What is your initial reaction to tonight's result?
Disgust. The Thunder were playing a fantastic game tonight, up until about 6 minutes to go in the second quarter. They were getting out in transition, the ball movement was perfect, and players were getting open shots. Even three missed wide open shots from Fisher didn't stop the Thunder from somewhat maintaining a 10 point lead. But then, everything changed. Kendrick Perkins got called for a stupid technical foul (putting him one away from a one game suspension). A few minutes later, Russell Westbrook was called for a flagrant foul for grabbing LeBron on the shoulder during a fast break dunk. LeBron was pissed, the Heat fans started ruthlessly booing Westbrook (even though they forgot about it late in the game), and it was on. The Heat became a different team from that point on.
Instead of letting the Thunder abuse the Heat's constant pressure on defense, the Heat actually started playing really good man-to-man D. Offensively, the Big 3 were beasting the ball into the paint, and once the pressure on them increased, they kicked it out to their support crew for some easy threes. The Thunder, meanwhile, looked out of control. Nobody but Durant, Harden, and Westbrook was scoring. They lived at the free throw line, like in the pre-Perkins era. But, most importantly of all, they just didn't take care of the ball. KD had a career-high 9 Turnovers, and Westbrook had 4 TOs and 2 Assists. Lastly, the referees started calling ticky-tack fouls, which calmed the players down but made the game unbearable to watch.
I know I'm making it sound like the Thunder were losing by 20, but they did manage to stay in this one. As a fan, it was really hard to get a grasp on what was happening, because the Thunder would always follow up a really big play, like a Westbrook three or Durant dunk, with a horrible turnover on the perimeter or two consecutively blown layups. So any momentum was short and sweet.
What was tonight's turning point?
Kevin Durant scored with 2:33 to go in the fourth, bringing the Thunder within one. Unfortunately, they never scored another point. The next play resulted in a missed Durant jumper. Miami responded with a relatively uncontested Bosh jumper. Then, Perkins blew a dunk, got fouled, and proceeded to blow both layups. The Thunder had one last chance to tie it with a Durant three. The play was drawn up really well, as Durant got two screens on the opposite side of the floor, resulting in a pretty uncontested jumper only 2 feet behind the line. But his shot clanked off of the front of the rim, and the Thunder were forced to foul. It was pretty much over from that point on.
What was, overall, the main reason the Thunder lost?
Turnovers. Oh god, the Turnovers. The Thunder were actually playing pretty darn good defense on the Heat for most of the game, with the Heat living off of transition points and offensive rebounds. But man, I can't believe how many times Durant and company would just commit an atrocious turnover on the high perimeter with NO chance of defensive recovery. Even with the poor shooting night, if the Thunder could have just taken care of the ball on a couple of more possessions and not gotten it stolen on some stupid isolation or poorly executed two man game, this game could have easily been theirs.
But, as much as I hate to do it, I have to credit the defense of James and Wade as a huge reason for tonight's win. When they want to be, they're hell to play against. They're quick, can pick your pocket, and are hard to get past in the post.
What is a key statistic to understanding tonight's game?
By all accounts, the Thunder dominated the rebounding battle tonight, 41 to 33. Still, it had little bearing on the final result. And after the second quarter incidents I mentioned earlier, the Heat beat the Thunder on points off of offensive rebounds, 13-7. Rebounding can keep you in games, as it did for the Thunder tonight, but it can't make up for poor possession management.
What does this game mean for the Thunder today and moving forward?
As of yesterday's games, the Thunder have clinched a playoff spot. But the loss, combined with a Spur win against Boston earlier tonight, narrows the Thunder's lead on the Western conference to half a game. The Spurs have won 9 straight and are heading into some easy games over the coming weeks. They face listless New Orleans on Monday, meaning the Thunder are virtually guaranteed to lose their Western Conference lead if they lose to Indiana on Friday.
Oh, and the loss also puts off clinching the Northwest Division over Denver for another couple of days. Yeah, I didn't think you were too worried about that one.
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, for an excellent all-around game. Sometimes, I wish he'd get more shots.
Thunder Down Under: Serge Ibaka. 5 Blocks, 7 Rebounds, who else?
Thunder Blunder: Derek Fisher. No, I don't care about him getting two assists. If he wouldn't have wasted three offensive possessions in the first half when the Thunder were crushing the Heat, I might be talking about a blowout win right now. The fact that he got more minutes than Cook is an absolute travesty. The man gets paid a million dollars to miss wide open shots....
Thunder Plunderer: LeBron James. 3 Rebounds away from a triple-double, and 4 steals. He truly earned his star status with his play tonight.
Next Game: At the Indiana Pacers, Friday, April 6th, 6 PM Central Daylight Time