The Oklahoma City Thunder took the American Airlines Arena by storm on Wednesday night as they pummeled the two-time defending champion Miami Heat 112-95. The Thunder ‘s onslaught of 3-pointers deafened the Heat’s home crowd and helped them recover from an early 18-point deficit.
The Heat jumped out to a quick 22-4 lead in the first quarter and looked to be on their way to a convincing victory at home. But it was some timely lineup changes by Thunder head coach, Scott Brooks, that seemed to put the spark back into his team. Midway through the first quarter, Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher checked in for the Thunder. They immediately began raining down threes on the Miami Heat defense. Jeremy Lamb finished the game with 18 points, going 4 for 6 from beyond the arc. Derek Fisher went a perfect 5 for 5 from 3-point range, including a deep buzzer beater off the glass at the end of the third quarter.
All the talk coming into Wednesday’s game surrounded the two leading MVP candidates in Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Durant and James were matched up against one another for most of the game and in the third quarter they went at each other punch for punch. Both Durant and James scored 12 points in the third quarter as they exchanged buckets in the final few minutes of the frame. Despite the efforts of King James, it was Kevin Durant and the Thunder with a 16-point lead over the Heat heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter Oklahoma continued to shoot lights out from the three-point line and the Heat had no answer. The Thunder finished 16 for 27 from three-point land, which is the most made in a game since the franchise moved to Oklahoma. The Heat finished 3 for 19 from beyond the arc and added 21 turnovers.
Both Durant and James seemed deaf to all the underlying noise about the MVP award as the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder forwards both finished with stellar stat lines. LeBron stayed around his season average of 58 shooting as he went 12 for 20 from the field leading to 34 points; he also added three rebounds and three assists. Durant shot 12 for 23 from the field with 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Durant has now scored 30 or more points in 12 consecutive games, he is the first player to achieve those numbers since Tracy McGrady did it in 14 straight games in the 2002-2003 season.
While both Durant and James had impressive individual performances, it was Durant’s team that provided him with more support. Serge Ibaka poured in 22 points and nine rebounds, while the Thunder bench outscored the Heat bench 39-21. The Heat are now 7-12 when allowing more than 100 points this season, while the Thunder improved to 8-0 on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. Wednesday night’s victory was only the fourth time in 17 career meetings that Durant’s team has gotten the best of James.
The Thunder now sit atop the Western Conference at 37-10, while the Miami Heat are 3.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for first place in the Eastern Conference. The second half of the season presents a much more difficult schedule for Miami so they will need to become deaf to the critics and begin playing their best basketball to keep pace in the playoff race.
By Eric Kummel