OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER 85 @ MIAMI HEAT 91
NBA FINALS * Game 3 * Heat lead series, 2-1
Once again, Miami tried to pull away early. And it was a good sign for the Heat. Both Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade (who I feel like goes to Germany in-between games) got early shots at the rim... and they put the Thunder down early, 10-4. That prompted Scott Brooks to get James Harden out early.
In this back-and-forth affair early in the first half, Miami was taking it strong to the rim and a lot of us were questioning on why Kendrick Perkins... >=(... seems to be playing way too many minutes. It didn't help that Nick Collison got three early fouls but with the Thunder defense not being as mobile against the speedy Heat, it put OKC in a disadvantage. Both teams had a fun first half, though (with Shane Battier CONTINUING to hit threes... and Derek Fisher hitting big shots once again), and the Heat led in a close first two quarters, 47-46.
Oklahoma City started playing a little more zone and they made Miami shoot jumpers. The Heat couldn't convert and you'd rather have the dangerous LeBron James shoot from the perimeter than get to the rim.
The Thunder were getting to the rim whether it's both halfcourt or transition and looked ready to pull away when Kevin Durant picked up his fourth foul (questionable, if you ask me) halfway through the 3rd. Fisher did make a four-point play to extend the Thunder lead to 10 (sadly, that would be the last field goal by OKC in the 3rd) but Serge Ibaka and Fisher fouled Miami 3-point shooters in consecutive possessions that brought the Heat back (all six freethrows were made). With James Harden playing terribly (Brooks attempted to "calm" Westbrook down by sitting him down in crucial minutes of the 3rd), the Heat took the opportunity to go on a run and take the lead, 69-67, before the 4th quarter started.
The Heat had made it into a grind-it-out type of game, which works better for the Heat since their defense is so good compared to the Thunder. But Oklahoma City missed some freethrows down the stretch. Also, Chris Bosh (who didn't have a great offensive game) played great help defense on Durant. His D was definitely key to OKC not scoring for about four minutes. Back-to-back three-point plays by the Heat (LeBron drew a fifth foul on Durant) gave Miami a 7-point lead.
Still, Oklahoma City fought back. In the backcourt, Thabo Sefolosha picked Wade's pocket and made a reverse dunk/lay-in that cut the lead down to 3. And with 29 seconds left, the Heat left Westbrook alone for 3. Coach Erik Spoelstra did his own grinding with passion by basically... closing out on him.
"STAY THE COURSE! STAY THE COURSE!"
Westbrook missed badly. Then James Harden tried to draw a charge (FLOP) but the refs didn't buy it. The problem with that play was that it was unnecessary because there was still enough time for OKC to get the ball back.
After that foul, LeBron made one of two freethrows to boost the lead to four. But Thabo Sefolosha threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds pass. That was the game.
If experience played a factor in this game, this was the perfect example. Oklahoma City seemed to have jitters with the 15/24 shooting from the line. Maybe nerves contributed to the 4/18 shooting from 3. And just as I thought that Coach Brooks was going to fix the rotations, he really didn't. I felt he played Derek Fisher (28 minutes) and Perkins (34 minutes) too much. I also felt that Ibaka (22 minutes) played way less. Even though he's not the best pick-and-roll and one-on-one defender, they have trouble putting up shots against him. When he's guarding the rim, it's tough for Miami to score. Collison also should have played until he fouled out. Once again, his appearance was almost like a cameo; Collison's Game 1 performance seemed like years ago. And I have to question the Westbrook substitution after Durant went out. I feel like one of them (Durant and Westbrook) has to be in at all times. Good for Miami for taking advantage.
As for Miami? LeBron James has become cool, calm, and a killer. His 29 points and 14 boards has become so routine that most of us don't appreciate how great he is. And he hurts you at both ends. I think he finally realized that this is HIS game to take over.
Wade still tries to use his athleticism to beat players but he's 30, hurt, and doesn't realize how that hurts his team (5 turnovers today). His jumper is also quite broken. But he still did everything else and otherwise played a very good game, finishing with a 25-7-7 line. Bosh didn't have a super game (10 points and 11 rebounds) but, as mentioned, his help defense must be commended as he helped ground Durant.
Durant's foul trouble stunted his rhythm and couldn't get going in the 4th. He finished with 25 points (11/19) but he didn't get to the freethrow line much. And when he did, he went a surprisingly dismal 2 for 4. Westbrook finished with 19 points off 8/18 shooting. I'm sure people will get on him for missing that 3 since it's hip to hate on Russ these days. Hating LeBron James is SO 2011. Harden finished with 9-6-6 but shot a terrible 2 for 10.
Just like last year, the Heat lead the Finals, 2-1. But they'll be in Miami for both Games 4 and 5 unlike last year... and they have a chance of closing it out there. Also, the differences from last year's Heat to this year's are evident: you can see that they are learning from last year's experience and LeBron is playing like, well, LeBron.
For a unique recap, check out the Game 3 Twitter Play-By-Play.