The Miami Heat held a lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder for nearly all of the first three quarters Tuesday night, but never regained it once Oklahoma City went on top. Miami has to make some adjustments on both ends of the floor, but now is no time to panic. The Mavericks lost to the Heat 92-84 in Game 1 of last year's NBA Finals. Boston lost, 102-89, to the Lakers in Game 1 of the 2010 Finals. Yet both teams came back to win Game 2 on the road. Miami still has an opportunity to get the split on the road Thursday, but the Heat need to exhibit a higher level of aggression on both ends of the court.
Miami's frequent switching on defense was a mixed bag in the Eastern Conference Finals. It really hurt the Heat against the Thunder. On the handful of possessions Dwyane Wade guarded Kevin Durant, Wade did a good job of contesting the shot. Durant just has the height advantage over Wade. Grantland's Sebastian Pruiti pointed out that the Heat successfully trapped Russell Westbrook in the regular season, forcing turnovers. In Game 1, the Heat switched the pick-and-roll, allowing Westbrook to get into the lane for layups or find Serge Ibaka for open dunks. Switching so much defensively also allowed the Thunder to grab some offensive rebounds when Oklahoma City did miss in the second half, which wasn't often.
In addition to defending the pick-and-roll more aggressively, the Heat should also give Joel Anthony more playing time. Westbrook found no resistance at the rim on his third-quarter drives, and Anthony provides that shot-blocking ability. That's part of the reason why Erik Spoelstra should start Chris Bosh tomorrow night. If Miami starts Haslem and Bosh, Anthony will stand as the first (and probably only) big man off the bench.
Going back to the starting lineup Miami used against New York and Game 1 of the Pacers series will also put the best perimeter defender in the game on Durant. James' defensive assignment on Kendrick Perkins looked great early on, allowing him to switch off pick-and-rolls, roam and collect four steals. But Shane Battier couldn't guard Durant during the Grizzlies/Thunder series last year and still can't guard him. It's OK to give Battier the assignment at times, but LeBron James is arguably the best defensive player in the NBA. He needs to take that challenge.
Offensively, the Big Three have to stop settling for so many jump shots. James was the most aggressive of the Heat's stars by far. He made two consecutive straight-line drives to the basket in the third quarter to halt a Thunder run and made two shots in the fourth quarter despite getting fouled both times. But he took a few jumpers on Durant when he could have driven to the basket.
As for the other two, they thoroughly disappointed. Wade made his first two jumpers on the baseline, but attempted way too many jump shots. If someone wants to look at the silver lining for Wade, he did get into the lane much more frequently late in the fourth quarter. Bosh never attempted his signature "pump fake, hard drive" move to the basket in the game. He is a great shooter for a big man, but needs to include some drives to the basket to diversify his game.
Other adjustments - like playing with a deeper rotation - will come easily. James Jones was out with a migraine Tuesday night, and he may have a role in this series with Mike Miller running on fumes. But if the Heat simply play more aggressively on the pick-and-roll and with the Big 3, Miami should get what it wants: a split on the road.