Thunder stymied by Heat in second half, fall on second night of back-to-back

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Logan Newman
·4 min read
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There was a stark contrast of the lineups on the court to start the fourth quarter between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat on Monday.

The Thunder, as usual, started the frame with its bench unit. The Heat, as is their norm, sent out primarily starters. In this game, it was Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson.

Oklahoma City’s bench has been very good in recent weeks. Over the four games entering Friday, the unit was averaging 39 points and generally had a positive plus-minus, particularly backed by the efforts of Hamidou Diallo and Mike Muscala.

But they weren’t able to execute this time. Over the first five and a half minutes of the fourth quarter, the Thunder did not score a single point while Miami put up 15. It put distance in what started as a two-point deficit, one the Thunder were never able to overcome in the 108-94 loss.

That’s not to fault Mark Daigneault for leaving the starters on the bench. Hindsight says he should’ve done differently, but the Thunder’s bench has been a driving force throughout the season. They proved early on that they can go on runs while the starters are on the bench. Heck, we just saw over the last two weeks that even without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Theo Maledon and George Hill, the team could handle the big dogs in the league.

The Miami’s tenacious defense stymied the group, though, and when Gilgeous-Alexander and the other starters checked back in, they couldn’t put a dent in the deficit.

“We ran out of gas on the second night of a back-to-back,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It’s no excuse, but we are human. We get tired.”

Gilgeous-Alexander’s 27 points and five assists actually understates his performance. At halftime, he had 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting, the same number of points that Heat stars Adebayo and Jimmy Butler combined for on 12 total shots. After three quarters, Gilgeous-Alexander had 25. It was actually similar to his output on Monday, when he had 26 points after three quarters against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But he only got up one shot over his six minutes in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like they were helping a little more in the fourth when I got in the paint,” the guard said.

By the time he even re-entered, it would have taken a big comeback for the Thunder to even fight their way back into the game. Oklahoma City’s second half was the inverse of the first.

The Thunder led 54-45 at halftime, sparked by Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder bench outproducing that of the Heat.

“We were aggressive defensively in the first half,” Muscala said. I think we were getting some good looks on offense, and that was limiting their transition points, which I think that got (the Heat) going in the second half.”

In that second half, the Heat poured on the defensive effort, which led to offense. Miami forced 18 turnovers in the game, which led to 27 points. They worked to prevent easy looks and started to hinder effective ball movement, holding the Thunder to 20 assists. Oklahoma City shot 43.2% from the field and 35.9% from 3.

After an excellent first half, the Thunder floundered over the final 24 minutes.

“I thought we actually could have had a bigger lead than we did (at halftime). I thought we really outplayed them in that half,” Daigneault said. “I give (the Heat) a lot of credit, they came out of halftime really, really focused and we had to earn everything on both ends of the floor in the second half. They just outplayed us.”

All five Miami starters finished with double-digit points, led by Robinson’s 22, 18 of which came off 3-pointers. Nunn had 20 points, nine assists and five rebounds in 41 minutes and Adebayo had a 19-point, 13-rebound double-double. Butler made just three field goals but hit all nine free throws he attempted.

Outside Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder struggled to counter Miami on offense. No other player scored more than 13, and Lu Dort was the only other player to attempt at least 10 shots – but he went 3-for-15 from the field, and Miami was happy to give him the 3-point look, where he hit just one of eight attempts.

After an excellent first half, the Thunder faltered, and weren’t able to get that late push that they so often have.

“The whole second half, they had better defensive focus, which just limited our margin for error,” Daigneault said. “They switched us the majority of the game, which made us stagnant cause they’ve got pretty versatile defenders out there. I just thought it was a combination of them and us.”