Another close game. But, unlike close games against lesser teams, the Thunder would have to earn this win. They would have to make the big play, not just rely on the opponent to mess up.
Unfortunately, the opponent didn't mess up this time. After the Thunder had come back from 5 down to take the lead with 34 seconds to go, the Heat responded right back with a Eddie House three. With the Thunder needing a two pointer to tie, Kevin Durant blew a easy looking but probably pretty difficult jumper, and the Heat grabbed the ball. Wade missed a free throw, giving the Thunder a second lease on life, but Nick Collison dribbled it out of bounds. And after Eddie House sank a FT on the ensuing foul, that was all she wrote.
The thing that entertains me the most about this game is that the Big Three really had little to do with the final minutes of this game. Wade missed a crucial free throw, Bosh missed a slew of jumpers, and LeBron had a single point in the fourth. The hero of the game for them was Eddie House, who hit the jumper to put away a charging Oklahoma City team.
But in all reality, the Big Three did show up for tonight's game, and they were a huge reason that the Heat won. And while most have this perception that the Heat rely too much on free throws, they really don't. James and Wade (however much I and the world may hate them) are really amazing players, and get the job accomplished whether the refs are "on their side" or not.
Below: The Thunder's Big Three, Bad Big Men Play, Thabo's Absence, Future Analysis, Awards!
The Thunder had a Big Three of their own tonight, and even had an Eddie House to rely on. After what seems like years in exile, Jeff Green decided to re-join the Thunder's elite, having a better day from the floor than Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Daequan Cook also had an excellent game against his former team, going 5-8 from the floor, scoring 14 points, and grabbing four rebounds. That'll teach the Heat to give him away for peanuts. Still, he did miss a couple of crucial shots in the fourth, so he has a ways to go before he reaches Eddie House status.
The Thunder's big men continued to be unimpressive. Ibaka barely played, Collison had a terrible plus/minus rating, and Krstic had a couple failed offensive attempts while hardly playing. Meanwhile, Ilgauskas was solid offensively, and Joel Anthony was blocking shots left and right.
But, above all, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook held their own tonight against the big bad Heat. Russell Westbrook was three rebounds away from a triple double, kept his turnovers down, and did a great job of keeping the offense moving. Kevin Durant had some sweet shots early on, and he came alive late in the game to keep the Thunder close.
I think that if anything would have won this game for the Thunder, it would have been Thabo Sefolosha. Wed pretty much had his way the entire game, and led all Heat scorers with 32 points. If Thabo was in there, he likely wouldn't have scored 13 like Cook, but I could have seen him making some great hustle plays or limiting wade some something like 25. Don't get me wrong, Cook had a great game, and Harden did a nice job on everything but offense. But at the end of the game, aside from Durant and Westbrook, there's nobody I'd rather have on the floor. (Wade did have nine turnovers, but I attribute that to his playing style and still partially sprained wrist.)
Moving forward, this puts the Heat in a tie with Chicago for the two seed in the East, and gives them their first marquee win in what has been a difficult month. The Thunder are now technically below New Orleans in the standings, but remain in the fourth seed by virtue of leading the Northwest Division. The Nuggets are actually now in second place being 1.5 games back of the Thunder, while the Jazz are two games back. Needless to day, if the Thunder are to prove themselves as the leader of the Northwest Division, they'll have to win more important matchups moving forward.
These teams meet again on March 16th, and if you don't think it will be an epic late season matchup with big playoff implications, than you're a fool. Or possibly a Nostradamus in the making. I'm hoping for the earlier option, but it's nothing personal.
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, 33 Points, 10 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 4 Steals
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, 21 Points, 7 Rebounds, 10 Assists, 2 Steals, 1 Block
Thunder Blunder: Nick Collison for a -15 +/- ratio and only two rebounds in 23 minutes of play. Offensively efficient, though.
Thunder Plunderer: Eddie House, for his clutch play.
Next Game: Versus the New Orleans Hornets, Wednesday, February 2nd, 7 PM Central Standard Time