Oklahoma City Rolls Past Miami In Game 1
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Round one goes to OKC. The NBA finals opened last night with the Oklahoma City Thunder beating the Miami Heat 105 to 94. The young, but rapidly maturing Thunder trailed early, but then rolled past a Miami team that's playing in its second straight finals. From Oklahoma City, NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The finals don't start until David Stern has his say. An hour before the tip, the NBA commissioner has a traditional press conference, during which reporters ask about salary cap issues and arena deals - the kind of things that Stern dissects with lawyerly precision. But sprinkled in are questions that prompt the David Stern, Cheshire cat grin.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: With Miami having the glitz and glitter and Oklahoma City being located in a Midwestern Bible Belt area, is this a dream match up for the league and TV ratings?
DAVID STERN: You know you're talking to a commissioner. Everything's a dream match up.
GOLDMAN: Yeah, but this one especially so. There is a whiff of culture war in coast versus heartland. What else in a presidential election year? For those who just want to keep it about b-ball, though, it's plenty dreamy. Two teams stuffed with talent, led by the NBA's preeminent players - league MVP LeBron James of the Heat, league scoring champ Kevin Durant of the Thunder. All the anticipation, all the chatter about a heavyweight matchup, finally the only thing left to do?
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GOLDMAN: Was beat a big drum.
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GOLDMAN: Bible Belt basketball is noisy. The sound in Oklahoma City's Chesapeake Energy Arena is - sorry about this - thunderous - especially when the home team does what it did last night, eventually. The Heat took the early lead with hot shooting and clean basketball - only one turnover in the first quarter. Miami took a seven point lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half, the Thunder made their move. They are an explosive team, and you saw it in the fast breaks and hell bent drives to the hoop. But it was what came before that great offense that sparked the comeback. Here's OKC point guard, Russell Westbrook.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK: It's defensive man. It starts with, you know, us being a great defensive team, everybody helps, you know, each other. And that just shows the maturity of this team.
GOLDMAN: Did Westbrook say maturity? Evidently 23, the age of Westbrook and Durant, is the new 40 - at least in Oklahoma City. The young-but-old Thunder took their first lead as the third quarter ended. Midway through the fourth, the Thunder, in the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, just went away.
CROWD: (Chanting) MVP, MVP, MVP.
GOLDMAN: The MVP chant wasn't for LeBron James, but instead for Durant, the skinny guy who finished second in the NBA most valuable player voting, the skinny guy who fueled that final fourth quarter separation by scoring 17 of his 36 points.
The way the Thunder waved bye-bye to Miami was notable. Criticized in the past for being primarily a jump shooting team, OKC scored 56 of its 105 points in the paint, as they say, near the basket. LeBron James was asked how his team plans to prevent that in the next game.
LEBRON JAMES: Not give up 56 points in the paint.
GOLDMAN: James wasn't laughing. Still, the Heat sounded fine. It was a feel out game, they said. Make adjustments, come back Thursday and try to take one on the Thunder's home court. And hope OKC doesn't go away again.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, Oklahoma City.
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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.