The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Miami Heat at home, 105-99. A game after one of the more epic choke jobs in recent NBA history, OKC struggled, meandered, fired shots into
the ocean Lake Texoma, but with the game hanging in the balance, demonstrated a little bit more grit than 3 nights ago.
The Heat, trailing most of the 1st half, surged forward in the 3rd quarter as the Thunder offense continued to falter. Despite carrying that lead, OKC never looked like they had any rhythm, struggling to an abysmal 34% shooting from the floor and 3-17 from three through 3 quarters against a team playing without rim protector Hassan Whiteside. Their primary scoring options, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George were fumbling their way to a combined 7-27 shooting. To be sure, Westbrook and Melo were showing some restraint as their offense sputtered along, and Russ and PG worked their way to the free throw line to shoot 11-12 through 3. The effort was there mostly, but the shots weren’t falling.
But lo and behold, in the dark of the Oklahoma night, one man rose above the rest.
No, not Aquaman.
Going into this game, I remarked to RK Anthony that, without Whiteside present in the middle, any game plan that didn’t involve Adams getting 15-18 shots at the rim is a game plan flawed. And since I know you will totally believe me on that predictive count, we observed that he was leading the way with 20 points and 11 boards on 7-11 shooting up to that point entering the 4th. Even without his shooters around him hitting the open looks he created, it was enough to keep OKC mostly from falling apart.
Backing him up was the Thunder bench mob. I know they have taken a lot of barbs over the course of the season, but I find myself consistently looking to them at the turn of the 3rd to 4th when the team is struggling. And tonight, where a big game was needed to shake off the Celtics debacle, Raymond Felton led the way again.
Sitting on a stupefying 64 points at the beginning of the final frame, and the game teetering on tipping the wrong way as the Heat looked to make their move, Fats hit a huge 3 to cut into a 5-point deficit. He followed with a pull-up jumper, and finished with a huge and-1 to give OKC a lead they would never again relinquish.
Felton’s push was exactly what OKC needed to open the floodgates, because not only did it give them the offense they needed, but also began to soften the middle for Westbrook to exploit in the 4th. His engines revived after taking only 8 shots so far for an underwhelming 12 points, Westbrook broke free with 17 points in the 4th on 6-7 shooting, including 2-2 from 3-point range (a shot he has largely neglected as of late). It was juuust enough to get OKC in position to pull away, but the Heat wouldn’t go quietly.
It’s a good thing Aquaman er, Adams, was still paying attention.
He first converted a beautiful PnR with Westbrook into a wide open three for Corey Brewer:
And then helped save and finish what was probably the game-deciding play. This thing looked dead in the water and a recipe for disaster, and I wish a full video clip was available. If memory serves, with under a minute to play, The Thunder were inbounding the ball against pressure after a made basket, and Paul George — who was sleepwalking his way to a 2-15, 0-6 from three, 3 turnover night — received the inbounds pass and then sort of popped the ball up in the air for Westbrook to retrieve. But Russ didn’t get it, and of course if PG grabbed it again he would have been called for a travel. But he had enough awareness to shield Miami from the ball until Russ realized that HE had to come and grab it, but once he did only had about 2 seconds left to avoid an 8-second backcourt violation.
Fortunately, Adams realized the crisis as well and came to meet Westbrook’s heave across the midline. But even then, after getting settled in the team only had about 8 seconds to create something. And, with the shot clock winding down, the pair had the presence of mind to to get into a solid PnR with 5 seconds left on the shot clock that led to this:
For a fanbase that has watched Westbrook hoist more rushed and contested threes over the years than we would care to recount, the presence of mind for Russ to 1) trust the play set and; 2) trust his teammate, was a great sight to see.
Felton on Adams: “He was amazing. He was definitely the player of the game tonight, by far.” pic.twitter.com/DILEePEDGp— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) March 24, 2018
In the end, even with the 41 point 4th quarter outburst, it was a long ways from a ‘clean’ win, but precious few are at this time of year. In fact, this kind of grind game is important, because in the playoffs, even if your key guys aren’t playing well, you don’t always get a reset. You may not get another game, or a half, or even a quarter. You have to figure out a way to stay competitive and give your players a chance to win in the end. and that’s what OKC did tonight.
Next game: vs Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, March 25th at 6PM CST
Apropos of nothing, the shorthanded Celtics just beat the red hot Trail Blazers in Portland tonight. Doesn’t erase the meltdown, but still.