OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant continued his torrid march through the NBA playoffs, carrying the Oklahoma City Thunder past the Miami Heat in the opener of the Finals on Tuesday night.
Durant rallied the Thunder after they lost the first two games of the Western Conference finals to the San Antonio Spurs and he brought them back against the Heat in Game 1 of the Finals, scoring 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter. The Heat led by as many as 13 in the first half, but couldn't hold back the young Thunder after halftime. Russell Westbrook scored 18 of his 27 points after halftime. He added 11 rebounds and eight assists.
"It kind of took us a couple minutes to get nervousness out of us and the jitters out," Durant said.
LeBron James led the Heat with 30 points, but it wasn't enough to keep the Thunder at bay. Not with the other two members of the Heat's Big Three struggling. Dwyane Wade missed 12 of 19 shots and Chris Bosh missed seven of 11.
"I don't think we made many mistakes in the fourth quarter; it's just they made more plays, especially offensively," James said. "They made more shots."
The Thunder didn't take their first lead until less than 15 seconds remained in the third quarter. Westbrook, who struggled in the first half, sparked the surge, scoring 12 points in the quarter. To a man, the Thunder picked up their aggression in the second half.
The Thunder shot 51.9 percent from the field and scored 56 points in the paint and 24 on fast breaks. The Heat shot 46.2 percent from the field and had just four fast-break points. With just two days off between series, everyone on the Heat looked sluggish and tired in the fourth quarter and showed little fight. Durant and Westbrook combined for 15 straight points in the fourth quarter to put the game away for the Thunder.
"I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end, made them feel us a little bit," Westbrook said.
The Heat were expected to get strong play from their small forward. And they did initially – from Shane Battier, not James.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra kept Battier in the starting lineup over Chris Bosh, despite Bosh's strong play at the end of the Eastern Conference finals. The move paid off early: Battier made three 3-pointers in the opening quarter. Heat guard Mario Chalmers also hit a pair in the quarter to help stake the Heat to a 29-22 lead.
"We moved the ball, and Shane was the recipient of … us moving the ball, especially in the first half," James said. "He knocked down a lot of shots, you know, and he helped us a lot to spread the floor."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks had worked to treat his team's preparation just like any other week in the playoffs – even if he knew that wasn't true.
"Obviously, it's the Finals, it's not an exhibition game, it's not any other game," Brooks said. "We know that. We understand where we are. But what we do every day is we do the same routine. We focus on improving, we focus on studying what they do …
"Nothing changes. It's basketball."
Still, the Heat led by as many as 13 points in the first half as some of the Thunder's young players needed a little while to settle into their first Finals appearance. That included point guard Russell Westbrook, who missed seven of his first nine shots.
Westbrook's lay-in with 31.4 seconds left in the first half brought the Thunder within seven. Whatever remaining frustration Westbrook had, he let it out by screaming toward the crowd.
The Thunder improved to 9-0 at home in the postseason. The Thunder's last home loss was a regular-season finale defeat to the Denver Nuggets on April 25.
"This level of basketball is the hardest we play," Durant said, "and we just want to take it slow."
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