By Michael Kinney
For those who have not been paying attention, the Oklahoma City Thunder are not the disaster squad many had projected them to be when the season began. With a few big wins they have been playing solid basketball on a nightly basis.
However, the Thunder have nights where their youth tends to show up and they can’t get over the hump.
That was the case Monday when they took on a shorthanded Miami Heat squad. After staying close for three quarters, the Heat pulled away to take a 103-90 victory at the Paycom Center.
The loss was the second in row for the Thunder, who are in the middle of three-game homestand in four days.
Tyler Herro paced the Heat with 26 points on 9 of 18 shooting. He also dished out six assists and grabbed seven boards.
Duncan Robinson added 21 points and hit 5 of 12 shots from 3-point range in the win.
For the second straight night, Oklahoma City’s Lu Dort posted a 20 point effort and was 4 of 8 from behind the arc. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the team’s leading scorer, was held to 10 points on 2 of 11 shooting.
Darious Bazley only scored 7 points, but he threw in seven rebounds and five blocked shots in the loss.
“I think the blocked shots are a barometer of his activity,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “He brought energy to the game.”
Miami was without the services of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Both were in the arena but did not suit up. But since they took part in the pre-game shoot-around, it seems to have been a healthy scratch.
Even without two of the Heat’s best defensive players, the Thunder tried to make a living from the perimeter early on. They hit 5-of-11 from 3-point range in the first quarter and held a 24-23 lead.
Oklahoma City got a strong first half from Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The rookie out of Villanova posted 10 points, three boards and two assists to help keep the contest tied 43-43 at halftime. He finished the night with a career-high 16 points. That includes hitting four 3-points.
“In today’s league you have to be able to stretch the floor,” Robinson-Earl said.
The Heat came out of halftime running and grabbed a 10 point advantage midway through the third quarter. Robinson and Herro were able to find their shots from all over the perimeter.
Oklahoma City cooled down from behind the 3-point line. Miami seemed to let them keep shooting from out there and then gobbled up the rebounds.
“We need to continue to take what the defense gives us,” Daigneault said. “We have to continue not to fight how they are going to guard us.”
However, after falling down by 14 points, the Thunder started attacking the basket and getting the ball out and converting fastbreak opportunities. They had cut the Heat lead down to 74-67 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Thunder fell behind by 18 points early in the quarter and it looked like the Heat were about to run away with the contest. However, Oklahoma City found themselves only down 10 with just over four minutes left in the game.
Dort cut it 8 with a tough drive down the lane for a layup with 2:37 left.
But PJ Tucker hit a corner 3 to give the Heat an 11 point advantage. After Gilgeous-Alexander missed a long shot attempt, Robinson knocked down another 3-pointer for the Heat.
With 40 seconds left Robinson-Earl knocked down a 3-pointer and the Thunder were down 103-90. But it was too little too late as the Heat just ran out the clock to close out the game.
Oklahoma City shot 15 of 41 from 3-point range and were outre. They also managed 10 blocked shots which helped keep them in the contest.
“We are trying to be a good rim protection team,” said OKC’s Aleksej Pokusevski. “If we bring it every night we give ourselves a good chance to win.”
Oklahoma City (5-8) returns to action Wednesday when they host the Houston Rockets. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the Paycom Center.