Second-half rally gives Heat 2-1 Finals lead
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 the best-of-seven NBA Finals with a 91-85 victory Sunday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder at AmericanAirlines Arena, the sense is the series is just getting started.
“This is competition at its highest,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in his opening postgame comments, without prodding. “We kept on mentioning that in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what this is about. We’re facing great competition.”
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.
“There’s two great defensive teams out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
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.
“I’m just trying to make plays,” James said. “Like I told you guys, last year (in the NBA Finals against the Mavericks), I didn’t make enough game-changing plays.”
Foul shooting and rebounding ultimately made the difference.
The Heat closed 31-for-35 from the line, compared to 15-for-24 for the Thunder.
“If we get those opportunities, then step up with confidence,” Spoelstra said.
Miami also had a 45-38 rebounding edge.
“We don’t necessarily look at it that we’re small,” said Spoelstra, who got 14 rebounds from James, 11 from forward Bosh and seven from Wade.
In another back-and-forth game, the Heat finally opened breathing room on a James three-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.
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 guard Thabo Sefolosha effectively ended it.
“They made some plays down the stretch, and we did not,” Brooks said.
Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, the home team has won the middle three games only twice: the Detroit Pistons against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004, and the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks in 2006. The road team has won the middle three games three times.
“We just weren’t able to close it out,” Westbrook said, “but we’ll do a better job next time.”
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-for-13 from the field to that point for 21 points.
“I just got to play smarter next game,” Durant said of allowing his foul trouble to again impact the game. “I try not to concern myself with the officiating.”
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 arc 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 free throws to draw the Heat back within four.
“Gave them six points when we were up 10,” Brooks lamented. “It was the right call. We fouled both shooters.”
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 2-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-for-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 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, 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,” Sefolosha said. … Among those in attendance was Indiana coach Tom Crean, Wade’s coach at Marquette.