December in Miami feels a lot like late spring
MIAMI — With all the newfangled numbers going around the NBA, there’s probably some way to figure out the date of the game most similar to the one played Tuesday at AmericanAirlines.
But for the immediate lack of a formula, we’ll say it was most like that point in the playoffs when the intensity really heats up … let’s say May 12.
After his Miami Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-97 in a Christmas Day rematch of last June’s NBA Finals, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “It felt a little bit like a different month.’’
One presumes Spoelstra meant June. And Heat guard Dwyane Wade didn’t disagree.
“It was one of those late-June-type of games,’’ Wade said of what drew a record AmericanAirlines Arena record crowd of 20,300. “Playoff intensity.’’
Heat center Chris Bosh agreed with Spoelstra and Wade but forwards LeBron James and Shane Battier weren’t buying it. Asked if it felt like June, James, who had a team-high 29 points, flatly said, “No. It felt like Christmas.’’
An attempt was made to negotiate with James that it was at least like a May game, and he was more open to that. So that’s what we’ll go with.
It was a game that had playoff intensity, if not Finals intensity. But just wait. It was a game that showed things are continuing to simmer in this growing rivalry.
Forget Peace on Earth. The Christmas affair featured five technical fouls, three on the Thunder and two on the Heat. There was a flagrant foul initially called on Battier before it was overturned by a video review.
“It’s always intense when we play,’’ said Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who scored a game-high 33 points in the first meeting with Miami since the Heat won the Finals in five games last June. “That’s how the game goes when you want to win so badly.’’
The most chippy it got was with 10:52 left in the game and the Heat leading 77-72. Battier banged into Russell Westbrook on a breakaway, with Wade also getting a piece of the Thunder point guard.
Battier said he “got the ball’’ and officials apparently agreed. But Westbrook fell into the basket stanchion and got mad, which led to Thunder forward Serge Ibaka confronting Wade. Both Ibaka and Wade received technicals.
“Me and Shane made a good play on the ball,’’ said Wade, who added 21 points while backcourt mate Mario Chalmers had 20. “Because it was so fast and the way (Westbrook) hit the backstand, it looked like more than it was. Ibaka, what players do is they run up to try to protect their teammates. He just came a little too close. I pushed him off, and we both got techs.”
Wade said he eventually cleared matters up with Ibaka. The rest of the game saw the Thunder being the only ones getting mad.
With the Heat up 96-95 and the shot clock running down, James threw a beautiful pass inside for a Bosh dunk and a 98-95 lead with 25.5 seconds left. Durant, Westbrook and Thunder center Kendrick Perkins all then appeared to yell at teammate Kevin Martin for blowing a defensive assignment.
The Thunder did have a chance to tie the score in the waning seconds when trailing 100-97. But Durant misfired on a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left.
Westbrook got the rebound and fired a 3-pointer from the right side that missed. Feeling he got fouled by Wade, Westbrook pounded a courtside table, an episode that got him a technical.
“It’s part of the game,’’ Westbrook said of Wade not being whistled. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.’’
It hasn’t been going Oklahoma City’s way lately against Miami. After dropping the last four games of the Finals, the Thunder have lost five straight to the Heat.
“They’re using this game as a measuring stick for them because of what happened (in the Finals), and we’ve been in that situation,’’ Bosh said of the Heat knowing what it’s like to try to bounce back after losing in the Finals. “But we want to get better. We want to win it again, too.’’
The Thunder (21-6) might still have a slightly better record than the Heat (19-6). But Durant knows there is still work to do for Oklahoma City to catch up with the champions.
“We just have to move on and keep getting better,’’ Durant said. “I think we did a great job of fighting … We were still two punches from them.’’
It would figure that Durant, who like James got a first-quarter technical for jawing at the officials, would use a boxing reference. The physical game saw the Heat whistled for 26 fouls and the Thunder for 25, although the free-throw numbers were a lot different. Oklahoma City was 32-of-38 from the line and Miami 19-of-19.
Heck, even James got a foul Tuesday. Since last having had one Dec. 8 against New Orleans, James had played six full games without one until being whistled in Tuesday’s first quarter.
“As soon as I got my first foul, I said, ‘OK, we can move and I can start another foul-less streak,’ ’’ James said.
James played his typical complete game, scoring 20 or more points for 25th time in 25 games this season and totaling eight rebounds and nine assists. But he still wouldn’t budge when it came to saying it felt like a June game.
“It had a great feel to it,’’ James said. “I’m not going to say it was just a regular regular-season game, but nothing compares to June.’’
The word here, though, is it at least felt like May.