The Heat has offered plenty of lip service lately to this idea that it’s now taking the season seriously.
And, for a few minutes on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena, that certainly seemed the case.
There was LeBron James in the first quarter covering Kevin Durant with purpose. Dwyane Wade was back in the starting lineup. Chris Bosh began the fun with a demonstrative baseline dunk. He screamed his scream and James posed for the cameras defensively and Wade played.
And the Heat led 18-2 against the team with the best record in the NBA.
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After it was all over, and long after the Heat had blown that 16-point lead, James said this of the Heat’s 112-95 loss to the Thunder: “We played well all the way until the second quarter.”
He said it with a straight face. Presumably, he wasn’t joking around despite all evidence to the contrary for the final three quarters.
“Outclassed,” was the word Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used, and he was right.
In its first game against a complete team since the beginning of January, the Heat didn’t seem too interested after that first-quarter surge and a match-up between the two best players in the league—not to mention two teams that might meet in The Finals, and did two years ago — turned into an embarrassing performance by the defending back-to-back champions.
Durant didn’t win the NBA’s most coveted individual award on Wednesday, but his team certainly outdid the Heat and the league’s reigning MVP. In the season’s first match-up of the league’s two best players, James outscored Durant, but the Oklahoma City Thunder dominated in every other way. The Heat (32-13) couldn’t make an outside shot and the Thunder was nearly 60 percent from three-point range. It was the Heat’s first loss in four games. In the head-to-head matchup of MVP contenders, James scored 34 points on 20 shots and Durant had 33 points on 23 attempts.
Beyond that, the stat line didn’t leave much room for subjective interpretation. The Heat went 3 of 19 from distance and the Thunder made six times that many three-pointers (16 of 27). It was a franchise record for three-pointers since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City. In between all those three-pointers, the Heat turned the ball over 21 times and allowed 17 second-chance points.
“There was a lot of different issues,” Spoelstra said. “One, they shot the heck out of the ball. They made the open ones, the contested ones, the end-of-clock ones.”
The Thunder (37-10) began the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run to increase its lead to 23 points, and AmericanAirlines Arena fell silent. Veteran Thunder guard Derek Fisher then swished a three-pointer and the Heat answered with another turnover. It was the 20th of the game.
“Our offense got us in trouble quite a bit tonight,” Spoelstra said. “We fumbled it. Guys were zigging when we thought they were zagging.”
James and Durant began trading blows with three minutes left in the third quarter, but the game never really was all that exciting. Oklahoma City led 91-75 after the third quarter. James went 12 of 20 from the field, 1 of 5 from three-point range and 9 of 9 from the free-throw line. Durant was 12 of 23 from the field, 4 of 9 from three-point range and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line.
James and Durant cancelled each other out, but the Heat didn’t have an offensive counter for Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka, whose offensive game has improved dramatically since the Heat and Thunder met in the 2012 NBA Finals. Ibaka, who came into the league as a defensive specialist, has added a mid-range jumper to his skill set, but the Heat apparently hasn’t updated its scouting report.
Ibaka was wide open for most of the game and went 10 of 20 from the field for 22 points. He also had nine rebounds.
Chris Bosh had 18 points, going 7 of 14 from the field, but was limited to six points in the second half. Bosh led the Heat with nine rebounds. Dwyane Wade started his first game since Jan. 17 and had 15 points on 7 of 12 shooting.
“My rhythm was fine today,” Wade said. “I tried to take advantage of the opportunities I had. Most of the time I’m in there, I’m a set-up guy more than anything. I’m drawing two on me to get the ball more to Chris probably that anybody, but when I got my opportunities to shoot, I did that.”
The offensive production of Bosh and Wade was matched by Thunder reserves Jeremy Lamb and Fisher. Lamb had 18 points, going 7 of 10 from the field and 4 of 6 from three-point range, and Fisher was 5 of 7 from the field and 5 of 5 from three-point range for 15 points.
The Thunder’s reserves outscored the Heat’s bench by 18 points.
“They made shots and they broke down our defense and played an excellent game in the second half,” Wade said.