at halftime, you had the feeling that this was going to be the road game that they would steal. They were going to punch the Oklahoma City Thunder in the mouth with fundamental passing and astounding execution, while the Thunder could only throw up contested jump shot after jump shot. It had that feeling for the first 24 minutes.
Then the next 24 minutes came, and the Heat forgot how to play basketball.
Straight up forgot how to play. Everything they did in the first half to get that seven point lead at the half they did the opposite of and it led to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook outscoring the Heat on their own in the second half. Overall, the Heat were outscored 58-40 in an awful second half where they abandoned running an offense and played weak defense.
The weak defense possibly came as a result of fatigue, which we’ll get to later, but how stagnant the offense became was troubling. After a first half where they scored 54 points and constantly found wide-open shooters, the Heat just played a two-man game that took everybody out of their rhythm and put the entire game on the shoulders of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
It was a significant opportunity missed. This very well could have been a demoralizing loss for a young Thunder team to lose Game 1 in their own house. Miami was executing on offense in the first half as well as you’ve ever seen them, yet it was all thrown out the window following halftime.
Obviously, adjustments are going to be made. Let’s take a look at five that should be seen in Game 2:
Chris Bosh Needs to Get Involved
Just because he made a few three-pointers last game, doesn’t mean that he has suddenly become the perimeter savior of your team.
While it’s a positive to see Bosh on the perimeter attracting the influence of guys like Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, it’s useless when you have in a range that he’s not comfortable with. Bosh should be finding himself at least a little within the perimeter, instead of reaching out for three-pointers that he hasn’t consistently taken throughout his career.
Leave the three-point shooting to guys like Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers. Bosh is far too valuable on offense to leave him as a three-point shooter. He’s comfortable shooting the mid-range jumper and he’s comfortable going left on his drives, therefore the Heat should allow him to get into the spots that he’s been used to hitting shots for the past nine years.
Also, the Heat need to get him far more involved in the interior. Of the 11 field-goal attempts Bosh had in Game 1, a grand total of zero came from the paint. Every last shot he took was either a three-point attempt or a mid-range jumper and that does not bode well for a team that likes to get baskets near the rim.
Yes, you want Bosh hitting that mid-range jumper and stretching the floor, but you also want him to make defense’s wary by having them respect his drive as well. You need to maximize the potential and talent you have out of players like Bosh, because I know for damn sure that Pat Riley didn’t give Chris $15 million a year to take a few jump shots.
Bosh had 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting to go along with five rebounds in 34 minutes off the bench. The Heat aren’t winning a game with performances like that from Bosh, so please move him back into the starting lineup over Udonis Haslem and make it a purpose for him to play aggressive.
The Bench Needs a Bigger Say
Once again, Erik Spoelstra was a little too hung up on the series against the Boston Celtics to notice he was playing a completely different team.
Running the starting lineup and having one player off the bench play over 30 minutes can work against an older team like Boston, not against a young, athletic and volatile team like the Thunder that can run you ragged.
Oklahoma City’s offense is high-octane at every single moment. Defenders need to be at the top of their game, healthy and not tired in the slightest to match up with the likes of Durant, Westbrook and Harden. Of course, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier and LeBron James can defend those three, but they need the rest to be able to defend them over a 48-minute period.
You could tell by the fourth quarter that the Heat were fatigued. James barely made an initiative to drive and Wade was continuing to settle for off-balanced mid-range jumpers. They looked nothing like the Heat team that had just out-executed the Boston Celtics in the fourth quarter of Game nor the team that had dominated the Thunder in the first half.
Fatigue had to play a factor at some point and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it happened in the fourth quarter against a Thunder team that still had plenty of energy. The problem was James and Wade getting no support off the bench. They played 46 and 43 minutes respectively.
The bench? Chris Bosh played 34 minutes, Mike Miller had an uneventful 10 minutes and Joel Anthony played two. That’s it. Your Miami Heat bench, ladies and gentlemen. Compare that to the Thunder’s bench who played Derek Fisher, James Harden and Nick Collison over 20 minutes apiece and got solid minutes from each of them, aside from Harden who surprisingly only had five points on six shots.
Miami can’t run a six-man rotation. They need to get Norris Cole out there when Derek Fisher is on the floor, Ronny Turiaf to add some physicality and counter Collison and possibly even James Jones just to get another shooter out there. Also, slide Haslem back to the bench in favor of Bosh.
In the first half, I was absolutely stunned by the Heat’s passing and execution.
Never before have I seen them play with so much teamwork and fundamentals, and it wasn’t a surprise that they silenced the Thunder crowd early with a double-digit lead. It was a simple concept: James and Wade drive, they attract attention, dish out to semi-open shooter who dishes out to wide-open shooters who then makes the shot.
WHAT. A. CONCEPT. Who would have thought that proper passing and playing smart basketball would be the key to winning games? That’s why I find it mighty ridiculous that the Heat came out into the second half playing the exact opposite of how they played in the first 24 minutes.
You know the type of basketball I’m talking about. Dwyane and LeBron passing it to each other and the shooters getting nothing but bailout shots. It was as dreadful as it looked since Game 3 against the Celtics. There was no ball or player movement and the offense stalled along the perimeter.
The Thunder’s defense is good, but it shouldn’t look superior to the Heat’s. Miami’s offense made the Thunder’s defense look as good as it did because of how dreadful the execution was. It was nothing but LeBron and Dwyane ISO’s for the final 24 minutes of the game and it became sickening to watch.
The Heat need to channel that first half offense into every one of their games for 48 minutes. Crisp passing to open shooters and Wade and James attacking at will because of the shooting influence of guys like Shane Battier and Chris Bosh. This Heat team needs to stop attempting to rely on talent to win games because it won’t win them a game this series. It takes smart play to win a title and the smarter team will win ten times out of ten.
Who Guards Kevin Durant?
The only thing I remember about Game 1’s fourth quarter was me uttering this phrase over and over again: “Why is LeBron James not defending Kevin Durant?”
Seriously, why wasn’t he? When Durant goes off for 17 points in the fourth quarter and he’s being defended by Shane Battier and Dwyane Wade, we should praise him? I’ll give him credit that he made his shots, but I don’t give him that much credit for taking easy shots over players that don’t stand a chance in stopping him at any facet.
The 6’7″ Battier and the 6’4″ Wade aren’t guarding the 6’10” Durant nor they should be allowed to. It would be an interesting ploy to have them defend Durant the first three quarters to tire him out and then put LeBron James on him in the fourth quarter to really make him squirm, but it simply didn’t happen as it was the exact opposite.
James spent the fourth quarter defending Westbrook, while watching his teammates get lit up by the player he should have been defending.
LeBron was tired, but that’s no excuse for him to not guard the opponent’s best player in the most important 12 minutes of the game. Even if Spoelstra is telling James to defend Westbrook, LeBron should be saying right back to let him guard Durant. He’s supposed to be stepping up to the challenge and making the big plays he’s been making throughout the playoffs.
There were two instances where James defended Durant in the fourth and they both ended up in missed shots. I couldn’t possibly wonder why. Oh, maybe because he’s the top defender at his position that utilizes physicality, quick feet and great timing to shutdown his assignment?
This entire postseason, it has looked like the Monstars came and took all of Dwyane Wade’s powers.
I excused Wade’s poor performances in the Pacers and Celtics series because I knew how well he’d perform in the NBA Finals. After all, that’s what he lives for. In the two Finals he’s been to, Wade doesn’t know what a bad game looks like as he usually becomes the player to will his team to victory.
Not on Sunday. Not even close. The struggles continued as Wade managed only 19 points on 7-of-19 shooting while only taking five free throws. He managed to have eight assists and four rebounds, but countered it with three turnovers and 0-for-2 shooting from beyond the arc.
It was getting extremely frustrating to watch Dwyane Wade. Not because of what he was doing on the court, but because it wasn’t the Dwyane Wade I know. The Wade I know is splitting double-teams at the top of the key, zig-zagging through defenders and either finishing with a finesse layup or a huge slam to end the play.
This Wade was taking contested mid-range jumpers. A few fell in the first half, but he had no rhyme or reason to it in the second half. There was little intent on driving or getting near the basket as Wade didn’t even attempt to post-up the smaller Russell Westbrook nor did he attempt to blow by the slower Thabo Sefolosha.
I’ve seen Wade light up some of the best defense’s in NBA history, the Detroit Pistons and Boston Celtics, therefore it’s a little startling to me to see one of the league’s top giver of dicks shy away from contact.
My guess is that Wade’s knee is really acting up and he’s downplaying it. However, this is the NBA Finals and there’s no excuse for Dwyane ‘I got this shit’ Wade to be reduced to taking fadeaway mid-range jumpers like we’re still playing in February. Miami must find a way to get Wade going in order to counter the one-two punch of Durant and Westbrook and for the Heat to even stand a chance in this series.
Even with the tough Game 1 loss, the series is in the Heat’s advantage if they go out, make these adjustments and win Game 2, which would steal home-court advantage and lead to three consecutive games in Miami.
Also, to put it simply–LeBron James should be averaging at least 35 points per game this series as long as Kevin Durant is guarding him. Durant allowed James to drive by him constantly and continually throughout the contest, which pretty much means that LeBron has the go-ahead every single time he’s matched up with the wiry small forward.
Either way, this series isn’t even close to over. We saw how well the Heat can play and we know they can do that for 48 minutes if they simply set their mind to it, rest the star players and keep the strong mentality of keeping your foot on the gas pedal until the final buzzer sounds.