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The Sixth Man: Spoelstra must trust bench moving forward

Erik Spoelstra should have added one wrinkle to his halftime routine during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The Miami coach should have checked the radar because that low rumble he heard wasn't just Thunder, it was some kind of supercell that ripped through the Heat like an F-5 tornado rampaging over a trailer park.

Russell Westbrook dominated the third quarter to get Oklahoma City back in the game and Kevin Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth as the Thunder exploded in the second half during their 105-94 victory over the Heat.

Miami was counting on at least some "NBA Finals jitters" when it came to OKC's twin 23-year-old superstars, but the moment affected neither and the Heat's dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade finally felt what it's like to be outgunned.

In fact, Durant and Westbrook were so good they outscored the entire Heat team (41-40) after intermission, as Oklahoma City flipped a switch and used its youth and athleticism to get out in transition at will.

"I thought we showed a lot of toughness in that second half. Our guys did a great job of competing in the second half," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said.

Down by double digits for most of the first half, it didn't take long for the Thunder to exert their force in the third quarter, with Westbrook spearheading some lively defense and ball movement which forced the kind of up-and-down tempo Miami has to avoid like the plague.

The Heat responded for a bit and built a five-point edge at 71-66 on James' driving slam, but the Thunder finally got over the hump and took the lead with an 8-2 scoring stretch to close the quarter. Westbrook's three-point play with 16.4 ticks to go gave Oklahoma City its first advantage of the entire game.

"I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end, made them feel us a little bit," Westbrook said. "We did a great job of being aggressive on the defensive end, and that led to easy points offensively."

From there, Durant took over with his George Gervin-like scoring ability. First it was a stick-back off a Westbrook miss followed by a long 3-pointer and another tough jumper for an 89-83 OKC lead. Yet another Durant jumper and a drive in which he used his lengthy frame to drop a lay-up in over Shane Battier helped build a 93-83 cushion.

James hung in and his three-point play with 1:38 to go made it a 97-92 game, but Nick Collison's baseline slam off a brilliant pass from Durant essentially sealed the win.

"I'm not trying to force anything," Durant said. "For this whole playoffs, I'm just trying to play my game, be aggressive, and if I see a shot I have to take it, and if I see a pass I have to pass it."

Afterward, Spoelstra lamented his team's defensive effort.

"We have to get stops," the Miami mentor said. "We are a better defensive team than we showed tonight. They pounded us in all of the big muscle areas. They have players who are tough enough to guard individually anyway."

That's true, but Spoelstra gave his charges little help by keeping his rotation so short against the NBA's most talented team. Chris Bosh was the only Miami reserve to get major minutes and Brooks' bench played over 71 minutes compared to just over 45 for their counterparts.

The main storyline of this series to the casual fan is the matchup between James, the three-time NBA MVP, and Durant, a three-time scoring champion, but that's the fluff. The real story is Miami's lack of perceived options around its Big Three and whether it can hold up in a long series against the Thunder.

The Heat managed just fine for 24 minutes in Game 1 when players like Battier and Mario Chalmers were knocking down open shots and contributing, but that was fool's gold.

Eventually production from role players will dry up and as a coach you have to understand that and pilot things accordingly. In Spoelstra's case, he has to understand playing the bench is a means to an end.

In Spoelstra's defense, James Jones was unavailable for Game 1 after suffering a migraine headache, but the lack of trust in the rest of the his bench was glaring. Norris Cole's inconsistency and the lack of offense coming from Joel Antony and Ronny Turiaf might keep the young coach up at night, but lengthening the rotation is paramount if only to buy time and save minutes for James and Wade so their legs are fresher down the stretch.

"I'm going to have to see who's really available," Spoelstra said. "You know, going into this game, we were going to try to keep a tight rotation, maybe not as tight as it was, and give this our best shot. But I'll probably try to go a little bit deeper in Game 2."

He'll have to.

This isn't the Boston Celtics anymore, trying to run with Oklahoma City while using only six players is essentially signing your own death warrant.

"They're fast, they're explosive, so we'll have to adjust to that speed," Spoelstra said. "We're a confident team, it's a long series. We do have a toughness to be able to bounce back, and we'll have to learn from this and certainly make the adjustments to those speed and athleticism and effort areas that we lost."