Westbrook and Durant Lead Thunder to Victory in Finals Debut
Game one of the 2012 NBA Finals is now in the books and boy was it a good one in Oklahoma City. The young Oklahoma City Thunder team made their finals debut and it was definitely one worth remembering. I'm not sure if it was nerves or rust from not playing in six days or possibly a combination of the two but the first quarter was not pretty for the Thunder. The Heat got off to a quick start drilling shot after shot and three pointer after three pointer. While it seemed like every shot was going down for Miami, it seemed like everyone on OKC other than Durant couldn't buy a shot. The Thunder dug themselves into a little bit of a hole early on going down as many as 13 points. But in true Thunder fashion, they fought hard to keep themselves within striking distance heading into half-time down only seven. Watching the first half transpire it reminded me a little bit of game 6 in the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. First half everything seemed to be going the opponents way but you just couldn't help but feel that at some point all those shots (especially the three's) were going to stop falling and eventually if OKC just continued to play hard, their shots were going to start going in. And that my friends is exactly what happened.
In the second half, the Thunder came out fighting picking up their intensity especially on the defensive end. Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, who drained some big three's in the first half, cooled down in the second half and especially the fourth quarter. Chris Bosh, who contributed 10 points on 4-11 shooting with five rebounds, was almost a non factor in this game down the stretch (much like Chalmers and Battier). Dwayne Wade played fairly mediocre by his standards scoring 19 points on 7-19 shooting from the field but contributed eight assists. Meanwhile Russell Westbrook, who shot only 3-11 in the first half, turned it up in the second finishing with 27 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds. According to ESPN.com Russell Westbrook is also the first player with at least 25 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists in an NBA Finals game since Charles Barkley in 1993. He joins a short but prestigious list of names that include Michael Jordan (1991), Clyde Drexler (1990), James Worthy (1988) and Magic Johnson (1988). It was also his driving layup with the and one foul that gave the Thunder their first lead in the final seconds of the third quarter. As a result, they started the fourth quarter up by one and never trailed again.
In the fourth quarter Kevin Durant did what he does best and that is take over. He played with no fear of the big stage, no first time finals jitters and if he was nervous he sure didn't show it. He may only be 23 years old but he played grown man basketball tonight looking like a veteran who had been there before. But when you think about these playoffs, that's how he's been playing; poised, calm, confident, aggressive, stepping up and knocking down the big shots that he know's he needs to make for his team to win. He doesn't shy away from the moment but instead embraces it. Its almost as if he's not even phased by the fact that his team is playing in the finals. Its always been said that the greatest players shine in the biggest moments. Kevin Durant shined like the sun in his finals debut scoring 36 points on 12-20 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists in 46 minutes of basketball. Since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976 only Allen Iverson has scored more points in a finals debut. He scored 17 of his points in the fourth quarter and since everyone is so obsessed with comparing the two superstars in this series I will point out that in last years finals against Dallas, Lebron James scored a combined total of 18 fourth quarter points in six games. It was a brilliant second half for OKC especially for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. They dynamic duo outscored the entire Miami Heat team in the second half 41-40. If there were any doubts about how special these two players are, let that doubt be put to rest now.
However, despite the brilliant performances of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook this win would not have been possible without the help of the supporting cast. OKC did not win this game only because two guys played great, they won because they played great as a team. The Thunder finished with a total of 22 assists to the Heat's 20 and they out rebounded the Heat 43-35. The explosive Thunder also out ran the heat finishing with 24 fast break points to the Heat's four. OKC also dominated in the paint outscoring Miami 56-40. Although Thabo Sefalosha did not put up great numbers, he played a great defensive game. In the fourth quarter he was given the task of guarding James and held him to seven points on 29% shooting. I expect to see this match-up early on in game two. Serge Ibaka threw in 10 points and six rebounds while the Thunder's other big Kendrick Perkins contributed an additional seven rebounds. They also got major contributions off the bench. Although Derek Fisher only scored six points, he brought a calmness to this excited OKC team that I think was much needed, especially in the first half. James Harden only scored 5 points on a three pointer and most memorably a field goal as the clock was winding down the finals seconds of the first quarter. He will need to step up and play better going forward in this series. Nick Collison stepped up with 10 rebounds, eight points, solid defensive play in the fourth quarter and a dunk with 1:17 left in the game that pretty much sealed the deal for OKC. And this dunk was a special one not because it was fancy or over the top but because it came on a great, unselfish pass by Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant made a good decision for the betterment of the team and that my friends is what makes this team special. The unselfishness they play with and the willingness to sacrifice in order to do whats best for the team. Unlike many teams in today's league, they don't play like a bunch of individuals that have been grouped together, they play real team basketball.
Of course this was only the first game of a seven game series that is bound to be a hard fought battle to the very end. Hopefully the Thunder will be able to build on the momentum from this game and ride it until the confetti pieces are falling on them from the sky. They also remain undefeated on their home court in this post season. Not bad for a NBA Finals debut.