The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat are tied at 1-1 after the first two games of the NBA Finals in OKC.
The Thunder took Game 1 then fell in too big a hole in Game 2 to complete the comeback. Slow starts have been a big issue for the Thunder so far in this series and Miami’s small starting lineups are a big reason why they’ve jumped out to early leads.
The Thunder have actually been pretty impressive in that they’ve even been able to come back against the Heat who are such a good team playing with the lead. Being at home aided in that ability and the Thunder will not have that luxury for the next three games.
The winner of Game 3 in 1-1 NBA Finals series go on to win the series 85 percent of the time. So this is an important game and both teams know it.
Let’s start with …
Kevin Durant – 34.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 5.5 RPG, .571 FG%, .444 3PT%, .800 FT%
Durant has played great so far for the Thunder, especially in the fourth quarters. He scored 17 then 16 points in each fourth quarter which is the most by any player in the first two games of the Finals since the merger.
Durant was great all-around in Game 1 defending LeBron well also but in Game 2 took a step back in that department. Too often he and the Thunder defense gave LeBron space in semi-transition looks basically enticing LeBron to drive.
Durant will likely continue to still guard LeBron a lot and will have to be more locked in than he was in Game 2 if he’s going to do a good job.
In the first half of Game 2, Durant got into foul trouble and only scored six points. The Thunder are going to need a lot more from him on the road if they’re going to win any more games. The Thunder starting lineup has been atrocious on offense and if they don’t change it, Durant is the only one who can cure it on his own.
Durant is getting his 34 points per game on 21 shots per game. A lot of people would like to see him shoot more.
The real key would be if Durant could get to the line a little more and put more pressure on the Heat defense. He is attempting just 7.5 free throws per game and only averaging 2.5 assists per game. If both of those numbers go up, the Thunder will start winning with more ease.
LeBron James – 31.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 8.5 RPG, .457 FG%, .200 3PT%, .905 FT%
LeBron has quietly gotten his so far in these Finals and maybe that is a good thing. The spotlight is coming off him some and more towards the Thunder for their struggles.
Meanwhile, LeBron is getting his 31-9-5 and the Heat successfully stole a game on the road already in this series. What more do you want? Maybe we don’t need to want more but the Heat might need more at some point and LeBron will have to be ready to step up.
It does feel like LeBron could explode a little more in this matchup. It would come by getting to the line a ton kind of like what he did in Game 2 going 12-for-12 from the stripe.
The Heat have gotten great production from their role players so far on the road in this series, something that usually is reserved for home games. If that production drops at all, eyes will shift to LeBron to pick up the slack.
The Heat are at their best right now with LeBron doing everything for them and he’s been able to stick to his all-around attack so far in the series. He hasn’t had to completely focus on a one-on-one matchup with Durant and that is a good thing.
The Heat would like to avoid that and let LeBron keep doing his thing where he does a little bit of everything. That will require players like Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to play like they did in Game 2 though.
Russell Westbrook – 27.0 PPG, 9.0 APG, 8.0 RPG, .400 FG%, .200 FT%, .750 FT%
So the Thunder lose a game and guess who gets the heat? Of course it’s Westbrook.
While looking at his 27-9-8 line is extremely impressive, Westbrook does have some areas where he can improve and that’s part of being as talented as he is. We’re not comparing your numbers against NBA history. We’re looking at them within the series you are playing in.
Westbrook can and may need to have a gigantic series for the Thunder to win. We have pretty much seen that the Heat can’t matchup with his athleticism so now it’s just up to Westbrook to figure out the best way to hurt the Heat. Two days off from Game 2 should help him.
He is attempting four more shots per game than Durant so far and has even taken more free throws. It would be nice if the Thunder could find a balance where Durant gets more shots but that’s not what this team has been about all year.
Westbrook will continue in this matchup to get a lot of shot attempts and he just needs to start making a few more of them. After two games, he should have a better feel for what works and what doesn’t. The Heat will always be on their heels when covering him and in the long run, that has to be a good thing for the Thunder.
Best case scenario for the Thunder would actually be Westbrook going off while Durant remains an efficient scorer. Westbrook really has the potential for a 40-point game or two in this series and he’s the kind of guy with an attitude made for an “Eff-you” road game.
As long as he starts being more efficient than 40-20-75, the Thunder should be in good shape.
Dwyane Wade – 21.5 PPG, 6.5 APG, 5.0 RPG, .436 FG%, .000 3PT%, .818 FT%
Wade was bad in Game 1 then much better in Game 2. His great start was integral for the Heat winning.
The good news for the Thunder is that they’ve contained him pretty well in the first two games. The bad news is that if he has one of those Wade games where he really goes off, the Thunder might not be able to overcome it.
Like a lot of players, when Wade is hitting his jump shot, he becomes really tough to defend. It feels like he can get his jumper any time too so it’s kind of up to him.
The Thunder really just need to play disciplined defense against him and not go for his shot fakes. This is a focus thing that is harder on the road and the whistles are more likely to go Wade’s way in South Beach.
LeBron asked for Wade’s help in Game 2 and got it. If he’s expecting it for the rest of the series and the Thunder can contain him, they can win a game or two in Miami.
Once again, LeBron-Durant is the key matchup for headlines but the winner of Wade-Westbrook has won each game so far this series.
James Harden – 13.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 2.0 RPG, .529 FG%, .600 3PT%, .714 FT%
Harden has been pretty quiet so far in this series. His 5-point Game 1 where he got in foul trouble was avoided because of a great effort from Thabo Sefolosha.
Harden came in Game 2 and brought the Thunder back but disappeared some in the second half.
Harden is always the key for the Thunder becoming great and he is the one player of their Big Three with the biggest room for improvement from his current Finals numbers to his usual averages.
We knew the Heat would defend him better than anyone yet, but Harden improved in Game 2 and that is a good sign. The same thing happened for him in the San Antonio series, having a bad Game 1 then figuring them out and bouncing back.
Harden needs to do the same against the Heat. The role players will fade away even more than they have on the road and the Thunder Big Three will have to carry the load even more than usual.
When Harden gets it rolling, he’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. Not even the Heat will be able to stop him. The two games off to watch film are something that Harden can really benefit from.
He has been shooting the ball well and that is great, but it’s when he’s getting to the line that he makes the Thunder the best possible team they can be. He’s averaging just 3.5 free throw attempts per game in the series and he’s capable of going double-digits any night.
He has to attack earlier to hurt this Heat defense. When they are set up, it’s very hard to get into the lane against them. But if Harden can get going early in the shot clock and get into the paint easier, his game could really explode especially because the Heat don’t have any great shot blockers.
Chris Bosh – 13.0 PPG, 10.0 RPG, .417 FG%, .250 3PT%, .714 FT%
Bosh came off the bench in Game 1 then started Game 2. Consider the Thunder lucky he didn’t start both.
The Heat are obviously better when he starts and he had a pretty big Game 2 with 16 points and 15 rebounds. The big rebound total was more from the Thunder missing a ton than him being dominant but nonetheless, he is by far the Heat’s best big man and played well.
The Thunder shouldn’t have to worry too much about Bosh going off or anything. They can defend him well enough but they just can’t allow him anything easy. If he stays on the perimeter shooting jump shots and isn’t getting to the line, the Thunder have to live with that.
Whoever gets the better of Harden-Bosh, might start to really become a big difference maker here in Miami. The Thunder desperately need Harden to play much better than Bosh to win games. If Bosh is putting up better numbers than Harden, the Thunder probably won’t be winning.
The Heat have done a great job making “The Bigs” become less of a factor in this series. If they weren’t playing so many small lineups and starting Joel Anthony or Ronny Turiaf alongside Bosh, the Thunder would probably be up 2-0 in this series.
The lineup with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins for OKC is not working out. The floor spacing isn’t good enough and they aren’t capitalizing on their ability to get offensive rebounds.
Scott Brooks will likely not change his starting lineup unless it becomes extremely obvious that he must after Game 3, which means the Thunder will have to survive when their starters are out there. That doesn’t sound good does it?
This puts more pressure on Ibaka making his jump shot. That is really the only thing that is consistently open against the Heat when the starters are in. He needs to either be making that shot or attacking the glass on offense, he can’t be doing neither.
Nick Collison is one of the keys for Oklahoma City. The more minutes he gets, the better for them. He played 21 minutes in Game 1, scored eight points to go with 10 rebounds (5 offensive). In Game 2, he played just 15 minutes, didn’t score and had just three rebounds.
If Collison and Perkins switched their minutes, the Thunder won’t lose any more in this series. It’s that simple.
Shane Battier is averaging 17 points per game in this series and shooting .692 percent from the 3-point line. Those numbers have to go down somewhat but it’s not as if he hasn’t earned those points by spacing the floor great and getting wide open looks.
The problem is it was supposed to be in Miami when Battier had those games, not in Oklahoma City. Even if he’s not 17 PPG for the rest of this series, he could still be a big factor for the Heat if he keeps playing this way.
The more the Thunder have to think about Battier, the worse. Taking him out of the game starts on offense, making more shots and not giving up so many transition opportunities for the Heat where they can take advantage of switches on defense.
The Thunder could also use more from Thabo Sefolosha and Derek Fisher in terms of making some shots. They were 2-for-10 and 1-for-7 from three combined in Game 2. That’s no help.
Anything they give the Thunder is icing especially on the road and the Thunder may need them to win one or two of these next three.
If there was ever a game to pick against the Thunder in this series, this one kind of seems like it. The Heat did their job winning one of the first two and now get to go back home where they should play a little better and the Thunder could be worse.
The Thunder have been one of the most resilient teams in the NBA this season and it’s not easy to beat them twice in a row. They are the more talented team too and if they correct a few of the things they did wrong, should be able to win no matter where the game is played.
The one thing that isn’t happening tonight is the Thunder aren’t blowing the Heat out. You could see the Heat maybe running away with this game or it will be a very close one. If the Thunder keep it close, they have the best fourth quarter player in the league and they won’t be disappointed having to live with what he does late.
The game will tip at 8 p.m. EST on ABC. The Miami fans will show up at 9 p.m. EST.
Topics: Chris Bosh, Derek Fisher, Dwyane Wade, Game 3, James Harden, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Miami Heat, NBA Finals, NBA Playoffs, Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook, Scott Brooks, Serge Ibaka, Shane Battier, Thabo Sefolosha