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Ibaka's Improvement Key As Thunder Gets Over Hump Against Heat

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"We're not gonna take it....We're not gonna TAKE it....We're not gonna TAKE IT.........ANNYYYMOORRRREEEE." 

I would like to imagine the Thunder players had that song repeating in their heads for 48 minutes in Miami on Wednesday night.  It probably wasn't, but it might as well have been.

 

Oklahoma City finally shed the overwhelming weight of the inability to beat the Heat; cruising past Miami 112-95 in South Beach. 

Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals was the last time the Thunder topped Miami. OKC then lost four in a row to lose that series and then looked completely outmatched in both meetings last season.

RELATED STORY: Durant Shines Again As Thunder Crushes Heat In Miami

But a lot has changed since those six losses. Players have come and gone on both teams. Some players have improved, others have regressed.

One guy that has certainly improved is Serge Ibaka. The Thunder's shot-blocking extraordinaire has taken his offensive game to the next level this season, and Wednesday night he proved again that he's ready for the big stage.

In the Thunder's aforementioned six losses to Miami, Ibaka was completely dominated by the Heat's Chris Bosh. Bosh averaged 16.5 points and 10 rebounds per game, while Ibaka only managed 7.7 points and 5.3 boards.

That's one-sided, but it's worse if you look game-by-game. Bosh outscored AND outrebounded the Thunder's young big in every single matchup. Ibaka never recorded more than seven rebounds in any of those games and only reached double-figure scoring once.

But that all changed last night.

Ibaka finally stood strong, showing off his improved mid-range jumper and pouring in 22 points to help carry OKC past the NBA's most polarizing team. He also snagged eight boards, more than he had in any of the previous six losses.

To be fair, Bosh also played well. He finished with 18 points and nine boards, but was unable to give Miami the advantage it is accustomed to at the forward spot.

There's no doubt Miami's distinct advantage over the past three seasons has been its stardom. The Heat has had three guys that no team can match, creating defensive panic from its opponents, in turn giving Miami's complimentary players wide-open shots.

But that's not the case anymore.

Kevin Durant proved head-to-head that he has elevated his game to LeBron James' level. They now cancel each other out.

Dwyane Wade, although playing banged up, looked like a shell of his former self. He was once as unguardable as Durant or James, but those days appear behind him.

And now that Ibaka finally stood up to Bosh, the Heat's matchup advantages against the Thunder are gone.

Even complimentary players such as Ray Allen and Shane Battier looked completely overmatched by OKC's second unit.

The Thunder needed that win in Miami. Badly. They needed to buck the losing trend and squash any doubt that might have existed about their ability to beat those guys.

It was a coming-of-age for an Oklahoma City team that appears poised to break Miami's stranglehold on the NBA.

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