Durant, Thunder frustrate Heat, 96-85By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer Wednesday, Mar 16, 2011
MIAMI (AP)—Oklahoma City had one of its worst shooting nights of the season. The way the Thunder played defense, hardly anyone noticed.
Except the Miami Heat, that is.
“Our defense was as good as it could possibly play,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
James Harden(notes) scored 12 points for the Thunder, who have won five straight. Oklahoma City shot just 40 percent, and had been 7-13 when connecting on less than 43 percent of its chances this season.
It didn’t matter Wednesday after holding the Heat to 38 percent shooting, plus having a dominating 24-10 edge in second-chance points. Miami shot a season-low 29 percent after halftime.
“One thing we’ve gotten better at is closing games out,” Durant said.
Chris Bosh(notes) had 21 points and 11 rebounds, Dwyane Wade(notes) scored 21 points and LeBron James(notes) finished with 19 for the Heat, who had won three straight and were averaging 114 points in their last two games.
“We missed some pretty good chances,” Bosh said.
And the Heat were hopping mad as this slipped away.
Miami had a chance with 3 1/2 minutes left, Wade getting the ball in transition and the Heat down by seven. He missed a layup and contended he got fouled— replays showed he clearly had a case, with Serge Ibaka(notes) grabbing him from behind — but nothing was called.
That is, until Wade overreacted.
He slammed his hand into the padding around the basket support, an unusual display for him, and Greg Willard responded with a technical after Harden made a 3-pointer. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra earned a technical as well, Durant made one of the two free throws, and the Thunder lead was 11 with 3:11 left.
Afterward, James and Wade both saluted what Oklahoma City did defensively.
“Tonight is not one of those games where you feel awful about how you played,” James said.
Ibaka finished with 12 rebounds and three blocks, and the Thunder outrebounded Miami 51-40.
“We have some of the best attackers in the game. They usually go over the top,” Spoelstra said. “They were being met at the rim. They forced us into some tough opportunities. Regardless of whether we feel there was contact or not, you have to give them credit with their defense.”
The loss reduced the almost-nonexistent margin for error Miami has in the Eastern Conference, where the No. 3 seed looks like it will be reality entering the playoffs.
The Heat (46-22) are now three games behind Chicago and Boston in the race for the No. 1 seed, but in actuality, the gap is wider than that. Chicago and Boston both are four games ahead in the loss column, plus hold tiebreakers over Miami.
“You know they are going to find ways to win games,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins(notes) said. “Come playoff time, they are still scary. Coming into this arena, knowing that you have to play those guys, is still scary.”
Oklahoma City (44-23) stayed 3 1/2 games ahead of Denver for No. 4 in the Western Conference.
Wade tried giving Miami a lift with 8 minutes left, lurking from behind to swat a layup attempt by Eric Maynor(notes) several rows into the seats. But on the continuation of Oklahoma City’s possession, former Heat guard Daequan Cook(notes)—one of the players Miami cut loose to free salary cap room last summer—made a 3-pointer to stretch the Thunder cushion to 76-66.
Durant followed with a 20-footer on the next trip, the lead was 12, and the league’s reigning scoring champion was finally in position to knock off one of James’ teams for the first time.
They had met six times before Wednesday, their head-to-head scoring numbers almost a push: 28.5 per game for James, 26.5 per game for Durant. But the results had always gone James’ way, including each of the last three where the Thunder had great chances entering the fourth only to be thwarted.
Not this time, though Durant shrugged it off afterward.
“It was a great win for the Oklahoma City Thunder,” Durant said.
Miami was down 13 early, then went on a 17-4 run to knot it late in the half.
Wade spun past Harden and Ibaka, then elevated with two hands over Perkins for a dunk to start the burst. James blew past Durant for a slam—and while that was still being replayed in the arena, he got another one-hander to tie it 43.
That was Miami’s best stretch, and the Thunder controlled things from there.
NOTES: The teams combined for 13 dunks in the first half, Oklahoma City getting seven. … James made a 40-footer late in the first half, long after Miami called a 20-second time-out. … Durant (4-6) made as many field goals in the third quarter as Miami (4-16), a period in which Wade and James both went 1 for 5.