Chicago Sun-Times

The Magnificent 7: Durant outduels LeBron in Game 1

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The seven players who made the biggest impact on Game 1 of the NBA Finals:

1. Kevin Durant, Thunder

Willowy, wiry, long-armed 6-10 forward showed off his versatility, scoring seven different ways en route to 17 fourth-quarter points -- a put-back, a one-handed floater, a fast-break dunk, a three-pointer, a drive, a two-point jumper and four free throws. Finished with an eloquent 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting, with eight rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot. On defense, went for the first pump-fake LeBron James gave him in the first quarter and was called for a foul -- but never was fooled again.


2. Russell Westbrook, Thunder

Effervescent shoot-first point guard has no conscience when it comes to putting it up, which came in handy after a 2-of-10 first-half. Hit 7-of-14 second-half shots and scored 18 of his 27 points after halftime. While Durant did most of the scoring in the fourth quarter, Westbrook's six points in the final 2:00 of the third quarter that turned a 71-66 deficit into a 74-73 lead might have been the key to the game. Westbrook added 11 assists and eight rebounds to go along with a solid defensive effort, including a few rounds with James.

3. LeBron James, Heat

Maybe he should be concerned with being the best player in the game. Though LeBron put up good overall numbers -- 30 points, nine rebounds, four steals -- he not only came up short in the fourth quarter (2-of-6, seven points, two rebounds, one assist, no steals, no blocks), but particularly paled in comparison to Durant's heroics with the game on the line. Did his best work in the third quarter when things got tight, but it was mostly on his own, single-mindedly driving to the basket. When the Thunder defended that in the fourth quarter, LeBron had little impact.


4. Nick Collison, Thunder

Former Kirk Hinrich cohort at Kansas couldn't catch a break from the officials but still played his bit supporting role to the hilt with eight points on 4-of-5 shooting -- including three dunks -- and 10 rebounds (five offensive) in 21 minutes. His Garnett-like ability to keep possessions alive by tipping offense rebounds to teammates led to two huge hoops -- a Thabo Sefolosha layup that gave the Thunder a 78-73 lead early in the fourth quarter and a Durant three-pointer that gave the Thunder an 87-81 lead with 6:27 to go.


5. Dwyane Wade, Heat

Whether or not it was a coincidence, the pride of Richards High School was treated like just another player on the court by the officials and struggled to get in any kind of offensive rhythm. Even on bad nights he usually has a hot streak, but this 19-point, 7-for-19, eight-assist effort lacked even a single electrifying surge that has made Wade an all-time great. In the end, he didn't seem sure of himself, perhaps the most ominous sign for the Heat.


6. Shane Battier, Heat

Having a former Dukie who is used to being the villain seemed to be paying NBA Finals dividends for the beleaguered Heat when Battier hit three three-pointers in the first 6:09 of the game as the Heat built an early 20-10 lead. Battier had 13 points by halftime, but was caught in the undertow of the Durant-Westbrook wave in the second-half, when the Thunder duo outscored the Heat 41-40. Battier finished with 17 points, but was silent in the fourth quarter -- missing the only shot he took, a three-pointer during a 6-0 Thunder run that gave he hosts a 93-83 lead with 3:29 to go.


7. Monty McCutchen, et al., NBA referees

The Thunder weren't the only ones with first-game jitters Tuesday night. The NBA's crew of outstanding officials with good reputations -- McCutchen, Ed Malloy and Derrick Stafford -- had a Dwyane Wade-like performance, unable to establish any rhythm or consistency from the opening tip. Two redeeming qualities of their tough night can't be ignored: virtually no "superstar" treatment -- Thabo Sefolosha was given benefits that usually go to Wade -- and neither team benefited from their uneven performance. In the world of officiating, that's a job well done.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on June 13, 2012 2:11 AM.

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