Oklahoma City — Game 1 of the NBA Finals came down to the two players everyone expects to dominate this series.
And when it was over, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant claimed the early advantage over Miami’s LeBron James, leading the Thunder past the Heat 105-94 on Tuesday night at a deafening, sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Oklahoma City takes a 1-0 lead into Thursday’s Game 2. The Heat, though, can look back on history for some solace.
Miami lost the first two games of the 2006 Finals at Dallas before winning the title in six games. Last year, Miami won the Finals opener but the Mavericks claimed their first title, winning in six.
“This one’s behind us now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We felt we had an opportunity going into the fourth quarter. Halfway through the fourth quarter, we think we were putting ourselves in position to win and then they just (took off).
“That’s what they do. They’re relentless.”
Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter for a Thunder team that never led until the waning seconds of the third quarter. A 6-0 run, started by two Durant baskets, gave the Thunder a 93-83 lead with 3 1/2 minutes remaining and brought the noise to another level.
Durant’s heroics came while guarding James.
“K.D. is a special player,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “We all know how well he scores. But he’s a special player because he defends. I like what Kevin’s about. He wants to be that two-way player.”
Oklahoma City’s first lead came with 16 seconds left in the third when Russell Westbrook scored and was fouled. The three-point play came in the middle of an 11-1 run that put the Thunder in control.
“I think we came out with a lot more intensity defensively,” Westbrook said. “Made them feel us a little bit and (did) a great job of being more aggressive.”
James, the three-time MVP, could not keep up the pace of Durant, the three-time scoring champion. James recovered from a slow start — missing all but one of his first six shots — to score 30 points.
James, though, did not have to expend as much energy on defense, having been switched off Durant by Spoelstra.
The Heat got a nice boost from Shane Battier, who scored 17 points and was 4-of-6 on three-pointers. Dwyane Wade, though, once again started slowly. He recovered, but it wasn’t enough. Wade scored 19 points and was just 7-of-19 from the field.
Durant shot 12-of-20 and also chipped in with eight rebounds. His sidekick, Westbrook, finished with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Westbrook played most of the game at a speed the Heat could not contain as Oklahoma City finished with 24 fast-break points compared to just four for the Heat.
“We’re a better defensive team than we showed tonight,” Spoelstra said.
With Chris Bosh continuing to come off the bench, as he did for the final three games of the Boston series, Spoelstra decided to change up nearly every expected matchup.
Spoelstra had Battier covering Durant and James on center Kendrick Perkins. Also, Wade opened the game on Westbrook with Mario Chalmers covering Thabo Sefolosha.
“We had to figure some things out,” Brooks said about the unconventional matchups.
Spoelstra then basically stuck with a six-man rotation. The exceptions were 11 minutes for Mike Miller and two for Joel Anthony.
Spoelstra said “circumstances” forced him to limit his rotation but would not elaborate, only saying a day of rest will allow him to use more players Thursday.
“Going into this game, we were going to keep it a tight rotation to give us our best shot, maybe not as tight as it was,” Spoelstra said. “I’ll probably go a little deeper in Game 2.”
Oklahoma City was the more rested team, not having played for five days after eliminating San Antonio in the Western Conference finals in six games. The Heat, meanwhile, was extended to seven games by the Celtics, finally advancing Saturday night and then traveling Sunday.
Still, it took the Thunder more than a half to catch up to the Heat. Miami built a 13-point first-half lead before OKC began chipping away.
The first tie in the game came with 6:44 left in the third quarter on a reverse layup by Sefolosha. Still, the Thunder had not led.
The breakthrough came when Westbrook exploded to the basket, scored and was fouled by Miller. The score was tied at 74 before Westbrook’s free throw gave the Thunder its first lead.
With the crowd whipped into a frenzy, Bosh missed a long jumper as the quarter expired.
“I thought we showed a lot of toughness in that second half,” Brooks said.
The Heat received help from two unexpected sources in the first half. Battier and Chalmers combined for 23 points in the half as Miami built a 13-point lead before settling for a 54-47 advantage.
The Heat had to be concerned with one thing. While Miami was mostly settling for jump shots, the Thunder continued to get to the basket. OKC was able to keep the score respectable with three strong drives in the last