Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last night, the Miami Heat walked into a hostile environment, put the hammer on early in the first half at Chesapeake Energy Arena and then managed to close out the game despite a few late game mistakes against the Oklahoma City Thunder to tie the series as the teams will change venues and travel to South Beach for Game 3 on Sunday night.

Miami performed well considering the circumstances but it’s quite possible that we may be seeing a trend developing in the NBA Finals through two games. Granted, the sample size is quite small, but it’s been quite apparent through eight quarters that the games have been played at two different speeds depending on the halves.

John Hollinger of did a great job of pointing out after Game 1 that the Thunder’s youth (Insider) could very well be a huge advantage in the championship series given their young legs and energy. Indeed, fatigue has seemingly caught up with the Miami Heat’s relatively older legs and thus they watched the home team essentially breeze past them in the series opener in the second half while Heat players seemed to have their feet stuck in quick sand.

If this sounds a little too familiar and recent, it’s because it is: the exact same thing happened in Game 2.

So far in the Finals, Miami has come out strong in the first halves, playing tough defense and executing their offense almost to perfection. They have shared the ball well and used proper spacing to get high percentage shots — especially from 3-point range — and limited their turnovers.

With two games under their belts in the Finals so far, Miami is averaging 54.5 points per game, 23 points in the paint per game and 4.5 turnovers per game on 49.4 percent field goal shooting and 62.5 percent 3-point shooting in the first halves.

Read those figures again.

The Heat have been scorching hot in the first 24 minutes of each game and have put a tremendous amount of pressure on the Thunder’s defense with their offensive execution. But it doesn’t stop there. Their defense has also done a great job of limiting the production of Oklahoma City during the same timeframe.

Miami’s defense has held OKC to 45 points per game, 18 points in the paint per game, 6.5 fast break points per game and has also forced 6.5 turnovers per game in the opening halves of the 2012 NBA Finals.

The Heat have given the Thunder multiple defensive looks and done just enough to keep their opponents out of the paint where they get easy scores. It’s worth noting though that Scott Brooks has played Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins a lot of minutes in the first halves, which has given them problems in terms of spacing and creating driving lanes. The bigs are respectively averaging 18.5 and 11.5 minutes per game in the four opening quarters of this series.

The second halves have been a completely different animal in the NBA Finals though.

Oklahoma City has turned up the defensive pressure and taken out the Miami players out of their comfort zone. Their energy and intensity has been far greater in the second halves while Heat players have seemingly been left grasping for air and unable to match their opponent’s level of energy.

In the second halves of the NBA Finals, OKC is averaging 55.5 points per game, 26 points in the paint per game, 11 fast break points per game and four turnovers per game on 50.6 percent field goal shooting. Also, Scott Brook’s team has shot 21 total free throws in the first halves of the first two games versus 32 in the second halves.

Their offense has been better in the second half but it’s hardly only because Ibaka and Perkins have averaged 8.5 and 10 minutes per game respectively during that time span. The spacing has been somewhat better when OKC has downsized but their defense has also done a better job of taking the Heat out of their sets thanks in large part to Nick Collison’s hustle, energy and pick-and-roll defense.

In the second halves of the opening games in OKC, the Thunder have held the Heat to 42.5 points per game, 21 points in the paint per game and 0 fast break points total. Zero.

Also, OKC is holding Miami to 43.3 percent field goal shooting and 23.5 percent 3-point field goal shooting in the final 24 minutes of each game.

The Thunder’s ability to stymie the Heat’s offense by jamming cutters, walling off ball handlers and protecting the paint with multiple bodies have led to Erik Spoelstra’s group settling for a multiple of long jumpers. When the second half hits, no longer are we seeing Dwyane Wade and LeBron James getting in the lane and finding shooters off of drives and kicks; instead they have for the most part been relegated to the perimeter and looking to make things happen from there and the numbers bear that out. Consider this: Miami has 33 assists so far in the NBA Finals; and yet 21 of them have come in the first half of each contest.

What does this all mean?

If the Miami Heat is going to win the NBA title this year, they may be forced to dominate the first 24 minutes of each half considering the onslaught that the Oklahoma City Thunder has brought on them in the second half.

Once again, the sample size is small given that we are only looking at two games, but the data seems to indicate that this could be a trend.

Perhaps things flip-flop in South Beach and Miami comes out with more energy and determination after halftime while at home, but so far the Thunder’s younger legs have been the story in both games, as both Westbrook and Durant have been lights out in the third and fourth quarters.

As the series progresses, it’s quite possible that the speed and never ending energy of the Thunder might eventually take over as the Heat players slow down and watch the series blow right by them.

It will be interesting to see if the change in venue does in fact work in favor of Miami and gives them an extra boost, because otherwise OKC might have an extra gear that the Heat might not be able to match.

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