In front of an electrified crowd on Tuesday night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the young Oklahoma City Thunder weathered an early storm against the more seasoned Miami Heat to take the first game of the NBA Finals.
With a convincing 11-point victory, the Thunder control the momentum entering Game Two. When the two teams meet again on Thursday, they will likely feel that they can duplicate their performance from Game One.
The Heat, who are often a lightning rod for criticism, may still be attempting to figure out what went wrong after starting the game with solid play.
Here are three reasons why the Thunder beat the Heat in Game One:
This may be an obvious one, since the Heat don't start a true center, and the only big men that suit up (Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf) spend a majority of the game on the bench. Oklahoma City took over the game in the interior by out-rebounding Miami 43-35, and grabbing 10 offensive boards, compared to Miami's seven. Usually a jump-shooting team, the Thunder were able to pound the ball in the paint and score easy lay ups, with only 6'2 Mario Chalmers recording a blocked shot for the Heat.
With the third member of Miami's big three set to come off of the bench, it looked to be a more even battle of reserves. However, the Thunder bench outscored Miami's back-ups 17-12, despite reigning Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden, only contributing five points on six shots.
Chris Bosh particularly struggled, as the power forward converted just four shots on 11 attempts. The Heat were outscored by 16 points when Bosh was on the floor, and he was only able to pull down five rebounds in 34 minutes of action. Bosh spent a majority of his time on the perimeter, despite being the tallest active member of the Heat.
Many experts questioned the lack of experience from Oklahoma City entering their first Finals appearance. It looked like head coach Scott Brooks' squad was a little overwhelmed when they trailed the Heat by double digits in the first half.
But Brooks, who is also in his first Finals appearance, did not let his team get lost in the moment. He was seen consoling and firing up his players between possessions, keeping their heads in the game.
The Thunder responded in a big way. Russell Westbrook showed that he is very capable of playing point guard at a high level and on a major stage. The rather inconsistent slasher had 11 assists, despite taking four more shots than scoring champion Kevin Durant.
The first game of this series showed that Oklahoma City is ready for this stage of play and Miami should not take them lightly.
LeBron James is in danger of seeing his crown taken away before he can even put it on. Durant became the fourth-youngest player to score 35-plus points in a Finals game and had a much better all-around game than James. In order to come back in this series, the Heat are going to need to play more physically inside and get more efficient production out of Dwayne Wade and Bosh.
Miami's stars may need to be reminded how important this series is to their legacy, or they will be left with the same disappointment they faced last year, and another long summer of questions.