Miami, FL – Different year, same result.
That's what the Oklahoma City Thunder are hoping for as they prepare to take on the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday.
The Heat, on the other hand, lead The Finals two games to one for the second straight season and plan on finishing things this time.
Consecutive wins in the series have the Heat, who lost to Dallas in the 2011 Finals after taking a 2-1 advantage, two victories shy of their first NBA championship since 2006 and LeBron James ever so close to his first title, one he has spent nine seasons chasing.
"We're a totally different team than we was last year when we was up 2-1," James said Monday. "We're a totally different team. We understand what it takes to win, we've used that motivation, and we will continue to use that motivation."
Miami dropped Game 4 in Dallas last year, kicking off a three-game slide that cost it a title.
"Last year is last year, and we're not going into a Game 4 on someone else's floor." James said. "We're going into a Game 4 on our floor with a lot of experience in this type of situation. We'll be ready. We love the challenge."
James has been spectacular in The Finals, averaging over 30 points and adding 10 rebounds per game. On Sunday the reigning MVP teamed with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to score the final 15 points for Miami, which overcame a 10-point third-quarter deficit to earn a 91-85 win in Game 3.
"We understand our supporting cast is going to be there for us no matter what's going on throughout the game. But if the game gets tight, one of the three of us, or all three of us, have to make plays to bring home the win," sad James.
The Heat outscored the Thunder 31-15 from the free throw line and relied on that production when their offense stalled in the third. They managed just four field goals in the quarter, but went 13-for-14 from the charity stripe and battled back while Kevin Durant sat on the bench with four fouls.
"We fouled too many times," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "We've got to do a better job defending them without fouling."
James finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds, Wade scored 25 and Bosh had 10 and 11 rebounds. As a team, Miami shot just 37.8 percent from the field.
Durant, who was off on a potential tying baseline runner in the closing seconds of Game 2, had 25 points to pace Oklahoma City. Russell Westbrook scored 19 and pulled his team within one in the closing minutes, but later missed a potential game-tying three-pointer.
Sunday's action was a bit of a role reversal for the Heat, who jumped out to a double-digit leads in Games 1 and 2. The Thunder, though, avoided the sluggish start in this one and looked to grab control in the third after a back-and- forth first half.
Durant didn't miss a shot in the opening minutes of the third and poured in eight points, but he quickly picked up his fourth foul after helping his team to a 60-53 lead.
With their offensive juggernaut on the bench, the Thunder initially pushed the advantage to 10 on a four-point play from Derek Fisher, but the Heat methodically reclaimed the lead at the line.
Six of those free throws came on back-to-back possessions, when Shane Battier and James Jones were fouled while attempting three-pointers. Later, Wade hit a pair from the line, then found James in the corner for a trey and a 69-67 lead entering the fourth.
"We fouled their three-point shooters, gave them six points when we were up 10," said Brooks. "It was the right call. We fouled both shooters."
Wade and James struck again midway through the final quarter, combining for an 8-0 run which turned a one-point deficit into a permanent advantage. They highlighted the burst with consecutive three-point plays, both of which came off Thunder turnovers.
The Thunder managed to make one last push, sparked by Thabo Sefolosha's strip of Wade near midcourt. The long-armed defender came up with the loose ball and drove in for a reverse layup over the outstretched arms of Wade.
The improbable finish made it 86-83 and Westbrook buried a pull-up jumper off of a Wade miss with 1:30 left, but Miami fittingly sealed the win from the stripe.
"We were down 2-0 against San Antonio (in the West finals) and everybody thought the series was over," Brooks said. "But I know our guys, they're very competitive, they're very resilient. They've always showed that type of effort every game, and we've always been a great bounce-back team."
Miami, which lost in six games to Dallas in lat year's finals, and OKC split a pair of regular season meetings with Oklahoma City forcing 21 turnovers and rolling to a 103-87 victory at home on March 25 before the Heat rallied for a 98-93 win in Miami on April 4.
These two franchises have never met in the postseason before and each have one NBA championship on their resume. The Heat topped the Mavs in six games back in 2006 while the Thunder won a title in 1979 as the Sonics, besting the Washington Bullets in five.
Game 5 of the series will take place on Thursday in Miami.