Woodward, Okla. —
By Michael Kinney
CNHI News Service
OKLAHOMA CITY— After missing the previous 26 games with a knee injury, Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook chose to make his return to the lineup against the defending champion Miami Heat. He said before the game that he still hasn’t gotten past losing to them two years ago in the NBA Finals.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Heat didn’t seem to really care who was in the lineup. They rolled over Oklahoma City 103-81 Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The teams split the regular season series 1-1. But the talk after the game was how Miami came away with a statement win at the Thunder’s house.
“We just had a bad night,” Kevin Durant said. “We just have to move past it and get better from it. Get ready for the next one.”
Just as disconcerting for Oklahoma City fans was seeing MVP candidate Durant get outplayed by Miami’s reigning MVP, forward LeBron James.
While James knocked down 33 points to go along with seven rebounds and eight turnovers, Durant paced the Thunder with 28 points, eight rebounds and five turnovers.
It was James’ fourth consecutive game to go past the 30-point mark. He did this despite leaving the game with a bloody nose after being hit in the face by Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka before dunking on him.
According to the Heat, James was given a concussion test and was given the all-clear.
“He has a swollen nose now and it’s bleeding,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “We’ll evaluate when we get back to Miami. But it’s sore. He took a shot. He got hit pretty good though in the nose. I’m like everybody else, you’re used to seeing him like Superman, get up and sprint back even after tough hits and tough falls. So we knew something was up.”
The Thunder (43-13) entered the fourth quarter trailing by only 11. Several times this year, they have made comebacks in the final period spurred by the bench.
However, it was the Heat’s (39-14) bench that began the process of closing out Oklahoma. Shots by guard Ray Allen and center Chris Bosh quickly pushed Miami’s advantage to 19 before Durant could check back into the game and slow the bleeding.
With Westbrook on a minutes restriction, he was not brought back into the game until midway through the period. By then, the Heat had complete control.
James left the court with 5:43 left and Miami leading 90-74. Despite that, the Thunder could not make a dent and never threatened the rest of the way as guard Dwayne Wade shouldered the load.
“Those guys hit some tough ones,” Durant said. “Especially in the post. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade hit some tough shots one-on-one over some good defense. When guys like that are hitting jump shots, it’s tough to guard them.”
Wade ended the night with 24 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go along with 10 assists. Bosh added 24 points and eight rebounds.
Westbrook posted 16 points and two assists in 24 minutes of work. Ibaka scored 14 points and grabbed eight boards. However, he had only one blocked shot.
James didn’t wait for the game to come to him in the opening quarter. The four-time MVP took the game to the Thunder as he scored 14 points in the first six minutes of action.
Conversely, Durant was just as passive. He didn’t make a shot until there was 5:13 left in quarter. It allowed the Heat to go ahead 34-17 heading into second quarter.
Miami pushed its lead to 19 points before Oklahoma City slowly went about the business of grinding away at the deficit. And it was guard Reggie Jackson and forward Perry Jones III who did the heavy lifting.
But it was a late scoring outburst by Westbrook that pulled the Thunder to within 54-47 at halftime.
“I was very excited for him,” Durant said of Westbrook. “He gets to play the game he loves again. He looked really good out there.”
NOTES: According to team officials, the 60 media requests Oklahoma City received for the game against Miami is more than any regular season game in Thunder history. ... As the second half of the season kicked off for the Oklahoma, secondary ticket market Vivid Seats showed that the Thunder has the highest median ticket price for the second half of the NBA season at $185. The New York Knicks are second at $159. ... Despite the team’s history, Miami F LeBron James isn’t ready to call Heat vs. Thunder a rivalry. “It’s hard to say ‘rivalry’ when you see North Carolina and Duke. “There’s no rivalry in (NBA) basketball today. There’s some very good teams that’s happy to go against guys. You got to come up with another word.”