OKLAHOMA CITY — Finally, after some urging from the blue-shirted sea of fans, the fun, young collection of players that advanced to the NBA Finals played like it belonged.
Whatever that was in the first half certainly wasn’t the Oklahoma City Thunder, the general awkwardness and sauteed defense looking fully unlike the cadre that zapped Dallas, the Lakers and San Antonio — keepers of 10 of the last 13 NBA championships — in consecutive playoff series.
Then came the third quarter Tuesday night, the stirring of the two Thunder stars and, never promising for an opponent, the emergence of the penetratingly loud Thunder crowd.
It all rolled into a 105-94 Thunder victory over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Finals.
Kevin Durant had 36 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, and Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 18 after halftime, as the Thunder completed a comeback from a 13-point second-quarter deficit.
Oklahoma City had 24 fastbreak points. Miami had four. End of story.
“Just playing Thunder basketball,” said Westbrook, who also had 11 assists, eight rebounds and only two turnovers.
Said Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra: “That’s what they do. They keep on coming. They’re relentless.”
Durant was absurdly strong in the fourth quarter, controlling the offensive end with a floater, a put-back, a dunk, a three-pointer, just about everything, as Oklahoma City improved to 9-0 at home in the playoffs.
Durant is one of four key Thunder players who hasn’t even turned 24. He trails LeBron James in regular-season MVPs (3-0) and previous Finals appearances (2-0) but appeared the savvy veteran Tuesday.
“KD made some big-time shots,” James said. “Any time he’s on the floor, tonight 46 minutes, he’s always aggressive. It doesn’t matter what court it is.”
James played well enough, totaling 30 points and nine rebounds, but Dwyane Wade had a frayed shooting night, scoring 19 on seven-for-19 accuracy.
“I thought we got good shots. Obviously we just need to make more,” Wade said.
Miami’s defense completely dissolved in the fourth quarter, surrendering 31 points. The Heat forced a puny two second-half turnovers.
Wade wasn’t the only member of Miami’s Big Three who stumbled. Chris Bosh had a silent 10 points in almost 34 minutes off the bench, looking very much like a player who only recently returned from an abdominal strain that forced him out of nine playoff games.
Miami endured three more playoff games than the Thunder to get to the Finals and came off a grueling seven-game series against Boston that had ended three days earlier.
And yet, Oklahoma City trailed until Westbrook converted a three-point play with 16.4 seconds left in the third quarter, giving the Thunder a 74-73 lead.
“It kind of took us a couple minutes to get the nervousness out and the jitters out,” Durant said.
OK, maybe it was an entire half. But the Thunder knew where to turn.
“They pounded us on the fastbreak and that led to everything else,” Bosh said.
The early surprise wasn’t Miami’s lack of fatigue or James’ four steals but Shane Battier’s 13 points in the first half. Battier, 33, finished with 17 points, making four of six from three-point range.
He was long forgotten by the fourth quarter, which nobody in the crowd experienced while sitting, save a handful of Miami fans.
Game 2 is Thursday, also at Oklahoma City, unfortunately for the Heat.