Heat holds off Thunder rally to earn road split
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Miami Heat are well aware that the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t going away, not after the Thunder nearly rallied from a 17-point deficit Thursday night.
But the Heat also know they’re going home with a legitimate chance in the NBA Finals.
Avoiding a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-seven series, the Heat held on for a 100-96 victory in Game 2 at Chesapeake Energy Arena behind 32 points from LeBron James and 24 from Dwyane Wade.
Miami forward Chris Bosh returned to the starting lineup to add 16 points and 15 rebounds.
“This is going to be like this probably every single game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of what turned into a frantic second half.
Despite dealing with late foul trouble, forward Kevin Durant scored 32 for the Thunder, with 26 in the second half, including 16 in the fourth quarter.
To Durant, though, it wasn’t as much decided at the finish as the start, when the Thunder opened 1-for-12 from the field.
“That was the game,” Durant said. “We can’t start off down 18-2.”
And, so, the Thunder fell, even with guards Russell Westbrook and James Harden adding 27 and 21, respectively.
“I love the way that we came back and fought,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said, “but it’s tough to overcome 17 points.
“When you get down 17, too many things have to happen perfect for you.”
James exited relieved to survive.
“It meant everything,” he said of holding on. “We had played too well in the first 36 minutes for this to slip away from us.”
He said he never doubted a pushback was coming.
“We knew they were going to keep fighting,” he said. “We knew they were going to keep coming.
“We just wanted to try to make one more or two more plays than they made.”
The game was decided when Durant missed an eight-foot runner after previously nailing a 3-pointer that drew the Thunder within two. James made a pair of free throws with 7.1 seconds left to put it away for the Heat.
Durant appeared to draw contact from James on the decisive, potential game-tying play.
“I think I shot a good shot,” Durant said. “That’s a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed it.”
Of potential contact on the play, Durant said, “I missed a shot, man.”
Earlier, the Thunder’s comeback chances sustained what appeared to be a lethal blow, when Durant was called for his fifth foul while contesting a Heat rebound with 10:31 to play.
But Durant then re-entered and produced a 3-pointer and a dunk on consecutive possessions to draw the Thunder within 82-74 with 8:22 to play.
For the Heat, a major twist was the insertion of Bosh back into the starting lineup. He had played the previous four games off the bench after missing three weeks with a lower abdominal strain.
“I kind of put it in my mind that I knew I had to give it the effort I did before, whether I was ready or not,” Bosh said.
Wade said it mattered.
“It was key having our best players on the floor early,” Wade said, “especially when we needed to start off great.”
Ultimately, James carried the night for the Heat.
“He’s been doing it in so many different ways in this playoff run,” Spoelstra said of James, who this time did it by shooting 12-for-12 from the foul line.
Aware that the Thunder four times this postseason had overcome deficits of 13 or more, the Heat came out with more of an edge in the third quarter than they did in the third period of Game 1, when that game turned with a 27-19 Oklahoma City advantage in the third.
“Both teams are good enough to win on each others’ floor,” Wade said. “Tonight, we seized the moment.”
While Durant got his offense going in the third, the Heat this time had a more offensive-minded James plus a hot Shane Battier, who refused to miss 3-pointers. He closed 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.
It did grow tense early in the third period, when Durant and James each were called for their third fouls. Durant then was called for his fourth foul with 3:31 to play in the third quarter after sparking a 6-0 Thunder surge.
The Heat took a 78-67 lead into the fourth quarter, with James already having 26 points at that stage.
With Harden finding his way offensively, the Thunder closed what had been a 17-point deficit to 35-25 early in the second period on a Harden driving layup that split three Heat defenders. His scoring was needed, with Durant falling to 1-for-5 from the field and Westbrook 1-for-8.
But the Heat, running more and scoring inside more than in Game 1, again pushed their lead back to 17 on a Mario Chalmers 3-pointer with 2:10 to play in the second period.
The Heat took a 55-43 lead into the intermission behind 14 first-half points from James.
Harden led the Thunder with 17 first-half points.
Unlike Game 1, when he played a tight rotation, Spoelstra this time utilized the likes of Norris Cole and James Jones early, going nine deep in the first quarter. Jones had missed Game 1 with a migraine.
The Thunder opened 1-for-12 from the field, with Westbrook off to another rough start, this time 0-for-5 at the outset. The only Thunder basket during that run was a Durant jumper.
That allowed the Heat to burst to an 18-2 lead, similar to the 13-point lead they built early in their 105-94 Game 1 loss.
The Heat later pushed their lead to 17 in the opening period, going into the second quarter up 27-15.
Along the way, Durant was called for his second foul, with 3:40 left in the opening period, forcing him to the bench, joined there by Westbrook, who also was called for his second foul in the opening period, in which he shot 1-for-7.
The Thunder finally got some spark off the bench in the opening period, with Harden scoring 10 points in the period after closing Game 1 with five.
James led the Heat with eight first-quarter points, with Wade adding seven in the period.
There were plenty of twists early, with James this time opening defensively on Durant, leaving Battier defending Thunder center Kendrick Perkins.
The Heat had four fast0break points in the opening 5:24 after closing Game 1 with that total, taking advantage of four Thunder first-period turnovers.
NOTES: Thursday marked the first time all season the Heat opened with a starting lineup of Bosh, Battier, James, Wade and Chalmers. … Brooks revealed Thursday that Westbrook has been playing with an injured left thumb since the Western Conference finals. … The national anthem was performed by country music singer Sara Evans. … James, on playing this summer as an Olympic teammate of Durant: “I envision it’s going to be pretty dynamic. You know, we’re two guys who like to get out and get in the open floor, and we’re two of the biggest competitors that we have in the game today, so it’s going to be fun.”