MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/13 June) – Like the shock created by Manny Pacquiao’s controversial loss to American Timothy Bradley last Sunday, Miami Heat’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of their best-of-seven championship series must have stunned basketball enthusiast. Watching alone at home, I can only imagine the disbelief of Heat fans out there who thought their team would breeze through the finals. In today’s opener however the Thunder showed they have championship DNA too.
Leaning on three-point shots, the Heat dominated the first half, 54-47. But the Thunder ended the period with a rousing buzzer beater from James Harden above the free throw line, a shot that heralded what was to unfold in the next 24 minutes of the game.
In the third quarter, the Thunder was steadily chipped away at the Heat lead. Employing a suffocating defense, the hosts limited their guests to 19 points while scoring 27 to grab the lead for the first time, 74-73, at the end of the period. They never looked back after that.
Oklahoma sustained their flurry throughout the fourth quarter, making two straight field goals in the opening minute for a 78-73 spread that forced Heat head coach Erik to call a timeout. That didn’t seem to matter, as the Thunder offense remained relentless in their scoring chores, and their defense resulted in at least three turnovers on the Heat.
More telling were the fourth period outputs of the superstars of both teams. Durant piled up 17 of his 36 points, including four free throws, in the final quarter. In contrast, only six of James’ 30 points came in the fourth quarter, four also coming from charities.
James’ backup, Dywane Wade, only made seven points, including a free throw, in the closing quarter. He scored a total of 19. Oklahoma’s Russell Westbrook on the other hand canned six of his 27 points in the fourth period.
Worse for the Heat, they had a measly fast break output of four points throughout the game. The Thunder had 24 fast break points, which should make the Heat realize that they were slow in getting back to defense at each turnover or once the opponents get the defensive rebound. As a young team, the Thunder love to run.
One thing going against the Heat is that they’re finding it next to impossible to disrupt the Thunder’s offensive rhythm. The Thunder has at least three or four men who can play the point well and can be fielded at the same time. This is unlike the case with the Boston Celtics whose execution relies much on Rajon Rondo.
But all other things considered, the biggest predicament for the Heat is how to stop Durant and Westbrook, or Durant and James Harden, or maybe, these three stars. And we’re not talking yet of Serge Ibaka, Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, and Thabo Sefolosha.
In addition, the Heat showed in game one that their bench could not plug the holes if their stars, James and Wade in particular, perform below par.
But I do believe game two will be war. The Heat will use their whole arsenal in trying to even the series before going home for games three and four. James, I think, will prove he did not become Most Valuable Player for nothing, if only to prevent a 0-2 setback.
My prediction for the series: the Thunder in six games. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at email@example.com)