Well this is going to be good, isn’t it?
Last night’s 100-96 Miami Heat victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder solidified everything we already knew about these teams. Namely, that both have scary amounts of offensive talent, and that the unfair amount of athleticism stockpiled on each will lead to some frantic finishes.
On the Thunder’s side, James Harden, mostly invisible in Game 1, decided to stop by this time, and showed why he is going to have a very long, very Manu-Ginobili-esque career. Russell Westbrook repeatedly shrugged and said “Okay, fine” to the five-foot buffer defenders were forced to give him because of his preternatural quickness, draining jumper after jumper (though he did once again have an inefficient offensive night—10-26 from the field—which, if it continues, could haunt the Thunder as the series progresses). And Kevin Durant, after a slow start, had almost as special a game as he did on Tuesday, swishing threes and slamming dunks with equally ruthless suaveness.
But if Game 1 was a chance for the Thunder to offer up a thunderous (sorry) introduction to the casual-fan masses, last night the Heat seized back the megaphone, reminding us of their own phenomenal talent. This is going to be one hell of a series.
Even with the Heat up throughout the game, there was the sense that a comeback was inevitable. That’s because the Thunder have done an expert job of containing the Heat’s surges—and the Heat are always going to have surges—of turning would-be killing blows into merely glancing ones. That was the part of Game 2 that most closely resembled Game 1: As early as the first half, the Heat had a chance to begin the blowout procedure, but Oklahoma City hung in there. There was a key sequence toward the end when Miami briefly went up 17, only to see the lead quickly cut back down to 12 by a Thabo Sefolosha three-pointer and two free throws from Westbrook.
This script played itself out over and over; the Thunder maintained their doggedness throughout, despite the foul trouble Durant was in, coming very close to capping off a dramatic comeback before a bad no-foul on James cost Durant a chance to tie the game at the line in the waning seconds.
But in the end, last night belonged to Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. Wade was at his slashing, Euro-stepping best, a big part of the reason Shane Battier continued to shoot out of his mind (there may be no easier job in the world than being a perimeter shooter for the Miami Heat).
It was James, though, who hit the shot that OKC fans won’t be able to shake from their dreams. With 90 seconds left it, was 94-91, the building was aflame, and the Thunder were one stop away from having a chance to tie it. Instead, James hit a driving pull-up fadeaway bank shot (how many adjectives can precede a single shot?) from 16 feet. Sorry, guys. Not tonight. Even though a late steal re-energized the building and made things very close, it was a shot that will stick out, because there are very, very few basketball players on the planet who would have hit it.
But beyond that shot, James put on something of an all-around clinic. One of the pleasures of seeing James play is watching him fill in the few remaining blanks in his game. That’s not to say he has ever been anything but a complete player; at 18 he seemed to know the game, and be more well-rounded at it, than veterans twice his age. But there were always a few scattered boxes waiting to be ticked, and he’s starting to do so, one by one.
Last night, we saw glimpses—particularly in the first half—of how far his post game has come. This is a final frontier of sorts for James. Most perimeter defenders are powerless against his first step and pull-up jumpers. But he has never quite been as dominant a post player as he should be given his remarkable athleticism (an understandable shortcoming given that for most of his basketball life he’s been tasked with running the offense). Really, though, why should anyone be able to guard James down low given that body of his? If he can fully master just one or two basic moves, he’ll have conquered the last bit of hardwood yet to succumb to his offensive virtuosity.
It’s on to Miami.
And then, more likely than not, back to OKC for games 6 and 7.