The Oklahoma City Thunder wrapped up a four-game road trip in Miami taking on the Miami Heat before jetting back to Oklahoma City to host the Portland Trail Blazers tomorrow.
This East Coast excursion was a mixed bag for the OKC Thunder. After toppling the Boston Celtics last Tuesday, they followed up that effort by sleepwalking in Atlanta the next night. After falling on Friday in Brooklyn in an unacceptable game against the Nets, the Thunder were able to bounce back on Monday with a win over the lowly Wizards.
The results in the Nation's Capital were not perfect, but a win is a win. On Wednesday, the Thunder once again played the front end of a back-to-back set. Ahead of darting back home to Oklahoma City to host the Blazers, the Thunder had to battle the short-handed Heat.
The OKC Thunder right the ship out of Halftime and knocked off the Miami Heat, showing they can get to another level.
With the Heat's culture, it was known that despite being down Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry, the South Beachers would put up a great fight under recently extended and legendary bench boss Erik Spoelstra.
That is exactly what happened. The Miami Heat were on fire for the majority of the night, especially the first half, hitting tough shot after tough shot. However, in between high-level shots, Oklahoma City's sluggish defensive attitude gave up a few gimmes.
That was a recipe for the Heat to score 69 first-half points, posting 35 of those in the first frame. Out of the Locker Room, the Thunder went on an 11-0 run to start the third period, before eventually getting out to a 20-2 scoring sprint.
Oklahoma City buckled down defensively after intermission, only giving up 27 points in that third frame and just 24 in the final 12-minute segment.
The Thunder began rotating better, playing the passing lanes, and overall brought more physicality, not giving the Heat space to operate on that end.
This is the first time since the Boston contest that the Thunder have played quality defense for more than just a quick burst. Even against Washington, their effort on that end was not there, but the Wizards are so poor it was manageable.
After shooting 60 percent for a large chunk of this contest, the Heat cooled down to shooting just 46 percent from the floor, 41 percent from deep, and 82 percent at the stripe. OKC out-rebounded Miami but turned the ball over two more times than their counterparts.
On the offensive end, the Thunder continued their fireworks and showed how they can go to the next level. To this point, while OKC enjoys a fantastic collection of talent, they have had one glaring Achilles heel.
Even dating back to the last time the Bricktown boys hit South Beach, the team has struggled when teams "junk it up" in a zone shell. Minnesota, the most recent example that gave OKC fits.
After some Thunder runs, Miami mixed it up going into a zone out of Spoelstra timeouts. While it allowed Miami to land a few counterpunches, OKC was able to make the adjustment and bust the zone defense.
Oklahoma City never led the Miami lead swell to more than ten. Meanwhile, the Thunder once led by 16, with 11 lead changes and one time tied.
They leaned on their big three yet again, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 28 points, Jalen Williams chipping in 19, while Chet Holmgren shook free for 23 points.
Oklahoma City showed unique maturity for a young team, righting their first-half wrongs, closing out a tight game late on the road, and making an adjustment to their kryptonite in real-time.
That is how this young Thunder team can reach the next level. Improving against zone defenses and hanging their hat on the defensive effort yet again, which proved to be very successful in the early goings of this season.