Kevin Durant showed LeBron James how to play the fourth quarter in the NBA Finals, scoring 17 of his 36 points to lead Oklahoma City Thunder to a 105-94 win over the Miami Heat on Tuesday and a 1-0 lead in the series.
Teaming with Russell Westbrook to outscore the Heat in the second half by themselves, Kevin Durant struck first in his head-to-head matchup with James, who had seven points in the final quarter and was helpless to stop the league’s three-time scoring champion.
Westbrook turned around a poor shooting start to finish with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for the Thunder, which surged late in the third period to take the lead for good.
Scoring in nearly every way possible, Kevin Durant finished 12 of 20 from the field and added eight rebounds. He and Westbrook alone outscored the Heat 41-40 over the final two periods, showing that maybe this time it will be offense that wins championships.
James finished with 30 points, his most in any of his 11 finals games, but had only one basket over the first 8:15 of the fourth, when the Thunder seized control of a game they had trailed for all but the final few seconds of the first three quarters.
For James, it was a painful reminder of last year’s finals when he averaged just three points in the fourth quarters of the Heat’s six-game loss to Dallas, taking almost all the heat for Miami’s failure.
Dwyane Wade had 19 points but shot just 7 of 19 for the Heat, while Shane Battier provided some rare offense by scoring 17 points, his high this postseason.
Oklahoma City improved to 9-0 at home in the postseason.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said his team, pushed to seven games against Boston in a grueling conference finals that ended Saturday, preferred a quick turnaround ahead of the finals. But the fadeout suggested the Heat struggled against the young Thunder, whose core players are all 23 and younger and look as if they could keep playing all night.
James and Wade both were bent over, hands on knees, during one stoppage with about 7 minutes remaining. Kevin Durant kept pouring it on, racing down the court to throw down a fast-break dunk and later adding a 3-pointer that pushed it to 87-81 with 6 1-2 minutes remaining.
The Heat got within four points, but Kevin Durant hit two quick baskets and Westbrook added another for a 10-point lead with 3:35 to go.
Both Kevin Durant and James tried to downplay their individual matchup, Durant insisting it was about the team and James adamant that he didn’t care about the best player in the game argument.
It was James’ supporting cast that stepped up bigger to start, the Heat hitting five of their six 3-point attempts in jumping to a 29-22 lead after one quarter. Spoelstra kept Chris Bosh as a reserve, the role he has played since returning from a nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. Battier hit his first three 3-point attempts in the opening minutes to spark Miami’s strong start.
Kevin Durant took only one shot in the second quarter, and it wasn’t until 9 minutes had passed. By then, the Heat had built a lead as large as 13 points, keeping it in or near double digits most of the period before the Thunder sliced it to 54-47 at halftime.
James quickly answered after Oklahoma City tied the game for the first time at 60-all midway through the third, banking in a shot and powering in for a layup and a quick four-point lead. The Heat pushed the lead back to five but the Thunder kept coming, finally pulling ahead for the first time when Westbrook darted into the lane and was fouled while scoring with 16.4 seconds remaining, the free throw making it 74-73.
Baskets by Kevin Durant and Sefolosha to open the fourth pushed it to a five-point lead, and the Heat never recovered.
Game 2 is Thursday in Oklahoma City.