The Miami Heat and their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have waited a year for this, a chance to erase the taste of an NBA Finals collapse after again taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series.
Teams winning Game Three to grab a 2-1 lead in the Finals have gone on to win the title 85 percent of the time, but it did not happen for Miami last year against the Dallas Mavericks, who won the next three games for their first NBA crown.
Miami's Big Three, who came together as free agents in 2010 and promised Heat fans a clutch of NBA titles, are burning with desire to reach their goal this time against the Oklahoma City Thunder with the next step coming at home on Tuesday night.
"It stuck with us, all the way to this day," James told reporters after practice on Monday. "But we're a totally different team than we were last year when we were up 2-1."
Bosh said the memory of last year's championship series was still fresh in their minds.
"Every day we remind ourselves," said Bosh. "We think of that pain we experienced last year. We carry that pain with us."
The Heat held a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead of that Game Four in Dallas, looking poised to move to the brink of the championship. But they were outscored 21-9 in the last 10 minutes to lose that game, and then dropped the next two.
"We're a totally different team," stressed James. "We understand what it takes to win, and we've used that motivation, and we will continue to use that motivation."
The Heat have added a key piece in Shane Battier, a cool-headed veteran forward who has brought defensive skills and a suddenly hot touch from beyond the three-point arc, but the main difference is the leadership role now assumed by King James.
Last year, the Heat fussed about who was their go-to guy to close out games, a role that Wade played on previous Heat teams before the formation of the Big Three, and James often deferred down the stretch in tight games.
James failed to score in the fourth quarter of Game Four against Dallas and had only two points in the fourth quarter of the next defeat.
Now Wade has passed the baton to James, who has accepted the challenge and raised his game with ferocity on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
James is averaging more than 30 points and 10 rebounds so far in the Finals, a double that has not been matched by a non-center since John Havlicek of the Boston Celtics 43 years ago.
Not only is he providing the offensive firepower with powerful drives to the hoop, he has also taken primary responsibility for defending the Thunder's three-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant, who scored just four points in the fourth quarter of Miami's 91-85 Game Three victory.
James said that with a year in Miami under his belt, he had grown more comfortable both on court and off and that his relationship with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has matured.
"It's trust. I didn't know him, he didn't know me our first month together. And now we're still growing each and every day, but our trust factor is great," James said. "He trusts me on the floor to do things��� to make changes on the fly."
James said this is a whole new situation for Miami.
"Last year is last year, and we're not going into a Game Four on someone else's floor," he said. "We're going into a Game Four on our floor with a lot of experience in this type of situation. We'll be ready. We love the challenge." (Editing by Steve Ginsburg)