Lebron James poured in 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead Miami to a 91-85 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Miami was able to hold serve at home despite shooting just 37.8% from the field as a team, and they did so thanks to the stellar play of James and some timely shot-making elsewhere.
To start the game, Miami sprinted to an early lead thanks to some crisp passing from Dwyane Wade, and a collective willingness to attack the rim at will in the early moments. The first 18 points of the game on the Heat side were scored by the big three of Wade, James, and Bosh, and they were led by a 10-point, 5-rebound quarter from Lebron. On the OKC side, it was clear that they were in adjustment mode earlier than they wanted to be, as they went to the bench in subbing James Harden early at the 7-minute mark to combat Miami’s aggressiveness. The key to the first period was Miami’s attacking offense, and it resulted in 10 converted field goals at or near the rim in the first 12 minutes.
Following the 6-point advantage in the 1st quarter for Miami, the Thunder responded with a 26-point quarter (their best of the night) in the second frame. In (very) related news, Erik Spoelstra gave Lebron an extended rest in the early second quarter, and OKC was able to take advantage. Kevin Durant was virtually unguardable with an array of mid-range and post moves featuring a killer turnaround jump shot. Miami’s scoring was helped by 2 late threes by Shane Battier, who remains unconscious from 3-point distance in the series. One note worth mentioning concerning OKC’s rotation use was Derek Fisher playing 16 minutes in the first half. James Harden also played exactly 16 minutes in the half. We’ll come back to this.
With the score of 47-46 in favor of Miami coming out of the half, the Heat started slowly with a Lebron airball to start the quarter and a 10-2 OKC run would follow that ended with the Thunder up by 5. The Heat offense fell into a pattern of settling for jump shots and quickly got away from the explosiveness and efficiency of the early going. OKC had the majority of the momentum until Kevin Durant was whistled for his 4th foul with 5:40 left in the 3rd and the Thunder up by 6 points. Durant would sit for the remainder of the quarter, and despite a 4-point play by Derek Fisher that extended the lead to 10 right as Durant took a seat, OKC’s lead quickly shrunk. After a beautiful Dwyane Wade spin move that finished with a jump hook, and a Lebron 3-pointer, the Heat took the lead at 69-67, and the quarter would end with that score.
In the always-pivotal fourth quarter, Miami opened with a Wade-to-Haslem pick-and-roll that ended with a Haslem flush, but OKC quickly responded with a mini-run that ended with a ridiculously impressive alley-oop catch and finish from Kevin Durant to get back within one. The teams traded baskets in virtual succession until Dwyane Wade forced the Miami crowd to explode with an and-1 to take a 4 point lead with just under 5 minutes remaining. One of the biggest plays of the game occurred around the 4-minute mark when Lebron James converted a 3-point play that doubled as Kevin Durant’s 5th foul to give the Heat a 7-point lead. While the Heat committed 8 turnovers in the 4th quarter (a ghastly number), it was clear that they made a commitment to “attack mode” and when Lebron got a slashing lay-up to go up by 7 with 2:10 remaining, the game looked to be on the brink. Then OKC made a late push when Thabo Sefolosha stole a pass from Wade before finishing a lay-up in transition, and Russ Westbrook followed a settling jumper from Wade by nailing a 15-foot pull-up to cut the lead to one. That, however, was as close as the Zombie Sonics would get, with Miami lengthening the lead gradually as Durant struggled offensively. One of the more curious plays of the night came when the Heat led by 3 very late, and James Harden committed a foul near mid-court in a one-possession game and only 8 seconds difference between the shot clock and game clock. This put LBJ at the line where he converted 1-of-2 and that basically ended the game.
Lebron James was unquestionably the best player on the court on this night, and while he finished with a “quiet” 29 points, his 14 rebounds and near lock-down defense on Durant can’t be ignored. The only other player on Miami with more than 10 points was Dwyane Wade who finished with 25. However, Wade’s game was fairly topsy-turvy throughout. He finished with those 25 points, but did so on just 8-for-22 shooting, and while he did have 7 sometimes beautiful assists, he committed 5 turnovers, and was a defensive liability for the most part. His transition defense simply isn’t improving, and the occasional effort against Russ Westbrook in the half-court won’t make up for that. On the offensive end, when he attacks, good things happen and even on a night where he wasn’t converting at his usual level at the rim, his passing was, at times, very effective when he chose to penetrate. Elsewhere, Chris Bosh had a wretched offensive game, shooting 3-of-12 for just 10 points, but did contribute with 11 rebounds and 2 blocks to keep the OKC size advantage in check. Shane Battier was stellar once again in this one as he attempted just 2 shots, but converted both (and both were threes) and played his usual fantastic team defense. The rest of Miami’s supporting cast was pretty lackluster, and that cause was championed by a underwhelming (to say the least) performance from Mario Chalmers. The Heat PG shot 1-for-8 from the field and was generally ineffective in his 40 minutes. One thing to keep an eye on is Spoelstra’s willingness to play rookie PG Norris Cole. Cole got 6 minutes of playing time despite a generally ineffective performance, and I’d be interested to see if Coach Spo goes back down that road, or stays with more minutes from guys like James Jones.
On the OKC side, this game pretty much comes down to foul trouble and a bad night from James Harden. Kevin Durant did manage to finish with 25 points on the night, and even shot 11-19 from the field, but came up short of his spectacular 4th quarter output from the first two games, and missed some shots that he’d normally convert in the late stages of this one. Durant was also limited to 39 minutes because of foul trouble, and Scott Brooks and company will be looking for a way to keep KD on the court in Game 4. Russ Westbrook had a typical Russ Westbrook game. 8-of-18 shooting, a couple of spectacular plays, 2 horrendous turnovers, some questionable decision-making, but an overall positive output. James Harden was not his usual, effective self here. The Arizona State product shot 2-10 from the field including 0-4 from long range, and also committed a cardinal sin late on the foul that gave LBJ two free throws to seal the win for Miami. One huge X-factor for OKC? Scott Brooks apparent unwillingness to sit Derek Fisher on the bench next to him. The numbers don’t look too putrid (3-8 FG, 2 steals) at the surface, but Fisher played 28 minutes and didn’t garner an assist or a rebound. That’s virtually impossible, and when you couple that with below-average (I’m being nice) defense and some irresponsible shot selection? Pretty ugly. The one saving grace for Brooks on this one was that Thabo Sefolosha played easily his worst game of the series offensively, and because that game included the worst pass of the game (the late 4th-quarter inbounds turnover), people may take the focus off of Fisher.
The key stat of the entire night is this: 15-for-24. That’s the Oklahoma City output from the free throw line as a team. 60% on that many attempts is nearly unfathomable from an OKC team that led the entire league in FT% at 80.6% and did so while attempting a league-best 26 free throws a game. That’s an easily correctable part of the game, but when Kevin Durant misses four by himself, and the Heat shoot 31-for-35, that’s a huge swing that could have accounted for the difference in the game.
Where do we go from here? This series is building to a crescendo, and I think OKC can take solace in the fact that they were within a minute of winning this game in Miami. Consider this: Kevin Durant had foul trouble, Derek Fisher played 28 minutes, OKC missed 9 free throws, Miami out-rebounded OKC by 9, and OKC shot 4-for-18 from three point land and Miami still won by only 6 points at home. This series is going to the wire, so as Terrell Owens taught us, get your popcorn ready.
The series is now led by Miami at 2-1. Game 4 is in Miami on Tuesday at 9:00 PM (ET).