The Miami Heat attacked from the opening tip and they owned the paint. But that wasn’t enough — the Oklahoma City Thunder adjusted, taking away the inside game and looked like they were going to take the game away on the road.
And then the Thunder imploded. Oklahoma City fouled 3-point shooters. They missed free throws. They turned the ball over. They had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook sit at the end of the third quarter and their lead evaporated. In the fourth quarter James Harden was terrible. They blew the lead.
Then it became a sloppy, grind-it-out kind of game.
And Miami won it. Miami made their free throws, got stops and won 91-85 to take a 2-1 series lead in the NBA Finals. Game 4 is Tuesday night in Miami.
It has to be heartening for Heat fans — they know their team can win when the offense is clicking, but getting the win in an ugly, grinding game speaks volumes. It’s why Miami leads the series. It’s what title teams do.
Oh, and by the way, the Heat and LeBron James were just better down the stretch.
But that’s not why they won. Miami won because they were the aggressors. They got into the paint on the dribble drive (and some passes) early and for the game shot 23-of-35 at the rim, according to Hoopdata. Meanwhile, the athletic shot-blockers of the Heat continue to confound the Thunder, who were 13-of-27 at the rim.
The real place the Thunder lost this came in the third quarter when the team had made a run and was up by seven points. Durant picked up his fourth foul and coach Scott Brooks sat him, as expected. Then Westbrook made a couple of bad plays and Brooks sat him, too.
Miami went on a 15-3 run and took the lead.
“I took (Durant) out because he had the foul trouble right there,” Brooks said. “And Russell … Russell had a bad stretch for three or four possessions. I just took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game. I’ve done it before.”
The Thunder also missed free throws — going 15-of-24 from the line. It’s something unexpected for the best free-throw shooting team in the NBA during the regular season at 80.6 percent.
Then there was James Harden — 2-of-10 shooting on the night, two key turnovers late and a terrible blocking foul on LeBron late when the Thunder shouldn’t have fouled.
LeBron scored eight of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, and played fantastic all game making cuts off the ball and getting rebounds in the paint. Dwyane Wade did not have a good game, despite the 25 points. Wade was 5-of-15 shooting in the first half, and he finished the game with five turnovers. Durant had 25 points on 19 shots, and Westbrook added 19 points.
It was sloppy. Miami had five turnovers in the fourth quarter and shot just 41 percent. But they got to the line and hit their free throws, they crashed the boards and they ground out a win.
“In order to win we have to play physical and control the boards,” Chris Bosh said after the game. “We need to keep doing it.”
They just need to do it two more times and they will be NBA champions.