Heat 91, Thunder 85
MIAMI — Once again it was riveting theater.
Once again it came down to the finish.
And while the Miami Heat moved to a 2-1 lead in these best-of-seven NBA Finals with a 91-85 victory Sunday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder at AmericanAirlines Arena, the sense is this series is just getting started.
With LeBron James and Kevin Durant again doing their part, the drama of the series’ first two games in Oklahoma City continued in round three of what is setting up as a true championship fight.
James led the Heat with 29 points, with Durant scoring 25 for the Thunder. James was supported by 25 points from Heat guard Dwyane Wade, with guard Russell Westbrook adding 19 points for the Thunder.
In another back-and-forth game, the Heat finally opened breathing room on a James 3-point play with 3:44 to play that resulted in Durant’s fifth foul. But, as they did in Game 2, the Thunder were aided by another late-game turnover by Wade, and they closed to within 86-85 with 90 seconds to play on a Westbrook jumper.
Chris Bosh then completed his second double-double in as many games with a pair of foul shots for an 88-85 Heat lead with 1:19 left.
Finally, with 16.2 seconds to play, James made the second of two free throws for an 89-85 Heat lead. A turnover on the ensuing inbounds pass by Thunder forward Thabo Sefolosha effectively ended it.
Foul trouble became a factor for Durant for the second consecutive game, this time forcing him to the bench with his fourth with 5:41 to play in the third period. He was 9-of-13 from the field to that point for 21 points.
By then, the Thunder had overcome an early eight-point deficit to move to a nine-point lead, their defense forcing the Heat into wayward outside shots.
Then Thunder guard Derek Fisher nailed a 3-pointer with 4:33 to play in the third and drew a foul on Heat point guard Mario Chalmers, converting the four-point play for a 64-54 Thunder lead.
The intrigue from the 3-point line didn’t end there in the period. Moments later, Shane Battier and James Jones were fouled on consecutive Heat 3-point attempts, with the pair burying all six available free throws to draw the Heat back within four.
With Wade leading a rally late in the third period, the Heat went into the fourth up 69-67.
A pair of 3-pointers by Battier late in the second period, his only points of the first half, helped the Heat to a 47-46 halftime lead.
James led the Heat with 16 first-half points, with Durant and Westbrook, who also hit a 3-pointer late in the second period, pacing the Thunder with 13 first-half points apiece.
It was a game largely played in the paint early, with the Heat scoring 30 first-half points in the paint and the Thunder 26.
After the Heat led by six at the end of the first quarter and pushed their advantage to eight in the second period, the Thunder tied it at 31-31 midway through the second period, as Westbrook began his revival from another uneven start.
Later, when a Fisher jumper that initially was ruled a two-point shot was changed to a 3-pointer, it gave the Thunder a 39-38 lead.
The Thunder stepped up their defense in the second period, twice forcing Heat shot-clock violations.
The Heat were in attack mode from the outset, with their first 10 points coming in the paint, as they pushed to a 10-4 lead at the first timeout. The Thunder, who had gotten off to miserable starts in the series’ first two games at in Oklahoma City, opened 2-of-9 from the field, with Westbrook missing his first three shots.
The Heat continued to pound it into the paint, with 18 of their first 20 points being scored in the paint on the way to a 26-20 lead at the end of the opening period.
James opened 1-for-4 from the field and then made his final four shots of the opening period to close the quarter with 10 points, as well as five rebounds.
The Thunder, who battled foul trouble in Game 2, this time had Nick Collison with two first-quarter fouls. No Heat starter had a foul in the first quarter. Collison then was called for his third foul with 10:16 to play in the second period. Moment later, Heat forward Mike Miller was called for his third foul.
NOTES: To Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, it’s as if these games should be moved outdoors. “This whole series and tonight’s game, these things will come down to who wins the line of scrimmage,” he said going in . . . Even with uneven starts the previous two games, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he never considered changing his opening lineup. “I’ve heard that so many times the last couple of days,” he said. “That’s never even crossed my mind.” . . . It took awhile, but antipathy apparently has arrived. “We don’t like that team, and we’ve got to play angry,” Thunder guard Sefolosha said . . . Among those in attendance was Indiana coach Tom Crean, Wade’s coach at Marquette.