MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/18 June) – With the Miami Heat taking game two of their best of seven championship series against the Oklahoma Thunder in the NBA, my prediction that the latter will bag the title in six games appears doomed. But as they say, hope springs eternal, and the Thunder still have time to regroup from their two successive losses. In fact, the Heat lost in last year’s finals against the Dallas Mavericks despite grabbing a 2-1 lead.
Looking back, the last two games were decided in one quarter. In game two, the Thunder paid dearly for allowing the Heat to zoom to an 18-2 lead in the first quarter. They scored much better the rest of the game, but Kevin Durant missed a side jumper in the closing seconds which could have tied the game and sent it to overtime.
In game three, the turning point came in the third quarter. The Thunder had succeeded in closing the paint, forcing the Heat to take ineffective shots from outside which rendered them without a field goal for close to six minutes. The ploy enabled the Thunder to grab the lead after trailing all throughout the first half. But Scott Brooks had to replace Durant who committed his fourth foul in that period. At that stage, they were up by six.
Durant’s absence did not seem to matter as his team stretched the lead to 10. However, the Thunder pushed their luck by also taking out Westbrook for most of the third quarter even if he was not in foul trouble like Durant. Derek Fisher, despite his four-point play that silenced Miami fans, could not replicate Westbrook’s role as a point guard who can assume the scoring chores when needed.
Worse, their defense crumbled in the latter part of the third quarter, resulting in two bad fouls that gave away six points to the Heat. Those errors, I think, sort of sealed the outcome of the game by giving the momentum back to Miami. Had Thunder not committed those fouls, they could have soared to a 15-point lead, maybe more, by the end of the period.
Durant and Westbrook started the fourth quarter. Durant’s fouls however made him a tentative defender against LeBron James, whose hunger for a first championship showed like a wolf baring its fangs for the kill. More importantly, he only made four points in the last quarter. He had 21 points before sitting midway through the third.
It can be asked in retrospect whether things would have gone the other way had Brooks opted to gamble and leave Durant on the floor. Despite his team’s deficiencies having him on the court always gives them good chances. With his height, quickness and shooting touch, his defenders will always have their hands full.
But it was not just Durant’s foul trouble that made them lose game three. The Thunder were only 15 for 24 from the foul line, a department where they usually beat all others. Moreover, James Harden was anemic, scoring just nine points and making only two of his 10 attempts.
If the Thunder want a championship, they need to play to win, not play not to lose. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com)