The NBA’s dream match-up of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat lived up to expectations. The Thunder overcame a 13-point deficit to defeat the Heat 105-94 in Game One of the 2012 NBA Finals. OKC continued to follow the lead of their 23-year-old superstar Kevin Durant, as he poured in 36 points on 12 of 20 shooting. Russell Westbrook notched a near triple-double with 27 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds, while James Harden scored a mere five points in 22 minutes of play. If OKC can manage an 11-point victory and only get that type of production from the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, they’ll be in cruise control throughout this series versus the Miami Heat.
Similar to last year’s performance in the NBA Finals, the Eastern Conference champs controlled a majority of this game. Although LeBron James matched Kevin Durant in minutes played, his production didn’t net the same results. A 30 point, 9 rebound and 4 steal performance from the league MVP wasn’t enough to lift his team, as an injured Dwyane Wade continued to struggle alongside him. Wade added 19 points and 8 assists, but never seemed to be completely immersed in the game. Flash has always been known for his ability to step up in big contests, but has found this year to be a difficult post-season run. In addition to his physical ailments, the All-star guard has been doing his best to settle into the role of Miami’s 2nd option, while he attempts to pass the leadership role onto LeBron James.
The unification of James, Wade & Bosh was built on the strong bond they shared through friendship, which has been a major knock on them as an overall team. ESPN NBA Analyst Magic Johnson was critical of the Heat in saying that their friendship was preventing them from elevating to a championship franchise. “What I get disappointed at is when it’s not going well; will Dwyane Wade get on the guys? Will he get on Chris Bosh? Is he too friendly with Lebron James? See, somebody, sometimes you’ve got to get on guys. I got on Kareem. I got on James Worthy, and then they got on me too. Somebody has to be the leader. If they’re going to win the championship, somebody has to step into that role,” said Johnson.
As a Hall-of-Famer and Five-time NBA Champion, Magic’s comments carry a tremendous amount of weight. D-Wade not only wants to win another NBA title, but he is deeply motivated by the criticism that LeBron James endures for his shortcomings throughout his professional career. While James has been able to show flashes of leadership, he struggles to maintain the same level of intensity that he put on display in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. With Miami’s back against the wall, James led the Heat to a blowout victory en route to a second consecutive appearance in this year’s championship series.
After relinquishing a substantial lead to the Thunder in the Game One, Miami finds itself in a potential must-win on Thursday night. Oklahoma City has yet to lose at home in the 2012 playoffs, and have home-court advantage throughout the NBA Finals. The team from South Beach will eventually have to steal a game in Chesapeake Energy Arena if they want to hoist this year’s Larry O’Brien trophy.
A focused Miami team could make Game Two the final professional contest in Oklahoma City for 2012, or potentially find themselves hosting a second consecutive championship celebration for the visiting team.
Steve Rivers has contributed to The Source, ESPN Rise and a host of other online publications. Follow him on Twitter: @TheKidSkoob.