Miami Heat 91–Oklahoma City Thunder 85: Heat take 2-1 lead in series

In the studio, right after the game, Magic Johnson may have said it best when he gave his reason for Miami winning Game 3 Sunday night.

Johnson put it simply, saying LeBron James “willed his team to a win.”  This was a game where neither team shot well and both teams had double-digit turnovers.  Offensive execution was clearly a problem for everyone, and both teams thrived only on the defensive end.  The bright spot in this game was LeBron James, who did, in fact, will his team to a win.

While he wasn’t the entire story, James made the difference Sunday in making sure his team failed to execute less often than the other team.

Jun 17 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) drives to the basket past Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) and James Harden (13) during the fourth quarter of game three in the 2012 NBA Finals at the American Airlines Arena. The Heat defeated the Thunder 91-85. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

With 29 points and 14 rebounds, James was game leader in both categories.  What was more important, however, was James’s ability to keep possessions alive.  In addition to the 5 offensive rebounds he had, I lost count on his out of bounds saves, loose ball tips, and everything else that didn’t involve scoring.  Late in the game, he broke Oklahoma City’s brief 20-second lead with 2 free throws.  A few possessions later, he threw down a dunk to increase the lead.  Up until the clock struck 0:00, LeBron was the defensive catalyst that got rebounds and stopped penetration when the ball came to his side.  It was a great all-around performance for The King.

While LeBron led the charge, good energetic performances from his Heat teammates are what enabled the opportunity to win.  Like I said earlier, offensive execution was a problem, as Wade and Bosh combined for 11-34 shooting.  They did enough things outside of scoring, though.  Bosh finished with 11 rebounds and 2 blocks, showing that all-star defensive post presence the Heat were missing earlier in the playoffs.  Wade shot poorly for the game, but got to the line for 11 free throws and hit some clutch shots in the 4th.  The combined efforts of Miami’s 3 stars late in the game allowed the Heat to close out and win Game 3.

We saw the Thunder going shot-for-shot with the Heat to start the game.  Considering how well the Thunder start the 2nd half of each game, it would make sense that they’d build a lead in the third quarter if the game was close enough for them to do so.  As expected, they did so.  Their early 3rd quarter defense kept Miami out of the paint, and led to lots of missed 18 footers.  At the same time, Durant and Fisher scored a couple times, and the lead suddenly reached 9.

Then Oklahoma City temporarily forgot what they were doing.

On back-to-back Heat possessions, The Thunder lacked disciplined perimeter defense, and fouled on 3 point shots both times, from the corner.  Battier and Jones each hit 3 free throws, and the lead was cut to 3.  For the last 2:50 of the 3rd quarter, James Harden missed 3 jumpers and 2 free throws, as Miami came back for a 2 point lead.  For Miami, the 3rd ended with 4 points by Wade and a deep 3 by LeBron.

From then to the mid-point of the 4th quarter, both teams returned to their tough defense and alternating scores.  At this point, Oklahoma City really struggled.  Harden lost the ball a couple of times.  Westbrook and Durant missed shots.  Oklahoma failed to finish by executing plays, while guys like LeBron James did all the little things to close the game.  So in the end, Miami won.

Now for some other notes on the game:

-The leader of the Thunder offense, Russell Westbrook is definitely the most scrutinized player on his team.  When the Thunder wins, Durant gets all the credit.  When they lose, Westbrook catches the blame.  He definitely deserves more credit, even when OKC loses.  While it’s true that Westbrook plays bad in most of OKC’s losses, tonight wasn’t the case.  Russell played the best overall game of anyone on the Thunder, and really helped keep them in the game with his defensive skills and timely scores.  Just like the rest of team, he didn’t do enough to win at the end of the game.  Can’t put this loss on Westbrook.

-Kevin Durant didn’t play terribly, as he finished 11-19 shooting.  His 4th quarter, however, was awful.  He scored only 4 points, lost the ball a few times, and fouled LeBron on an And-one play.  He was anti-clutch tonight.  I’m waiting on everyone to make him the most hated player in the NBA because he “can’t play in the 4th.”  Obviously, that’s not true, as he’s a very clutch performer.  Also, I don’t want him to take the same ridiculous treatment that LeBron James has endured for the past year.  Neither of the two deserves that, and it should be interesting to see what some of the silly fans say now.

-It hurts my body to see Mike Miller go up and down the court, as injured as he is.  No telling how many painkillers he’s had to use.

-Referee Joe Crawford is like 200 years old, but still going strong.  While some of his calls are questionable, his smooth footwork and fiery attitude make him entertaining to see.  One thing that shouldn’t be questioned is that he’s The Decider.  The old man runs this league.

I’d say it’s reasonable to expect a more offensively successful contest in Game 4.  Fewer turnovers, more made shots, similarly close game.  Let’s hope Monday goes by fast!