The Miami Heat began the third quarter of Game 1 of the NBA finals leading by seven points. The Heat had played brilliantly throughout the first half, executing crisp passes that criscrossed the floor and left the Thunder unable to close out on wide open three-point shooters. It looked like the Heat were on their way to stealing one on the road.
And then Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant basically said, "Fuck that noise." The Thunder's two bombastic stars scored a combined 41 points during the second half while the Heat as a team scored 40. What should have been a Westbrook and Durant versus LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shootout turned into two young stars teaching two older stars a lesson about how to take over a game.
Westbrook and Durant were extraordinary in this game, and James and Wade failed to match them. The Thunder ratcheted up their defensive intensity, and James and Wade were unable to will their team back into being the free-flowing unit that they were in the first half. The Thunder were getting stops and unleashing Westbrook and Durant on the break (OKC had an 11-0 advantage in fast-break points in the second half), while the Heat's offense grinded to a halt. It didn't have to be this way, though. Wade and James are good enough that they should be able to outmaneuver even the league's best defensive teams. But on this night, they couldn't, and there was a reason why.
Westbrook and Durant unleashed that 41-point second-half barrage, and they did it in a way that felt completely natural. Westbrook was rocketing down the court and knifing into the air at the free-throw line for pull-up jumpers, and he was whipping passes to Durant, setting him up for easy dunks and open three-pointers. Durant was running the wing, taking defenders into the post, and getting after rebounds. Westbrook and Durant played fast and hard, but more importantly, they played without thinking too much. Both Westbrook and Durant simply made the most of the opportunities that were available to them. Neither tried to put his own personal choke hold on the game, choosing instead to let things unfold naturally.
That ability to perform as an effective duo was the primary difference between Westbrook-Durant and James-Wade. The question with James and Wade sometimes seems to be: "Which one of us will take over the game tonight? Who will be the best player on the floor?" Whereas the question with Westbrook and Durant often seems to not even be a question at all, but rather a statement: "Let's just go out there and destroy some people."
As a basketball fan, I hope James and Wade can learn to emulate their counterparts before this series is over, because I can't imagine anything more thrilling than four of the league's best players just, well, playing.
Photo via Getty.