OKLAHOMA CITY — Where to start with this one? How about with a statement: LeBron James and the Miami Heat have no peer.
Make no mistake by the relatively close final score, 110-100, in favor of the Heat. They never trailed, led by 15 points 10 minutes into the game, by as much as 23 in the third quarter and by 19 entering the fourth quarter. Don’t be misguided by Kevin Durant‘s 40 points on 12-for-24 shooting. KD opened the game 0-for-7 against a searing Miami defense led by James and a double-team that hounded his every move and forced him into 2-for-10 at the half.
Give the three-time scoring champ and the clubhouse leader headed into the All-Star break credit for his 22 fourth-quarter points, for staying in the game after taking a nasty fall late in the first quarter when the Thunder were already being run over, for never leaving the game until he fouled out with 28.4 seconds to go. Give credit to Russell Westbrook (26 points, 10 assists, six turnovers), who said he was more surprised at their start than disappointed, and the rest of the Thunder crew for clawing to the end.
But this, this was a Valentine’s Day massacre of the highest order.
“Maybe it was nerves or we were too excited, I don’t know, man,” Durant said. “That was the game, I think, that first quarter. We kept fighting and fighting, battling uphill, but that’s tough to do against a championship-caliber team.”
OKC, 22-3 at home coming into this one, simply doesn’t get dismantled inside its raucous gym that was super-charged Thursday night. Plus, the Heat came in a pedestrian 12-11 on the road without so much as a signature win to boast.
Now they have one. And in doing so they made it six in a row, 2-zip this season, over the Thunder going back to last June’s Finals.
“Obviously, they’ve been dominating us for the last six games,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “So if we do meet again, it’s a problem we’ve got to deal with and figure it out.”
The Thunder wanted this game badly, they said so beforehand. Last one before the break, national television showcase, a chance to notch a 40th win, but mostly to, yes, make a statement that they can go toe-to-toe with their elder, more battle-tested superstars in red and take them out.
Yet on their home floor, the Thunder didn’t as much lay an egg as simply get bullied into submission by a more ferocious foe.
This loss, on the heels of the sour defeat at Utah two nights earlier, will sting for a week until OKC next plays. It might even hurt all the way to June, provided the Thunder’s wonder kids can again lead them out of the West and into the Finals rematch that most want to see. Because the Heat will represent the East.
“We didn’t just want to come in here and not play well and allow them to do what they wanted us to do,” said James, who crafted another masterful performance with 39 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and a couple steals in 40 minutes. “We came in with a high level. Mentally we were in tune from the beginning and it was a really good roll that we finished.”
The roll James is alluding to is a seven-game win streak that lifts Miami to 36-14 at the break. Another roll came to an end. James’ remarkable six-game run of scoring 30 points and shooting 60 percent was ready to make it to seven until he put up a 28-footer from straightaway to beat the shot clock with 1:02 left in the game. He was at 60.9 percent before the surprising heave, which knocked him down to an oh-so substandard 58.3 percent.
James was simply awesome again, coolly sinking an array of shots as he ratcheted up the range of difficulty from previous games in the streak. In the final two minutes of the second quarter, he hit four consecutive scintillating jumpers — a 25-footer for 3, a 22-foot stepback over Durant, a 20-foot stepback and then another 3 for a 61-43 lead with 24.3 to go in the first half.
“He had a great game,” Durant said. “He made tough shots, man, one-leggers, fadeaways and corners, 3s, so you got to tip your hat to that.”
Lost in LeBron-imania are some sidekicks compiling amazing stats of their own. Chris Bosh continued his excellent and overshadowed play with a dominant first half and finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds — five offensive, two key ones to extend possessions in the fourth as the Thunder rallied — and three blocked shots. He went 10-for-14 from the floor and is shooting a familiar-sounding 55.5 percent on the season.
Dwyane Wade, also shooting better than 50 percent on the season had an off-night with 13 points and fouled out with 3:29 to go with the Thunder still fighting, down 104-92. With the score 104-94, James took Serge Ibaka, quiet all night, off the dribble, bounded to the left and floated in a 14-foot leaner off one leg. Moments later he threw down an alley-oop from Ray Allen for the final punctuation.
OKC would get the deficit under 10 with less than a minute to go for the first time since it was 22-13 with 4:10 to go in the first quarter. There just wasn’t anybody to pick up the slack. Sixth man Kevin Martin had nine points on just five shot attempts. Ibaka had six points and six boards.
The Thunder made just three 3s and got their clocks cleaned on the boards. If not for going 33-for-34 from the free throw line, the score never would have been as close.
“I’m not discounting what they did, but we’re not as bad as we played tonight,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “They made us play this way. You have to give them credit. We’re not as bad and give them credit.”