OKLAHOMA CITY — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra did his best Wednesday to deflect every question about his team’s failures during its 105-94 loss to the Thunder in Game 1 of the Finals, other than to say the game was decided on four of five plays.
But the man making those four of five plays, Kevin Durant, had his way with the Heat, scoring 36 points, all coming when he was guarded by somebody other than LeBron James.
“It wasn’t my choice,” James said. “I mean, it’s whatever.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Spoelstra’s decision to put Shane Battier on Durant despite this research done by ESPN: All 10 of Durant’s turnovers this season vs. the Heat have come when LeBron was the primary defender.
With the 6-foot-8 James on 6-10 center Kendrick Perkins and the 6-8 Battier on the 6-9 Durant, the Heat switched the pick and roll all game, something it typically does not do. By switching, James occasionally wound up on Durant.
James got the assignment to cover Durant for about four minutes late in the game, but only after Durant had gotten hot and helped the Thunder pull away from the Heat. Durant finished with 17 points in the fourth quarter.
Spoelstra was asked if, in hindsight, the Heat was switching too much.
“Possibly,” he said. “We’re an aggressive, disruptive defensive team. But it flattened out some of our aggressiveness.”
Durant said he figured the Heat would “mix it up a lot, throw different defenders” at him. But when asked if he expected to see more of James — who at 250 is 25 pounds heavier than Battier, giving him more of a chance of keeping Durant out of the paint — Durant said, “Yeah.”
Spoelstra said that it had no impact on the game.
“I don’t think that was an issue at the beginning,” Spoelstra said. “(Durant) got off to a great start. I don’t think that was the reason.”
Who knows if James could have limited that start — Durant had 11 points in the first 9:16 — or how much that could have helped the Heat in the long run?
Spoelstra’s matchups for Game 2 Thursday night will be directly impacted by his decision on whether to start Chris Bosh. Bosh came off the bench for the third consecutive game Tuesday since missing nine games with an abdominal injury. He was not effective, with 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting and just five rebounds in 34 minutes.
“The last two games he’s been able to handle more minutes,” Spoelstra said. “I think we can start to incorporate him more to who he was and his strengths right before he got injured. We need him to be a little bit more who he is.”
But do you need him to start?
“I don’t know if I’ll do that,” Spoelstra said.
The guess is he will, which would also force Spoelstra to decide if Battier or Udonis Haslem come off the bench.
The Heat was 5-1 in the playoffs with Bosh at center and Haslem at power forward before Bosh was injured. Starting Bosh and Haslem would force James to cover Durant with Bosh and Haslem on Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
“It doesn’t really matter for me,” Bosh said when asked about starting. “Like I’ve been saying, if coach wants to put me out there, I’m more than available. I’ve started a bunch of games in this league. I’m ready to go.”
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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