Thunder 96 - HEAT 85 Recap

MIAMI – The Miami HEAT’s 96-85 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder was a revelation for a very simple reason: we know exactly why they lost.

Where the HEAT’s recent five-game losing streak left the team searching not only for answers, but even for the questions to ask, this loss represented a strange sense of progress. After all, when you know how you lost, you know what it is you have to fix. And with knowledge comes acceptance.

“You know this game right here feels different,” Dwyane Wade said. “They came in, they got the win, they beat us. You can accept that as long as you play with the energy and the effort and you play hard, the ball just didn’t go in the basket enough for us tonight.”

It was more complicated than that, of course, but shot-making, more so than shot-earning, was indeed an issue. After riding 45 percent shooting to a 12-2 run, featuring three consecutive dunks, that closed out the first half, the HEAT shot 10-of-34 in the second half, scoring eight points in the paint after the break, with only two additional second-chance points and six more fast-break points to compensate. Many of the shots were open, many were well-earned, many were better than shots the Thunder were making, but they didn’t fall.

“We had opportunities to execute, sometimes we would execute . . . but we couldn’t convert,” Erik Spoelstra said.

“We did have some opportunities to get into the paint. We weren’t able to capitalize tonight. We mishandled some balls in the paint, sometimes we missed, sometimes we missed the opportunity to find some weak-side looks.”

Not that this is a write-off. The HEAT got beat for reasons that stretch beyond probabilities. First, foremost and head and shoulders above all else? Second-chance points.

Miami did not play a poor defensive game, holding the Thunder to sub-40 percent shooting, they just couldn’t complete those defensive possessions, allowing 17 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points. Aside from the occasional long rebound, HEAT defenders were often out of position, either caught too far under the basket or over-helping across the paint.

“We had some very active defensive possessions where we covered a lot of ground, contesting shots and again those second chance opportunities really collapses your spirit when you have a 22-second defensive possession force them into a contested shot, what your trying to do, and it ends up being a layup,” Spoelstra said.

“We have to finish these possessions with sacrifice blockouts, hand-to-hand under the basket and getting off the floor, being athletic. We’ve got to win those skirmishes, they dominated that area tonight.”

Having so many possessions fall short at the last moment had the apparent residual effect of demoralizing Miami’s defense, to the point where it slowly deteriorated for stretches before a timeout was called. The Miami mind also appeared affected by their own misses, three at-rim misses from Wade in the first quarter, for example, leading to stretches of those one-pass, one-shot possessions everyone can recognize at this stage in the season.

And with Miami operating with a double-digit deficit for most of the second half – with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hitting leaning, pull-up jumper all along the way – there just wasn’t enough to get over the hump.

Still, all of the issues are one the HEAT have shown the ability to correct within a short period of time, and though Chris Bosh said the team doesn’t want to disregard a loss because a few things didn’t go their way, there’s value in such clarity. It doesn’t fully compensate for a loss, but it offers a clear mind during rest, and a clear focus during the upcoming work.

“We have to do what we normally do,” Spoelstra said. “Pick ourselves up, regroup, refresh and get focused for the game Friday at Atlanta.”