OKLAHOMA CITY – Against almost every other team they have played, the Miami Heat are best served playing their half-court game and having it be better than their foe’s.
When you’re as a good of a half-court defensive team as the Heat and have two of the world’s best offensive talents in LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, that makes for a sound strategy. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, that strategy could backfire.
The Heat seem resigned to the fact that injuries and a lack of speed, outside of James and Wade, makes running with the Thunder a foolish idea. They were torched 24-4 in fast break points in Game 1, the weakest output for the Heat in the Big 3 era, with most of those OKC transition baskets coming off of Miami misses than turnovers.
A short rotation makes it tougher for the Heat to run anyway, so they’re trying to lure the Thunder into matching them possession for possession the same way the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs tried to in the Thunder’s three previous playoff rounds.
It doesn’t always work the way it was drawn up, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff had to see after reviewing the tape of Game 1.
For whatever mismatches the Heat believe they can, and would love to, exploit in a half-court game, the Thunder have proved all playoffs that they are immune to such things.
Their ability match the competition in their preferred style is the reason the Thunder have gone this far. And they have mismatches of their own to exploit with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden all capable of abusing defenders in a variety of ways, be it in transition or otherwise.
Still, it’s hard to tell James or Wade that they should abandon the things that have worked for them all these years, especially when they believe in their style the way they do.
“Every game is its own,” James said when asked if the Heat are at their best when he and Wade are flowing in that two-man game. “Sometimes we’re good, we’re great when we’re playing our two-man game. Other times it has our offense stagnant and it’s now allowing us to get the ball from one side [of the floor] to the other. I think we’re good offensively and in the half court when we’re attacking … that’s when we’re at our best.”
Whether or not the Heat’s half-court best is good enough to beat the Thunder remains the biggest question heading into Game 2 tonight (9 ET, ABC) at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Because for all of the adjustments that will be made by both teams, the Thunder won’t change their fundamental stripes. They’ll live by the same mantra they have all year, and that’s grinding more than the opposition for 48 minutes or however many minutes it takes.
It’s the same thing they did to rebound from that 13-point deficit in the first half of Game 1.
“The only adjustment we made was playing harder,” Durant said. “I can tell you guys all the Xs and Os and the schemes, but it comes down to playing harder.”