The stage wasn't too big on Tuesday night.
Miami was counting on at least some "NBA Finals jitters" when it came to Oklahoma City's twin 23-year-old superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but the moment affected neither as the Thunder rallied to take the opener of the NBA Finals.
The Heat's dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will try to answer the bell tonight with Game 2 on tap from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook dominated the third quarter to get Oklahoma City back in Game 1 and 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.
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 after watching his team improve to 9-0 at home in the postseason.
Down by double digits for most of the first half, it didn't take long for the Thunder to make it a game again 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."
James led Miami with 30 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals, while Wade added 19 points and eight assists but shot just 7-for-19 from the floor. Battier scored 13 of his 17 points in the first half for the Heat, who were dominated in the paint (56-40) and in transition (24-4).
Afterward Miami coach Erik Spoelstra lamented his team's defensive effort.
"We have to get stops," the Heat 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.
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.
"They're fast, they're explosive, so we'll have to adjust to that speed," Spoelstra said of the Thunder. "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."
To casual observers the main storyline of this series is the matchup between James, the three-time NBA MVP, and Durant, a three-time scoring champion. Last season Miami's failure in The Finals was put on the broad shoulders of James, particularly after his repeated fourth-quarter failings in the Heat's eventual loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
James was outplayed in the final frame by Durant on Wednesday but performed well and had a strong game overall. This time the blame has shifted toward Wade, who has had an up and down postseason while dealing with a balky knee.
"A lot of times I try to let him figure it out on his own, but sometimes I go to him and tell him I need one of those games from him," James said when taking about his co-star on Wednesday. "He still has it. He knows he still has it, too, but every player needs a little kick every now and then, no matter how time tested they are."
Wade also understands his team needs more from him.
"I want to score more points," the 2006 NBA Finals MVP said. "I don't deal with the pressure of that. That's when you start thinking too much, you start overanalyzing things. I want to score more points, I want to get my team more to give us an opportunity to win the series. I'll be more aggressive. looking for my opportunities a lot more, probably than I have of late."
As for Brooks, he just wants more of the same from his charges.
"We just play," the Oklahoma City pilot said. "We just played hard basketball. We do our best every possession. We're not going to totally stop them from scoring and getting where they want to get, but we just want to make it tough."
Miami and OKC split a pair of regular season meetings with Oklahoma City forcing 21 turnovers and rolling to a 103-87 victory at home on March 25 before the Heat rallied for a 98-93 win in Miami on April 4.
These two franchises have never met in the postseason before and each have one NBA championship on their resume. The Heat topped the Mavs in six games back in 2006 while the Thunder won a title in 1979 as the Sonics, besting the Washington Bullets in five.
Game 3 of the series will take place on Sunday in Miami.