NBA finals Game 3: Heat grind out win with assist from Thunder

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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.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.