The NBA Dribbled Out

Game 3: Oklahoma City at Miami

Game 3 finally changed the narrative arc from the first two games. OKC again started slow, going down 10-4 to start the game, but they were only down 1 at half and mid-way through the 3rd period they were up by 10. 

Miami broke out to a 10-4 lead through the first 5 minutes, but OKC quickly came back and didn’t fall into the deficit’s that highlighted the first two games in Oklahoma City. That being said, the officiating was difficult to overcome, and it ended up costing Kevin Durant a stretch in the 3rd after the Thunder had built up a 10-point lead and appeared poised to steal the first game in Miami.

By the time Durant came back in the 4th, the Heat held a 2-point lead and the natural rhythm of Durant’s offensive game was gone. Before going to the bench in the 3rd he had abused the Heat almost every time he touched the ball. At one point, according to Marc J. Spears at Y! Sports, he yelled at Wade “you’re too short.” He was right. Durant’s long-limbed game and Gumby/Mister Fantastic length allowed him to abuse Wade in the post and get basically any shot he wanted. He was 3 for 3 in the quarter before Wade had his own brand of rebuttal to get the last laugh—at least for game 3.

Wade knew Durant had 3 fouls, and when he drove baseline with 5:41 left in the 3rd, his up-fake caught Durant enough (he only jumped a couple inches) to draw Durant’s 4th foul and a spot on the bench for the remainder of the quarter. The Thunder’s other star, Russell Westbrook, followed Durant to the bench because of some erratic play. With Durant and Westbrook on the bench, the Heat went on a 16-7 run punctuated by a late corner 3 from LeBron, and closed out the 3rd quarter with a 69-67 lead and a disgusted Durant on the bench.

The 4th seemed to be the time for fireworks. Durant had scored a combined 33 points in the 4th quarter in games 1 and 2, and he and Westbrook came off the bench to start the final 12 minutes with fire streaming from their corneas. After a James Jones 3 extended the Heat lead to 5, the Thunder came back. Westbrook and Durant scored with Harden getting the assist for both. But Durant missed a couple free throws (the league’s best free throw shooting team would shoot just 15/24 from the charity stripe on the night, and it’s possible if they had shot as well as they normally do, they would have won the game). However, even shooting poorly from the line, didn’t mean the Thunder were out of it. Harden scored with 7:31 remaining to give the Thunder a 77-76 lead, but LeBron came right back and drew the foul; he hit both free throws to give Miami the lead right back.

After LeBron’s free throws with 7:11 remaining, the offense’s turned sloppy as the defensive intensity was ratcheted up. Everyone was striving to put the other team away for a 2-1 series lead and that meant some truly intense defense. No one scored until there was 4:50 left. Wade made his long-stepping move in the lane where he brings the ball up high to avoid the initial defensive poke, then up again to take a leaner in the lane. Perkins fouled him on the shot and it swished through. He made the free throw for a 3-point play and a 4-point lead with under 5 to play.

After a James Harden turnover, and Chris Bosh was blocked, Shane Battier (quiet in game 3 with only 9 points, after scoring 17 points in each of the first two games) poked the ball away from Harden and Mario Chalmers picked up the loose ball and passed it ahead to James. James said he saw Durant moving into position for the charging call as he swooped in for the basket; he claimed he changed his angle just enough to get the blocking foul (see the last picture above). Replays showed that Durant appeared to have set his feet on the play, but he may have leaned into LeBron, which facilitated the blocking call. LeBron, of course, made the lay-in, and Durant had picked up his 5th foul for the second game in a row. LeBron made the free throw for a 7-point Miami lead. There was still 3:47 remaining, and Durant—who has never backed down from a challenge this postseason—came right back and drilled a 19-footer off a Westbrook pass. Miami’s lead was again cut to 5. Durant and LeBron were battling.

A stretch of missed shots in the lane for Miami on the ensuing possession gave OKC another chance to cut into Miami’s lead, but Durant, still out of rhythm slightly from his time on the bench in the 3rd, missed a 10 footer he normally makes in his sleep. LeBron came right back and drove to the hole for another lay-up and another 7-point lead. 2:18 remained. 

This is when Dwyane Wade would have been the goat if Miami had failed to hold on at the end. First, Wade fouled Kendrick Perkins on a shot and Perkins hit both free throws. As Wade was bringing the ball up the court, Thabo Sefolosha started hounding him. He stripped him briefly in the back-court before Wade recovered and accelerated to get across the half-court line before 8 seconds expired. As he was making a final cross-over to pass the mid line, Thabo again stripped Wade and they were both off the other way. Wade timed one of his blocks from behind, but Thabo withstood the pressure (which could have been a foul in it’s own right) and got the lay-in to fall. The Thunder were only down 3. Wade promptly exacerbated this tough stretch in the game by missing a mid-range jumper and giving the ball right back to OKC again with 1:36 remaining, only down 3. Russell Westbrook pulled up in the lane (there is no one who jumps higher and more straight on a pull-up than Russell Westbrook) and he hit the jumper to cut the Heat lead to 1 with 1:30 in the game.

Wade would have been the goat if the Heat lose, but they held on.

This was a huge possession for Miami, and as LeBron made a cut around the 3-point line to head south for the bucket, Perkins immediately came over to help as LeBron took to the air. ‘Bron had enough height and vision to loft a pass over Perkins to a waiting Chris Bosh. Bosh—rather than rushing a shot—settled himself with a head fake and when he got Thabo (helping off of LeBron) in the air, and drew the foul. He made both foul shots to give the Heat a tenuous 3-point lead.

At this point, with a little over a minute remaining, I was almost positive Kevin Durant would win the game. But again I come back to his stretch on the bench in the 3rd quarter as a rhythm-breaking lapse. At this point he missed a 9-foot jumper that collided awkwardly off the backboard, and LeBron gathered the rebound (he would have 14 on the night). LeBron missed his own mid-range jumper, as Westbrook gathered the rebound with 45 seconds remaining.

The Thunder passed the ball around, and the Heat’s collapsing lane defense gave Russ a wide-open 3-pointer to tie. The shot—without a defender within 5 feet of him—clanged off the back of the iron. Shane Battier gathered the rebound before passing to LeBron who the Thunder immediately fouled. LeBron missed his first free throw, but made the second—a big one as the Heat now had a 4-point lead with 16 seconds remaining. The Thunder called time to advance the ball, but when Thabo Sefolosha passed the ball in there was a miscommunication with Westbrook, who was breaking towards mid-court as Thabo sent a pass to the corner. Turnover. Heat ball with 13 seconds left. Wade is fouled, and he hits both free throws. Game over.

There are some who would blame this loss on the referees. It was they who assessed Durant his 4th foul in the 3rd and broke up what could have been another epic 2nd half from the league’s leading scorer, but Durant has had a tendency in the last two games to make silly fouls. While I think his blocking foul on LeBron in the 4th could have gone both ways, his supposedly “ticky-tack” foul on Wade in the 3rd was legit, and he has to do a better job just ignoring the pump-fakes and staying on his feet and out of foul trouble. It was a tough lose, but you can be sure Durant will learn from it.

If Durant had remained in the game for the 3rd period, I have little doubt he would have been a lot more accurate in the 4th quarter (where he was just 2/6), and the Heat—who struggled to win anyway—would have been at a loss trying to defend him. The Plastic Man needs to stay on the court because he’s been impossible for the Heat to stop late in games. The Finals are a time where he has to be on the floor, even if that means giving up an occasional easy lay-up.

The Heat got lucky in game 3, but LeBron was again filling up the box score with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists. That’s actually a ho-hum performance for him, and Wade had that awful stretch in the 4th where he almost cost the Heat the game, so both superstars—even with the victory—can do more.

There is plenty for both teams to work on as this was the sloppiest game of their series so far. A series—I might add—that’s shaping up to be one of the best we’ve seen in this millennium. 

I can’t wait for Tuesday.

Final: MIAMI HEAT 91 - Oklahoma City Thunder 85

The Heat lead the series 2-1


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