You knew it was coming.
For the first three quarters the Miami Heat played the game they needed to play to get a win in this series — LeBron James was driving the lane, Dwyane Wade looked like his old aggressive self, Chris Bosh was providing the size inside they need, the Heat defense (particularly transition defense) was much better and Shane Battier was knocking down shots. The Heat led by as many as 17 and by double digits almost the entire first 36 minutes.
But you knew a Thunder run at home was coming.
And they got close in the final six minutes, very close. After a clever steal by Derek Fisher that led to a transition Kevin Durant three, the Thunder had cut the lead to two with 37 seconds remaining. After a terrible possession that ended with a missed LeBron James three, the Thunder had a chance to tie.
That’s when it happened. OKC got the ball to Durant, who spun baseline on James and James hooked him under the arm. It was a foul, Durant shot and missed but there was no call. Miami got the rebound, LeBron was fouled, hit his free throws and that did it.
Miami won 100-96 to even the series at 1-1.
This was a wildly entertaining ending, the second fun game in a row in what is shaping up to be an even and classic series.
The focus in Game 2 will be on the last play and the no call, but every time something like this comes up, I go back to an old coach of mine. We were complaining about a lost game on a bad call and he said (I’ll paraphrase with language I can use on a family-friendly blog): “If you guys hadn’t sucked in the second quarter the referee wouldn’t have been in position to decide it.”
Miami won this game or the Thunder lost this game — depending on your perspective — in the first half. The last play did not decide it. Miami only won one quarter in this game, the first — every other quarter was tied or won by the Thunder. But you can lose a game in the first just as easily as at the end.
Miami raced out to an 18-2 lead from the opening tip. On one end the Thunder shot 5-for-20 to start the game as the Heat put on better defensive pressure, particularly LeBron on Durant. On the other end Wade was driving Miami — after looking slowed and hobbled in Game 1 he looked like his 2006 self again. Well, maybe with a few less crashes to the ground. He was attacking the lane from the start, getting his own shot and setting up Battier for a corner three. Meanwhile Chris Bosh was working off the weak side more.
Wade finished with 24 points, Bosh had 16 points and 15 boards, LeBron had 32 points on 22 shots, Battier had 17 points and was 5-of-7 from three. Their offense clicked because they ran sets — the pick-and-roll was going on one side but Bosh or someone else was moving off weak side action to get free also. The Heat moved the ball.
Then they got back on defense. Up until midway through the third the Thunder had no fast break points. Those easy buckets are what get the Thunder going and the Heat stopped them for a long stretch.
For three quarters, it would feel like the Thunder were about to make a big run but the Heat shut it down quickly and held the lead. Kevin Durant battled foul trouble and was more passive than normal, while Kendrick Perkins was bad. (Why he played so much instead of Serge Ibaka is confusing.)
Until the fourth quarter
Harden had kept the Thunder in it but in the fourth it was Durant and Westbrook. Durant finished with 32, Westbrook 27.
It was a fantastic, exciting comeback. But it took so much energy to come so far back, they couldn’t finish it off.
The Thunder can’t just come from behind every game and win this series. They were 1-1 doing that at home, it will be harder to come back on the road. They need to find a faster start.
For Miami, this was the kind of game they needed to play to win, but do you really have any confidence they can keep doing it consistently? They haven’t yet in the playoffs.
It’s a best of five now and what we’ve got is one exciting NBA finals. That’s all we can really ask for, because we can’t and shouldn’t expect the officials to be perfect.