Thunder Overcome Nerves To Win Game 1
Game 1 of the 2011-12 NBA Finals featuring the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. the Miami HEAT is officially in the books. The Thunder came away with the win, 105-94, on their home court accompanied by a raucous crowd in blue, 18,203 strong.
Miami seemed to have the edge, closing out the first half with a 54-47 advantage. In the third quarter, the Thunder found their comfort zone, showing increased defensive effort with more energy and focus that carried through the rest of the game.
“That’s when we started playing our game, started being aggressive, rebounding the ball, just playing Thunder basketball,” said Russell Westbrook. “I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end, made them feel us a little bit, did a great job of being aggressive on the defensive end, and that led to easy points offensively.
“We’re a defensive team, and I think that’s what guys don’t realize about this team. We’re defense first, and we play off our defense.”
Westbrook and Kevin Durant admitted nerves, even a lack of effort, were factors in the first half. Durant scored 13 points and had one free throw and three rebounds in the first two quarters; Westbrook contributed just nine points in the first 24 minutes.
“Just frustrated in myself, know I could have played harder,” shared Westbrook about his start. “And our coaching staff and other guys on the team just emphasized once I started playing harder, everybody else will follow. That’s my job.”
“I think that he was just getting a feel for the game,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra pointed out. “The thing about Westbrook is he’ll just keep on coming, so it doesn’t matter; time, score of the game or what just happened in the play before. He’s going to continue to be relentless, and we have to match that relentlessness, and we have that ability.”
Perhaps Spoelstra summed it up best.
“Well, this one is behind us now. About halfway through the fourth quarter we were thinking we were putting ourselves in a position to win, and then they just went away. That’s what they do, they keep on coming. They’re relentless. They beat us at their game and beat us in a game that’s very similar to us when we’re playing well.”
Both Westbrook and Durant were at a loss to explain why they didn’t start the game with usual confidence and focused effort.
“I wish I could tell you,” said a perplexed Durant. “You know, just being in The Finals, we kind of was nervous, I guess. That’s something (that) can’t happen next game or the rest of the series. Just got to come out with a lot of energy, and hopefully we do it next game. But I really couldn’t tell you why.”
“I don’t have an answer, either,” Westbrook added. “I know next game we’ll come out and be ready to play and hopefully we’ll come out with the win.”
Derek Fisher, the Thunder’s newest roster member, has a wealth of experience courtesy of five NBA championship rings. He seemed to know what to expect from his young teammates making their first NBA Finals appearance.
“I wasn’t in each guy’s head or in their mind, but you could expect and anticipate that guys would feel overwhelmed by the opportunity,” explained Fisher. “Guys work their entire life to get an opportunity to play in The Finals and to play for a championship, so nerves and anxiety are to be expected.”
“It kind of took us a couple minutes to get the nervousness out of us and the jitters out of it,” Durant said.
Westbrook ended the game with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, nearly a triple-double. Durant logged a game-high 36 points (17 in the fourth quarter), eight free throws, four three-pointers and eight rebounds.
Now that this first battle is over and each team collected knowledge of what the other brings, Miami expects adjustments.
“This first game, as in every series, is always just a game to see,” said Dwyane Wade. “We’re on the road, we come here, we try to win one. Now we make the adjustments, we come out and we try to split the next game. I’m not worried about it. I’m sure we’ll find some better opportunities for ourselves, and we’ll be more comfortable in Game 2.”
“Like D Wade said, this was the feel-out game,” added LeBron James. “We come out with a lot of energy, try to steal Game 1, and now we get an opportunity to go to the chalkboard, go to the film and have a better game plan in Game 2 since we’ve already seen them to see to see what they’re capable of doing.”
“Those guys, they came out on fire,” recalled Durant about the HEAT’s start. “They were passing the ball well, knocking down shots. It’s a long game, and every time our coach was just saying play harder, play harder, and that’s what we did.
“Next game we’ve got to start a little better, because this team is going to come out extremely hard,” he added.
Miami didn’t seem to battle nerves as much as their opponent, but they did let their lead slip away, allowing Oklahoma City to outscore them 58-40 in the second half.
“Whatever the case may be, we had a good game plan to start the game, and the third quarter hurt us,” said James, who posted 30 points, nine rebounds and four steals.
“It’s one thing that we’re confident in is that our coaching staff is going to get us a game plan, the rotation that we need.” Wade said, perhaps alluding to a surprising short-rotation roster utilized by Spoelstra.
Wade scored 19 points in the game and seemed to take offense when asked about picking and choosing his shots.
“I’m a winner, so I’m just doing whatever I can help to help my team win,” he said in the post-game conference. “One night I’m going to have a big night scoring, some nights I’m going to have a big night doing other things. Just doing whatever it takes to win the ballgame, not necessarily sitting up here worrying about scoring 30 points.
“I know that’s going to make you guys feel better,” he continued. “I’m all about winning. We didn’t win tonight, and that’s the biggest thing, so we’ll find a way to win Game 2, not necessarily worried about me scoring 30.”
The game saw impressive contributions from gritty players who may turn into “x-factors” in the series, Shane Battier and Nick Collison. Each capitalized on their specific skills, to their respective team’s benefit.
As for Miami’s answer to stop Durant, the league’s three-time leading scorer?
“We need to make adjustments with that,” answered James. “We will make adjustments. KD got a couple looks that we don’t like.”
James had an easy answer to combat the Thunder’s 56 points in the paint (versus Miami’s 40).
“Not give up 56 points in the paint.”
Game 2 tips off Thursday, June 14th, in Oklahoma City, then the series moves to Miami for the next set of games in this best-of-seven series.