In an interconference showdown between two of the top teams in the NBA, the Oklahoma City took control late in the first half at home and cruised to a convincing victory over the Miami Heat, 103-87. The Thunder used a 12-2 second quarter run to open up a 13-point lead in what had been a close game to that point and led by 11 at halftime. Miami never again got closer than eight.
On a night when All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook battled foul trouble and shot just 4-for-16 from the field, the Thunder were led by MVP candidate Kevin Durant with 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. And although Westbrook was off, Durant had plenty of help from James Harden (19), Serge Ibaka (19) and Kendrick Perkins (16), who combined to shoot a ridiculous 22-for-28. It helped that they got a lot of dunks and layups. Largely because of the efficiency of these three, OKC shot 53 percent for the game against a Miami defense that has allowed its opponents to shoot just just 42 percent on the season, second lowest in the NBA.
If the Thunder have championship aspirations this season, and with the best record in the Conference they certainly appear to be the team mostly likely to reach the Finals from the West, they'll have to prove that they can compete with the likes of the Heat. The question seems to be whether the Thunder can play championship level defense (though if they can score like they did Sunday night, it might not matter). In this game the Thunder forced Miami into 21 turnovers, coming up with 13 steals. The critical 12-2 run was fueled by defense, with four Thunder steals leading to eight of the points.
There was another leading MVP candidate in this game, but the OKC defense mostly kept him quiet as LeBron James finished with 17 points on 18 shots. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 22 and Chris Bosh had 18. But that Thunder defense also forced Miami's stars into some sloppy play, as the big three combined to commit 15 turnovers.
For a Thunder team that had stumbled a bit in March, at one point losing five out of 10 games, this was an important message game -- and they've got several more coming up in short order. Oklahoma City's next five opponents include the Lakers, the Bulls and a re-match in Miami with the Heat. They'll have every opportunity over the next 10 days to send a message to the entire league that they're not just young and talented -- they're ready to compete for a ring right now.
With the win, the Thunder improve to 37-12, best in the Western Conference by three games. The Heat drop to 35-12, three and a half games behind the Bulls for the best record in the East.
For all of Sunday's box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.