A day before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, James Harden stated the obvious. Oklahoma City’s sixth man of the year told the media that his team had to stop falling behind early and start putting its foot on their opponent’s throat from the very start.
It was sound advice, but the Thunder didn’t listen Thursday. Once again they found themselves trailing by double digits early in the contest and tried to storm back and claim the victory late. However, this time they fell short 100-96 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena and evened the series 1-1.
“That was the game,” Kevin Durant said. “We can’t start the game off down 18-2. We have to correct that and have to stay positive and come back ready for Game 3.”
Game 3 is Sunday in Miami.
The Thunder did their best to steal Game 2 in the fourth quarter. After trailing by 11, they got to within four points with less than a minute on clock.
The Thunder forced a turnover on Dwyane Wade and raced up court. Thabo Sefolosha got the ball to Durant, who drained a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left to close the gap to 98-96. LeBron James responded with a 3-point attempt, but it came up short.
Oklahoma City had a chance to tie when Durant took a short jumper from the baseline. The ball bounced off the rim and James came up with the rebound. Russell Westbrook fouled James and he knocked down both free throws with seven seconds left to hand the Thunder their first home loss of the postseason.
“We wanted to play (with) the identity of who we are,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We feel we didn’t do that in the first game. But our strengths, obviously, on both ends of the court were to be an aggressive, attacking team.”
Despite foul trouble, Durant led the Thunder with 32 points. However, he was held to only three rebounds and one assist. Westbrook added 27 points and Harden collected 21.
James paced the Heat with 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Chris Bosh came alive for Miami with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
“We did a really good job of contesting their shots,” James said. “More than in Game 1. It allowed us to get on the boards and get rebounds. They are so athletic and so quick, but it was a good job by all of us defensively to get a win on the road.”
Spoelstra wanted his team to impose its will on the game. He got what he wanted from the first minute. At no time in the first quarter did the Thunder look like they could contend with an inspired Heat squad.
Midway through the first period, the Heat led 18-2. That was before Durant picked up two fouls and had to head to the bench.
After disappearing in the first half of Game 1, Wade posted 13 of his 24 points in the first 24 minutes of Game 2.
However, Harden kept the Thunder from being blown off the court. He came off the bench and poured in 17 points in the first half to keep Oklahoma City within striking distance at 55-43.
While the Thunder’s offense was suspect, it was their defense that went missing. The Heat got wide open shots on the perimeter while Wade and James dominated the ball in the paint. Several times, Oklahoma City players threw their arms up in exasperation after giving up a big shot.
“Toughness lost the game,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn’t come out with the toughness needed to win the game.”