OKLAHOMA CITY -- Letting opponents get big leads early on only to reel them back in to the delight of a raucous Oklahoma City crowd has become somewhat of a sport for the Thunder this year. Slow starts and furious finishes has often been the name of the game.
The formula worked in the Thunder’s 105-94 Game 1 win, but Oklahoma City got too close to the fire in Game 2. No amount of home-town clapping, thunderstorm sound effects, or AC/DC riffs could help the Thunder overcome the Miami Heat’s first-half head start. Which begs the question: How can the Thunder climb back from slow starts in the hostile confines of the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami if they couldn’t do it at home in Game 2?
“We have to get off to a great start,” the Thunder’s James Harden said after Thursday night’s 100-96 Miami win. “We have to stick to our principals and play with a little more effort, especially on the road.”
Harden was the lone bright spot early for the Thunder in Game 2. The Sixth Man of The Year posted 17 first-half points, while NBA scoring leader Kevin Durant was held to six points and All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook had only nine points and a slew of missed lay-ups and chip shots. The two Thunder stars rallied in the second half but it was too late.
“It was just me,” said Durant after Game 2. “I’ve got to make shots for my team. But I think on the defensive end, we all have to be better, and we can’t really worry about the offensive end. We missed shots, but we can’t let it dictate our defense. But I’ve got to stay positive, keep working, and we’re looking forward to Game 3.”
It wasn’t just offensive issues responsible for the Thunder’s slow starts. The Heat shot 60 percent or better from the three-point line in the first half of Games 1 and 2. If Miami shoots that way early in Games 3, 4, and 5 with a formerly ailing Chris Bosh getting healthier every day, the Thunder could have a tough time making it back home with any season left.
One game Thunder coach Scott Brooks will likely point his team to heading into Sunday night’s game in Miami is the Thunder’s 108-103 road win over San Antonio in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, in which the Thunder gave the Spurs their first home court loss of the playoff. It was a feat many thought couldn’t happen. The win spurred the Thunder to the Conference Title. Miami Head Coach Erik Spoelstra was not lost on this point after Thursday night’s win.
“This is going to be a very competitive series,” Spoelstra said. “We're confident going home, but that doesn't guarantee anything, and I think our guys have enough perspective to know that we're going to have to earn this.”