HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We knocked them something terrible last week, called the big men the Oklahoma City Thunder’s weakest link and even suggested that the Thunder’s Big Two of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had to go it alone this season in their championship quest.
Let us be the first to snack on the sautéed crow that comes along with snap reactions of that sort. Thunder bigs Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka had spectacular performances in Sunday’s statement win over the Heat, dominating the paint on both ends of the floor as the Heat’s bigs struggled to match their effort, intensity and production.
Ibaka scored 19 points and Perkins 16, shooting a combined 16-for-21 from the floor. Ibaka grabbed 10 rebounds, Perkins six as they imposed their will around the basket all game long. Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony were simply no match for them on the big stage (or as big as the regular season stage can get).
So much was made before the game about this being a potential preview of The Finals, or at least the dream matchup of many. If so, the Heat better hope it doesn’t go down like this again.
The Thunder’s bigs showed they are capable of beating the Heat’s bigs in every facet. Perkins even added a little intimidation to his line with that foot to the face of Dwyane Wade after one dunk.
Perkins insisted he didn’t do it on purpose, that Wade ran under him and he accidentally dropped that tree trunk in Wade’s face … sure, big fella!
The physical nature of this affair was deliberately stoked by Perkins, who prides himself on playing a certain brand of basketball (elbows up and snarl on at all times). The Thunder’s advantage, however, was also an emotional one, as Barry Trammel of the Oklahoman points out. They took advantage of a tactical decision by the Heat:
The Heat, defensive demons who like to double-team off screens, paid the price for such tactics. Durant, especially, but James Harden and Russell Westbrook, too, made Miami pay. The Thunder trio combined for 20 assists.
“Our bigs were doing a great job separating,” Scotty Brooks said. “Taking big steps. Our bigs were open.
“We played as physical as we could possibly play.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the Thunder played not just aggressively, but with the “details of playing with force.”
Serge Ibaka had 19 points and 10 rebounds. But Ibaka, you expect to get 19 points on occasion. You never plan on Perkins getting 16.
“He brought his game that we are familiar with,” Spoelstra said. “It is Eastern Conference basketball. It wasn’t just him. But to a man on that team, they got us on our heels on both ends of the court.”
There’s no doubt about it. As good as Durant was in outdueling LeBron James in their MVP matchup (more on that later), this game was about the Thunder bigs and their complete domination of the Heat’s big men.