Published November 20, 2014
The scene shifts to South Florida on Sunday as the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder square off in the pivotal Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
The Heat evened the series on Thursday by starting Game 2 with a sense of urgency before surviving an inevitable Thunder run en route to a 100-96 win.
LeBron James had 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists in that one for Miami, which pulled even in the series after squandering a double-digit advantage in Tuesday's Game 1 loss.
Dwyane Wade, whose production has been spotty at times in this postseason, added 24 points and Chris Bosh had 16 and 15 rebounds -- seven offensive. Shane Battier chipped in 17 points and made 5-of-7 three-pointers.
Kevin Durant finished with 32 points for OKC but missed a potential game-tying baseline runner with 9.9 seconds remaining. Russell Westbrook had 27 and James Harden scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half for the Thunder, who suffered their first home loss of these playoffs (9-1).
"I like the way we came back and fought and made it a one possession game at the end, but when you get down 17 too many things have to happen well for you and perfect for you," said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Miami never trailed in the contest and led by as many as 17, but OKC rallied late and pulled within two on Durant's three-pointer with 37.5 seconds to go made it 98-96.
After James missed a tough three, veteran OKC guard Derek Fisher inbounded the ball to Durant coming out of a timeout. The league scoring champion quickly got the baseline on James and launched a contested five-footer that found iron.
James secured the rebound and was fouled. Two free throws from "The King" sealed the deal for the Heat.
"I think this postseason and everything we have been through has shown that this group has resourcefulness, a resolve, a resiliency. We are a very stubborn group," said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
Replays showed James clearly fouling Durant on Oklahoma City's final opportunity, but referee Dan Crawford was in bad position and didn't see the contact to the inside of Durant's body.
To their credit, the Thunder didn't belabor the no-call, understanding they were lucky to even have a chance after their latest dismal effort to start the game.
"We were supposed to run a little pin-down play, but Fish made a great pass," Durant said. "I was open, and I missed the shot. I think I shot a good shot. That's a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed."
Pressed with the question, "Are you saying you don't think you got mugged by LeBron on that last play?" Durant simply said, "I missed the shot, man."
Brooks took a similar tact when asked about the potential foul.
"That's one play," the Thunder coach said. "We have so many other plays that we could have done better to put us in a position to stay closer in the game. I'm not going to get into that. I haven't in the past, I'm not going to start doing it now. It was a play, he didn't get the call."
Brooks understood it was about the first quarter, not Crawford's silent whistle in the fourth. Durant and Co. had a chance to put a stranglehold on the Finals but didn't, largely because they missed the memo announcing the 8:07 (CT) tip- off time.
The Heat raced out to an 18-2 advantage in Game 2 as Russell Westbrook made bad decision after bad decision and Durant hurled up a number of questionable shots early.
"The bottom line is we play aggressive basketball, we play tough basketball, and we didn't do that to start the game," Brooks said. "The last minute, I won't even look at that."
The score may have been even more lopsided if it weren't for the play of Harden, who buoyed his floundering squad while Durant and Westbrook struggled to get going.
It was the third straight awful start in the postseason for the Thunder, who weren't quite talented enough this time to overcome it.
So what's the answer?
"We have to come out with better execution," Brooks said. "We have to come out better, better defensive balance, better offensive execution. It's tough to come back when you're down. We're an aggressive team, we're a physical team, the defensive mind-set was not where it needs to be, and hopefully we change that going into Game 3."
Miami 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 4 of the series will take place on Tuesday in Miami.Game 4 of the series will take place on Tuesday in Miami.