Chris Bosh makes a late dunk. - Marc Serota
The Miami Heat made just enough plays down the stretch to hold off the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder 103-97 on Christmas Day.
I thought we might see a little bad blood between these two in their first meeting since the Heat won the 2012 NBA championship. Sure enough, sparks flew early in the fourth quarter when Russell Westbrook objected to Shane Battier's dastardly blow to Westbrook's left elbow on a layup attempt. The officials correctly changed the original Flagrant 1 call to a common foul and Serge Ibaka and Dwyane Wade received offsetting technicals. How Westbrook incited the entire ordeal and came out of it unscathed is beyond me.
Westbrook has struggled against the Heat for most of his career, and Tuesday was no different. He shot 5-for-19 and had just three assists, although he did get to the line 12 times (making 10 of them) and hauled in 11 rebounds. The gameplan with Westbrook is to keep him out of the lane and make him hit jumpers, but that's far easier said than done. Miami did force Westbrook to commit five turnovers.
Wade seemed to be invigorated by the brief scuffle, scoring eight points from that point forward, including a violent one-handed smash that was a nightly occurrence in 2006 but has become less and less a staple of his game.
Maybe Mario Chalmers is an avid HHH reader, because he played like a guy who read today's game preview and was tired of losing minutes to Norris Cole. Chalmers, mired in a season-long slump, scored 12 of his 20 points in the first quarter. Most impressively, he played 37 minutes of turnover-free basketball and shot 4-for-8 from three-point territory. Here's hoping today was another step in the right direction for Chalmers rather than an outlier performance.
While Chalmers and Mike Miller connected on six of their 11 threes, the rest of the Heat shot just 2-for-17 from beyond the arc. The Heat bench shot 3-for-16 from the field. Ray Allen was invisible for the most part, although he did hit two big free throws to keep Miami's lead at three before the Thunder's final possession.
Oklahoma City got to the free throw line all night, finishing with a 38-18 advantage. The Heat took advantage of all 18 of their attempts, however, shooting 100 percent from the charity stripe. The Thunder made 32 of their 38 attempts (84%).
LeBron James is something else. So is Kevin Durant. As someone who is too young to remember the Bird-Magic and Jordan-Isaiah duals, the long-term rivalry potential with these two is exciting. Basketball savants, both of them.
Kendrick Perkins continues to play important minutes, but it's hard to find anyone who knows why. The Thunder are a better team with Nick Collison in the game, but Scott Brooks doesn't know it yet.
Miami held the NBA's No. 1 offense to 97 points on 42.3 percent shooting, including just 5-for-16 on threes. All of the free throws bumped the Thunder's true shooting percentage up to 55.3%, but that's still good work by the Heat.
For more on the Thunder, check out Welcome to Loud City.