MIAMI, Florida - Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant has sounded the battle cry heading into crucial game three of the National Basketball Association finals against the Miami Heat.
The 23-year-old three-time league scoring champion Durant and his teammates are looking to put an end to the slow starts that have plagued them in the first two games of the series.
The Thunder had to overcome first-half deficits of 13 and 17 points in the series which is knotted at one game each.
"We just have to play harder to start the games," said Durant during Saturday's practice. "We are doing it a little too late. We watched film -- the first 10 minutes of the game and we kind of relaxed. I don't know why.
"It was tough to watch ... you look at it and say 'wow, did I really just do that?'
"It falls back on me as a leader. I have to start the games with a lot of intensity. No matter if I am making shots or missing shots or if I make a bad defensive rotation. I just have got to start off with a lot of energy."
The Thunder rallied from a 13-point first-half deficit to win game one 105-94. They dug themselves an even deeper hole in the first quarter of game two by falling behind by 17 points. But this time they couldn't climb out of it, losing 100-96.
"The slow starts is just us coming out and not being ready to play," said guard Russell Westbrook. "The last game, they came out and were a little more ready to play than we were and they got a big lead.
"Some of our conversations have been about playing harder. That's all we have to do. Come out harder and play our game."
The Heat now have the psychological edge after having stolen one game on Oklahoma City's home court. They also have the luxury of hosting the next three games at AmericanAirlines Arena in the 2-3-2 best-of-seven finals format.
Miami compiled an 18-2 lead in the first quarter of game two thanks to the Thunder's one-of-12 shooting from the field during the span. It wasn't until James Harden came off the bench with just over five minutes left in the first that the Thunder started to put points on the board.
Durant and Westbrook took much of the blame for the slow start. Durant hit just one of his first three shots and Westbrook was one-of-seven in the opening quarter.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said they are not panicking but there is a sense of urgency among the players to make sure they bounce back for game three.
"We expect guys to come back tomorrow with a better effort for 48 minutes," Brooks said. "It is obvious to everybody we got off to a bad start. We have things we could have done better.
"We missed some shots. We missed some lay-ups and some pull-up shots. Defensively we didn't match up in transition.
"My mind is not racing. I am not going to throw everything out that we have worked on all year that got us to this point.
"I just want us to do things better and I think that has always been our battle cry."
Oklahoma City came close to equalling the league's all-time record for the fewest points in the first quarter of an NBA finals. In 1955, Fort Wayne scored just 13 points in the first quarter of game two against Syracuse. Milwaukee also had 13 points in game three against Boston of the 1974 finals.
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