After three rough days in Oklahoma, the Miami Heat is happy to be coming home to face Dwyane Wade.
Until the third quarter Monday night, it looked like the team’s haunted hotel and the fourth strongest earthquake in state history were going to be the roughest parts of this trip to the Sooner State.
Then, Russell Westbrook went off. With the Heat trailing by only four early in the second half, the 27-year-old superstar sparked a 20-0 Thunder run by either scoring or assisting a teammate on every possession during it, eventually sending the Heat home from Chesapeake Energy Arena with a tough-to-stomach 97-85 loss.
Westbrook, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, finished with 14 points and 11 assists on a night he shot only 5-of-16 from the field. But it was all more than enough considering the Heat got only 35 points from its starters, shot a season-low 36.9 percent and were led by James Johnson’s 18 points off the bench.
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“It was a tough night shooting. Guys were missing shots they'll normally make, me being one of them,” said Hassan Whiteside, who didn’t make his first field goal until the third quarter and finished with five points (2-of-8 from the field), 12 rebounds and two blocks in 31 mostly invisible minutes on the court for the Heat.
“I was just missing shots, missing bunnies. Their whole team was gang-blocking me out on the rebounds. I still had double-digit rebounds. It was still more offensively for me. I missed a lot of hooks I normally make. They're not going to go in every night.”
Whiteside was hardly the only Heat starter who struggled.
Justise Winslow shot 2-of-13 from the field and finished with only six points and three rebounds in 33 minutes. And Dion Waiters, who was playing in his first game back in OKC and received a warm welcome from the home crowd throughout, also did little to help the Heat, finishing with only two points on 1-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes.
Combined, Winslow, Whiteside and Waiters went a combined 5-for-30 from the field for 13 points in 90 minutes of action.
“I don't want to say every season you have one of those nights, but that's what it kind of felt like,” said Winslow, who after spending all summer working to improve his jump shot is now shooting a perturbing 31.1 percent from the field this season.
“There were points where we kind of out of it mentally or whatever, guys taking plays off. But, it was a four-point game in the third. That's something we can take away. A lot of these games – San Antonio, Charlotte, Toronto – when we play those good teams, we've just got to do a better job of focusing and locking in, getting to the right spots, talking and playing with energy. We're sticking around with teams and then we go through stretches where they pull away. We've just got to do a better job of keeping it close.”
Afterward, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was asked if it might time to shake things up with the starting lineup.
“No,” he answered. “We’re not going to panic now. They’ve been playing well. They do have to be accountable to those minutes, but I’m not going to change everything because of one game. We just have to get better.”
Enes Kanter (24 points, 10 rebounds) and Steven Adams (six points, six rebounds) took turns keeping Miami off-balance when it did get inside the paint. Although Miami outscored OKC 46-38 in the paint, the Heat shot only 43.3 percent in the paint (23 of 53).
The outside shots weren’t falling either. Miami finished 4-of-17 from three-point range.
OKC (6-1) led by as many as 14 points in the first half and went into the break leading 55-47 despite only six points from Westbrook. But after the Heat scored the first four points of the third quarter on Whiteside and Dragic layups, the Heat missed eight consecutive shots and was held without a point for a six minute stretch.
“You have to give them credit defensively,” Spoelstra said. “They’ve shown that this year. So have we, we just didn’t bring it. They’re long, they’re athletic, they make multiple efforts. We weren’t able to get clean looks and execute coherent offense where everybody was on the same page. We just have to continue to get better with it and we will.”
Miami kept it close in the first half behind Luke Babbitt, who led the Heat with a season-high 11 points in the first half. Babbitt didn't score after that.
The Thunder, meanwhile, made 15 of their first 21 shots and outrebounded the Heat 13-4 in a 39-point first quarter, the highest scoring quarter by a Miami opponent this season. The previous high: a 29-point third quarter by the Spurs last week.
▪ Josh Richardson, playing in his second game of the season, played 26 minutes and scored seven points. Afterward, he said his knee felt fine and he could be in line for more work moving forward.
“I know it's going to take a couple games to get back to where I was. But, I mean, at the end of the game I felt myself getting a little bit more comfortable,” Richardson said. “That’s really what it’s about.”
▪ Derrick Williams saw his first action of the season and played three scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter.