With the Heat and Thunder knotted at 1-1, the NBA Finals resume Sunday night for the latest in a series of “pivotal” games. Both sides have accomplished some things in the first two games beyond just the one win, and both have established challenges they’ll have to overcome. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the Miami Heat host the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
1. A Bully In the Schoolyard: LeBron James went to work inside in Game 2. 18 of his 20 points off of field goals came from shots in the paint, with more coming on fouls drawn inside on post-shots and drives. The Thunder adapted well in the fourth quarter, sending multiple defenders at James on the pick and roll but they haven’t figured out a solution for the post yet. They can double, but James is such a good passer, you’re risking giving up a high percentage look. They have to get James discouraged with his post play to the point he abandons it, or swarm him to force turnovers. One thing that will not work is guarding him one-on-one with Kevin Durant. Durant just doesn’t have the size to counter James’ brute strength.
2. Living On The Line: For all the complaints about the officiating in Game 2, the Thunder had one more free throw. Both of these teams are drawing a lot of fouls. If the officials stop calling things, that’s going to favor the Heat, with their more physical approach and experience against Boston. But if the perimeter calls increase, that’s a good thing for Oklahoma City, who can eat you alive with free throw attempts.
3. Something Inside: Kendrick Perkins is getting killed this series. In every game, it’s a battle between what Perkins can provide on defense and what having him on the floor sacrifices inside. Unfortunately, in this series, it’s been damaging on both ends. But Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison have struggled as well. The Thunder need to attack Udonis Haslem who’s been having a hard time in the playoffs finishing plays with blown catches, and who gives up some length and size. The Thunder have to get contributions from the bigs on both ends or they’re sunk. They cannot lose the battle down low.
4. Late Beard Assault: James Harden was severely limited in the 4th quarter of Game 2 after keeping the Thunder alive offensively in the first half. Getting him more looks is important, because he’s one of their only real playmakers. Harden creates opportunities for other players, including the superstars with open looks, and is able to knock down contested shots. He can’t be frozen out, even for Westbrook and Durant. More plays have to be run with him as intiator.
5. Glass Houses. The Heat got back on the rebounding battle in Game 2, but it’s still an area of difficulty for them. Chris Bosh has to have double-digit rebounds and Dwyane Wade needs to contribute as well. They’re a guard-rebounding team, and they have to stick to that. Joel Anthony and Ronny Turiaf have been frozen out of this series and with Erik Spoelstra rarely making changes once he sets plans for a series, its’ clear they want to stick with the small-ball approach. That means more of an emphasis on the Big 3. Like that’s something they need.