Heat don’t wilt, take Game 3
Finals momentum escapes Thunder
MIAMI - Perhaps the Oklahoma City Thunder are talented enough but just too young. When they needed someone to emerge down the stretch, to make solid decisions and clutch shots, no one assumed that role, not even three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant.
Holding a 10-point lead over the Heat with 4:33 left in the third quarter, the Thunder managed just 21 points the rest of the way, unable to run a cohesive offense and committing boneheaded turnovers as Miami won Game 3 of the NBA Finals, 91-85, at AmericanAirlines Arena by being the more efficient team.
The Heat lead the series, 2-1. Game 4 is Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Oklahoma City rallied to cut the Heat’s lead to 1 with 1:30 left but Chris Bosh sank two free throws and the Thunder couldn’t respond with a quality shot. Durant rushed a contested runner, and then Russell Westbrook clanged a wide-open 3-pointer, sealing their fate.
LeBron James led the Heat with 29 points and 14 rebounds and Dwyane Wade added 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, both players contributing to an 8-0 run midway through the fourth that gave Miami the lead for good.
Durant scored 25 points, but committed five turnovers. Westbrook reduced his shot attempts and played a steadier game, but managed just 6 points in the second half and finished with 19.
When they desperately needed to make plays down the stretch, the Thunder made unforced mistakes. With Oklahoma City trailing, 88-85, James Harden fouled James 45 feet from the basket with 16.2 seconds left and 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock. James sank one of two free throws.
On the Thunder’s next possession, Thabo Sefolosha’s inbounds pass bounced right to Wade for the clinching steal, wrapping up the disheartening final minutes for Oklahoma City.
“I don’t know, it wasn’t forced turnovers, it was careless turnovers on our part,’’ center Kendrick Perkins said. “We just have to make sure we know that we are in the Finals and value the ball, possession by possession. We’ve just got to trust each other. Tonight I thought we got back to I-basketball, contested looks all night, shooting over two and three people. They’ll live with those shots.’’
As has been their pattern in the series, the Thunder made a third-quarter rally, going on a stirring 14-2 run behind 6 points by Durant, including a runner at the 6:55 mark for a 60-51 lead. The Thunder also stepped up their defensive intensity by forcing Wade into being a playmaker, and he struggled mightily.
After Derek Fisher completed a 4-point play for a 64-54 lead with 4:33 left in the period, the Thunder lost all momentum. They fouled Shane Battier and James Jones shooting 3-pointers, resulting in six consecutive free throws for Miami. Battier and Jones made them all to cut the deficit to 65-62.
Durant picked up his fourth foul trying to block a Wade jumper with 5:41 left and Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks removed Westbrook 40 seconds later, leaving Harden and the Oklahoma City bench players to hold the lead. They couldn’t.
“We weren’t playing our game,’’ James said. “They made us stagnant and they came out in the third quarter and attacked us and we didn’t attack back. We can’t do that against an explosive team like that. But it just shows our character, how we were able to come back from that and make plays to regain the lead.’’
Wade scored on a fastbreak layup and added two free throws while James ended the period by giving Miami the lead on a 3-pointer with 52 seconds left. In less than four minutes, the Thunder lost a 10-point cushion.
“I think you’ve got to give them credit, they’re a tough team,’’ Brooks said. “They’re a physical team and they make you work for every shot. We’re going to have to do a better job.’’
Wade scored two of his three second-quarter baskets in a 30-second span for a 4-point Miami lead. Wade struggled in the first half, hitting just 5 of 15 shots, including eight misses in the second period.
The Thunder responded with an off-balance Fisher 3-pointer that beat the shot clock, and that began a 10-3 run for a 41-38 lead with 2:08 left.
Battier, who has been one of the key factors in the series, responded with his first 3-pointer of the game and ninth of the Finals, and James bulled his way for a layup and free throw for a 3-point lead. After a Westbrook jumper, Battier splashed another 3-pointer, making him 11 for 15 from beyond the arc in the series.
Westbrook countered with a 3-ball to reduce the deficit to 47-46 at the break. Westbrook played more under control in the first 24 minutes, hitting 5 of 10 shots for 13 points with no turnovers.
The good news for the Thunder is they have the ability to avoid the poor starts of Games 1 and 2.
Wade said the Heat are continuing to use last year’s NBA Finals experience, when they blew a 2-1 series lead, to their advantage.
“Last year we had leads in most games and we let the leads go,’’ he said. “Tonight we were down 10 and we kept grinding until we eventually took the lead and was able to control the game. This year I feel like we’re a more experienced team and it’s not saying that we want it more, I just feel like we understand the situations more.’’