The Miami Heat had the Oklahoma City Thunder nearly right where they wanted them through the first three quarters of Tuesday night's opening game of the NBA Finals. Things changed quickly in the fourth quarter, however, and Miami now finds itself with an early deficit in the championship series.
There are going to be a number of things blamed as to why the Heat weren't able to close out the final quarter -- Oklahoma City's defense, Kevin Durant's closing ability and the narrative that LeBron James isn't clutch among them -- but SB Nation's own Heat blog has a different idea.
Surya Fernandez wrote in his recap over at Peninsula Is Mightier that the reason the Heat were unable to close out the game was because Miami's roster was tired. Whether it's due to lack of depth or simple substitution errors by coach Erik Spoelstra, fatigue definitely played a factor.
The Heat looked sluggish on both ends in the second half and were slow to set up their offense as the Thunder started picking up the pace and kept attacking the basket while making jumper after jumper. Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison and Derek Fisher provided quality minutes in support of Durant and Westbrook.
Part of the overall team slump might have been fatigue, with coach Erik Spoelstra making a curious decision to reduce his rotation to just seven players after coming off a grueling seven-game series against the Boston Celtics. This may have been due to to the fact that James Jones was held out of the game because of migraine symptoms. Joel Anthony was only used for two minutes and Ronny Turiaf did not play at all.
A seven-man rotation coming off of a seven-game series seems like it certainly could have been an issue like Fernandez wrote, but he provided further evidence from James at the post-game press conference, ensuring us that it wasn't a factor (while saying yes it was, kind of).
After the game, LeBron wasn't going to use fatigue as an excuse for letting a winnable game slip out of their fingers.
"I don't think so," he responded. "We know we have to have more production for sure. We have to have more guys in there and give me and D-Wade a rest...and Shane (Battier), he played a lot of minutes. Spo will figure that out. We'll be more conscious about it and just try to get a minute or two here and there so we can finish strong. But I don't think it was much of a problem today."
It's going to be interesting to see what happens with the rotations going forward because, if James and Wade are counted on to play as many minutes as they did on Tuesday night, it'll be awfully difficult for them to keep up the energy later in this series.
For more on the Heat, head over to Peninsula Is Mightier and SB Nation Tampa Bay. For Thunder news and notes, visit Welcome To Loud City. And for news, analysis and everything else revolving around the NBA Playoffs, be sure to visit SB Nation's NBA page.