You’d forgive a viewer for chalking up this loss to a hot shooting night for the Heat against an undermanned Thunder squad, which lacked Steven Adams for the game and Terrance Ferguson (who had another bout of in-game illness) for most of it.
Miami made 14 threes, but it felt like 40. The treys rained down early (the Heat were 6-7 from deep in the opening frame) and the rest seemed to always come as emphatic run-stoppers. DT follower Josh Ferris put this feeling into words:
But the Thunder were fine on offense, and made more (17) threes than their foe. They made just one fewer three pointer in the first period, even, while sinking to a 40-26 deficit. Danilo Gallinari was 7-12 from that range by himself, putting another insanely efficient game together with 27 points on 15 shots.
But after developing a penchant for epic comebacks, Oklahoma City now has another common game type in their repertoire: hanging around but still losing.
Miami went up by more than 20 in the second, and never let the Thunder get closer than 10 midway through the fourth. There was no fury to the Thunder comeback efforts, just peskiness. And yet. With 4 minutes to go, Dennis Schroder’s and-one crossed the invisible 10-point force-field to get it within nine (108-99). And with Chris Paul’s three at the 2:02 mark, it was 112-105, Miami. But the Heat rode out a pretty ho-hum finish to close.
This wasn’t a fluky loss. I chalk it up to the following:
- The Heat are significantly better than the Thunder.
- The Thunder’s defense is a problem
OKC has a defensive rating of 118.5 over their last four games (of which they’ve lost three), the worst mark outside of the state of Ohio. Their starters are at 118.0 on the season. They shouldn’t, on paper, win games against teams that are so much better. There has been a lot of magic this season, but it will take plenty more of it for the Thunder keep defying the odds.
After a blazing post-Thanksgiving stretch, being five games up on the playoff bubblers suddenly doesn’t seem quite so secure.
- Starting for Adams, Nerlens Noel opened the game making his “you can trade Adams and still make the playoffs” case. He scored the first 7 points for the Thunder.
- Or, a “you should trade for me” case to some contender higher up the pecking order.
- As one of his opening shots was a three, he fueled more “what if the Thunder actually encouraged their bigs to extend their range?” curiosity.
- I really wanted to add an actual post-game quotation from Noel here to keep the streak going, but alas, there was none.
- Noel had another hilarious overplay on defense, getting his ankles broken by a Bam Adebayo off-ball cut above the arc. Just, how?
- Man, Bam. I have to admit that I was one of those mocking the idea that the Heat hoped he was becoming Draymond Greenish before the season. I was wrong.
- I don’t know how opponents tolerate Meyers Leonard swagger. I could not abide.
- Like most games, there were still flashes of encouragement from Thunder U. A fast break dunk in and over traffic by Darius Bazley here, a Hamidou Diallo poster there, SGA crafty finishes everywhere.
- 8 assists from Shai when not chasing a triple-double is the most encouraging big-picture takeaway for the night.
- I’ve already established this as a no-excuse recap zone (apologizers will be blocked in the comments), but it does bear mentioning just how tough the schedule has been for the Thunder. They’ll have three more game days than off-days for the month of January, and the injuries and quality of opponent haven’t made it any easier.