The trouble with being at the top of the conference, the Thunder are discovering, is that everyone else will try that much harder to knock them off. Of course, if you’re stumbling, you can knock yourself out in a matter of seconds, and OKC tripped up several times at Miami, handing the Heat a 98-93 win despite better shooting and more rebounding.
The difference: perimeter defense — the Heat actually had some — and LeBron James, who presented his case for MVP with considerable aplomb, rolling up 23 points in the first half on his way to 34, distributing the ball with dispatch (10 assists!) and pulling off four steals. Dwyane Wade, who’d been unwell, was declared okay at gametime, and he came up with 19 points. What broke the Thunder’s back, though, was Shane Battier’s two consecutive treys in the fourth quarter, running exactly the same play. If you ask me, this is exactly the point where the cause was lost, though stats guys will note that OKC was within three with 46 seconds left and hadn’t missed a free throw all night, whereupon Kendrick Perkins clanged a pair off the rim.
Perk, incidentally, got his 12th technical for about the fourth or fifth time tonight. (He’s had several rescinded, so the count varies.) Batman and Robin got decent numbers, though Kevin Durant’s 30 points were offset by nine turnovers — half the team total — and Russell Westbrook shot 9-26 to get his 28. At various points they were seemingly manhandled by the Heat; radio guy Matt Pinto’s “How is that not a foul?” turned into a second-quarter mantra. Miami expat Daequan Cook, back in the Thunder lineup, only put up one trey, but it went; the rest of the team went 4-16 from Coral Gables.
The Spurs edged the Celtics tonight, which means that the gap between first and second in the West is down to one game (OKC is 40-14, San Antonio 38-14). Being drubbed by #2 in the East obviously did not help, and the next game up is with #3: the Pacers, in Hoosieropolis Friday night.