OKLAHOMA CITY – The second half and fourth quarter of Game 1 were about more than just Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
It was about their role players, those other guys stepping up and filling in wherever needed. Those guys like Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison, whose ability to play in those wide open spaces that are created when Durant and Westbrook have it going can help turn the momentum in the Thunder’s favor.
Collison was prepared for a larger role in this series after it became clear that the Heat would deploy their smaller lineup with LeBron James, Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier and Chris Bosh playing the majority of the frontcourt minutes.
The results for the Thunder were even better than anyone could have imagined. Collison came through with eight points, on 4-for-5 shooting, 10 rebounds (five offensive, including two tips that led to crucial Thunder baskets in the fourth quarter), quality screens, plus all the intangibles that have become his hallmark. And he did it in 21 minutes of pure efficiency and non-stop energy.
As the Thunder rallied from an early 13-point deficit to take control after halftime, especially in the fourth quarter when he played all but 29 seconds, it was clear that this was the type of game Collison’s game was made for.
“You always have the opportunity to play hard and try to chase rebounds,” Collison said. “Defensively, I was trying to figure out how to help out. LeBron and Dwyane Wade were so good attacking that you’ve got to just get in position to help.”
With help like Collison and Sefolosha, Thunder coach Scott Brooks can cook up all sorts of lineups to address whatever group the Heat goes with in this series.
Getting production on both ends from these guys, but especially Collison (whose minutes vary depending on the matchups), becomes a bonus for OKC.
“I was just trying to be active,” Collison said. “I don’t play a lot of minutes, so when I’m out there, I’m trying to play hard as I can and just trying to be as aware as I can and just go chase the ball.”
Collison’s four points, four rebounds and steal in the fourth quarter showed off a clutch gene that casual observers probably didn’t realize he had. We’re talking about a guy who has played 16.9 minutes per game this postseason playing the most crucial 11 minutes and 31 seconds of the Thunder’s season, to date.
An eight-year veteran and the longest-tenured member of this team (he was drafted with the 12th pick in the 2003 Draft by Seattle), Collison’s contributions are appreciated in his own locker room.
“He means a lot to us,” Durant said. “He’s been sacrificing his body, taking charges all season. Just playing hard. He could care less about how many shots he takes or how many rebounds he gets, he’s just going to play hard and do what the coaches tell him to do. He’s just a great teammate to have. We’ve got to just give him confidence by feeding him down low on those dump-off passes for dunks and he’s going to come back down and give it his all on the defensive end.”
Collison’s “all” was exactly what the Thunder needed at closing time in Game 1. And they’ll probably need more of it from him in this series.