OKLAHOMA CITY — They say LeBron James will come out and guard Kevin Durant from the start, because you’ve got to put your best defender on the other team’s best player.
Doesn’t mean it will work. Doesn’t mean that won’t open other doors for the Thunder in Game 2, which tips off at 8 tonight inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. It doesn’t even mean the Heat had it all wrong in Game 1, when James came out guarding, of all people, Kendrick Perkins.
Because Durant hadn’t done too much through three quarters, and though he scored 17 in the fourth, maybe that’s just what he does in fourth quarters, like he’s been doing it in these playoffs all along against Dallas, Los Angeles, San Antonio and now Miami.
But maybe it’s a game changer, King James guarding KD the whole game. Maybe that’s the Heat’s ticket.
It is offered in the name of anything, however remote, remaining possible.
Because many things appear to be true after one game in this series, and just about all favor the winner of Game 1. Still, if you’re objective is imagining how it could all turn, that’s one way.
James clamps down on Durant and the Thunder are never the same, kind of like Oklahoma wasn’t the same, on both sides of the ball, that day Sam Bradford suffered a concussion at Texas Tech trying to make a tackle.
Just as likely — more likely — is the Thunder really find their game. It is not brought up often, but there is so much more upside with this basketball team.
Tuesday night, one line of questioning was why Oklahoma City didn’t come out playing hard.
“I know I could have played harder,” point guard Russell Westbrook said. “And our coaching staff and the other guys on the team just emphasized, once I started playing harder, everybody else will follow.”
Durant followed suit.
“Just being in the finals, we (were) kind of nervous, I guess,” he said. “That’s something we can’t … it can’t happen next game or the rest of the series. Just got to come out with a lot of energy.”
And Oklahoma City didn’t hits its free throws as usual in the first half Tuesday, making 11 of 18. And Westbrook didn’t shoot well, making only 3 of 10 before canning 7 of 14 after the break. And the Thunder turned it over eight times the first 24 minutes to Miami’s four. The Heat led on the boards, too, in the first half — 20-17 — only for the Thunder to grab a 43-35 edge by game’s end.
Oh, and Oklahoma City wasn’t playing a whole lot of defense in the moments after the tip.
“We gave them a lot of open looks and had a lot of breakdowns,” forward Nick Collison said. “If you give a shooter confidence, they’re going to be able to hit more.”
All of that and NBA sixth man of the year James Harden scored five points and played less than half the game; in part because Thabo Sefolosha was needed defensively, but also because he wasn’t particularly effective.
Scott Brooks and Erik Spoelstra will say their teams must play 48 minutes, just as college coaches will say their teams must play 40 and high school coaches will say their teams must play 32.
Only nobody does.
Nobody plays their best game every minute just like nobody — other than Serge Ibaka in Game 4 against San Antonio — hits every shot they put up.
Still, where the Thunder are concerned, there’s more where that came from.
A lot more.
“We have a level of play that we want to establish every game, and like I said, we were guarding them, but we weren’t really guarding them,” Brooks said after Game 1. “There’s a big difference, and I thought we did that in the second half. And when we do that, we’re good.”
So good, maybe, it’s all about them. It’s the Thunder’s game and the Heat are simply living in it.
Eventually, Oklahoma City got there opening night. But what if the Thunder don’t wait?
It’s asking a lot.
It’s the finals.
Clay Horning 366-3526 firstname.lastname@example.org