Thunder run away in Finals opener
OKLAHOMA CITY — The kids were all right, it just took awhile to get their footing.
With Russell Westbrook shaking off a rough start and Kevin Durant stepping up to his scoring-leader legacy, the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame an early 13-point deficit to eventually spring to a 105-94 victory Tuesday night over the Miami Heat at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“They beat us at their game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “and beat us in a game that’s very similar to us when we’re playing well.”
The victory gives the Thunder a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals that continue Thursday on their home court.
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness in that second half,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
A 9-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters put it away, with Durant and Westbrook closing with the type of flourish that defined their ouster of the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
“Every time out, our coaches were saying, ‘Play harder! Play harder!’ and that’s what we did,” Durant said.
Durant certainly seized his moment, scoring 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter. It was the second-highest-scoring Finals debut, behind only the 48 points scored by the Philadelphia 76ers’ Allen Iverson in 2001.
“We just had to make a second effort,” Durant said. “The only adjustment we made was playing harder. It’s a team game. Everybody has to come to play. Everybody played hard in the second half.”
Durant’s performance overshadowed a 30-point effort from Heat forward LeBron James, the highest-scoring of his 11 career Finals games.
“They made shots, we missed shots,” James said.
Westbrook added 27 points, recovering from a 3-of-10 first half from the field. Unlike Westbrook, Heat guard Dwyane Wade could not shake another uneven start, closing with 19 points.
Up seven at the halftime, the Heat opened the second half 1-for-5 from the field. That allowed the Thunder to push all the way back to a 60-60 tie with 6:44 to play in the third on a Thabo Sefolosha layup.
“I thought coming out of the third quarter they did a great job of turning on the defensive pressure,” Wade said. “They just made more plays than us.”
But after Westbrook missed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession that could have given the Thunder their first lead of the night, James attacked the basket for three layups for a 71-66 Heat lead.
Finally, with 16.4 seconds to play in the third, Westbrook drove and was fouled by Mike Miller, with his three-point play giving the Thunder a 74-73 lead, their first of the night. That was the score going into the fourth quarter.
“We were thinking we were putting ourselves in a position to win, and then they just went away,” Spoelstra said.
From there, behind the play of Durant and Westbrook and the defense of Sefolosha, the Thunder closed it out, with Durant closing 6-for-7 on 3-pointers, more than enough to offset the Heat’s early 3-point success.
Now the goal is to figure out Durant.
“We need to keep our bodies in front of him,” Spoelstra said, “but that’s much easier said than done.”
With an unexpected first-half scoring boost from forward Shane Battier, the Heat pushed their lead to 13 in the second quarter and took a 54-47 lead into the intermission.
Battier scored 13 points in the first half, already his postseason high, with James scoring 14 and Durant leading the Thunder with 13.
It was a rough early go for the teams’ top guards, with Westbrook 3-for-10 for nine points in the first half and Wade 3-for-8 for six points in the half.
In addition to Battier’s unlikely boost, the Heat also got 10 first-half points from point guard Mario Chalmers.
Converting five 3-pointers in the first quarter, a franchise record for the opening period of a playoff game, the Heat pushed to an early 11-point advantage and led 29-22 at the end of the first quarter. Battier was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the period.
The Heat’s early success came despite a 1-of-5 first quarter from James. Durant paced the Thunder with 11 first-quarter points, shooting 4-for-6 in the period, with the rest of his teammates 5-for-13.
Spoelstra changed up just about all the matchups, with James opening defensively against Kendrick Perkins, Battier against Durant, Wade against Westbrook, Chalmers against Sefolosha and Udonis Haslem on Serge Ibaka.
The Thunder, who played it more straight up early, promptly fell behind 10-2. Durant opened 3-for-3 for eight points, with the rest of the Thunder scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting at that stage.
NOTES: Tuesday marked the 10th career meeting between James and Durant, with the previous nine coming during the regular season. James holds a 7-3 edge. … This is the 12th Finals in which the top two finishers in the Most Valuable Player vote have met. James was the winner, and Durant was the runner-up. … Spoelstra opted to continue with Chris Bosh off the bench. It was the fourth consecutive game as a reserve for Bosh after he missed three weeks with a lower abdominal strain. Bosh scored 10 points Tuesday. … The Finals are being broadcast in 215 countries in 25 languages. … The anthem was performed by “American Idol” finalist Jessica Sanchez. … In pregame comments, commissioner David Stern said flopping would be addressed by the league before next season. “It is something that the competition committee will look at because it’s meeting on the 18th, and I’ve seen the agenda,” he said.