Thunder can’t close deal in Game 3 loss to Heat

Miami overcame an Oklahoma City scoring run in the third period to defeat the Thunder last night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals in Miami. Game 4 is Tuesday night on ABC.

Mike Ehrmann/AP
Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) gets past Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) and power forward Serge Ibaka (9) from Republic of Congo to dunk the ball during the second half at Game 3 of the NBA finals basketball series, Sunday, June 17, in Miami.

The Oklahoma City Thunder, who went on a 14-2 scoring run in the early minutes of the third quarter to temporarily silence the Miami Heat faithful, collapsed in the last quarter and a half to lose last night to the Heat, 91-85, at American Airlines Arena. Miami now takes a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 on Tuesday.

The absence of the Thunder’s Kevin Durant, who was benched after committing his fourth personal foul just under six minutes into the third period, permitted Miami to go to work, throwing the momentum back their way. While surmounting the Thunder’s then ten-point lead, the Heat went on their own impressive run that, by the end of the game, amounted to a 16-point swing. Adding fuel to the Heat’s fire was the curious decision by Oklahoma City’s head coach Scott Brooks to bench guard Russell Westbrook (19 points on the evening) with five minutes in the game, leaving both he and Durant off the floor at a critical juncture.

Two statistics were particularly meaningful in this game’s outcome: though they only hit just over 37% of their field goals, Miami got to the free throw line an impressive 35 times and made 31 (89%), while Oklahoma City hit only 15 for 24 from the charity stripe. Emblematic of the Thunder’s struggles at the line was Durant, who, for the first time in recent memory, threw up two consecutive misses. For a team who led the NBA in free-throw percentage during the regular season, missing seven + free throws in each of the Finals contests is indication that the youthful team is feeling the pressure.

NBA Finals exam: Test your knowledge of pro basketball history

Also, the Heat finally turned up the temperature on their transition game last night—and in a major improvement over their performance in a Game 1 loss, scored 19 fast break points to the Thunder’s 11. Miami was also impressive on the boards—pulling down 45 rebounds to Oklahoma City’s 38. The Heat also convincingly won the battle for points in the paint – 46 to 42.

The Thunder didn’t help their cause any while surrendering their double-digit lead in the third period with two inexplicable three-point shooting fouls against Miami. Shane Battier was fouled by Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka behind the arc, and not 30 seconds later, James Jones was hacked by Derek Fisher, which collectively resulted in six free Miami points. And speaking of shots from behind the arc, the Thunder were ice-cold—hitting only 4-of-18 for the game, which neutralized the possibility that they might capitalize on Miami’s sloppy ball handling, which gave up nine turnovers in the fourth quarter alone.

Additionally, Oklahoma City, who had protected the ball proficiently well into the third period (a total of six turnovers in that time), started to lose the handle on it when Miami stepped up their defense inside and forced the Thunder back into a perimeter shooting offense—in addition to causing several bad turnovers on Oklahoma City’s part. For instance, the Heat’s Dwyane Wade and LeBron James combined for an 8-0 run midway through the fourth period and highlighted the burst with consecutive three-point plays in transition—both of which came as the result of Thunder turnovers.

Miami’s James led all scorers with 29 points, and Wade added 25, as did Kevin Durant for Oklahoma City. But the Thunder, ordinarily a great passing team, could only manage a paltry eight assists, and they got strongly outpaced by the Heat in second-chance points.

Oklahoma City is only 2-7 in the playoffs when they score fewer than 90 points, and though they got a nice double-double from big man Kendrick Perkins (10 points & 12 rebounds), their bench only contributed 20 points and eight rebounds.

On the other hand, Miami’s Chris Bosh was well-defended for the night, notching only ten points while grabbing 11 rebounds. But if Oklahoma City wants to stay in this series, they have to pay more attention to the fundamentals and muscle the Heat more inside. And psychologically, the Thunder have been acting too tentative when Durant and Westbrook aren’t on the floor and are easily thrown back on their heels if LeBron and company start turning up the heat.

James, whose strong play in the fourth period was a good sign for the Heat, was stoical afterward. “I’m just trying to make game-changing plays, and whatever it takes for our team to win, [I’m] just trying to step up in key moments and be there for my teammates,” the NBA regular season MVP said.

NBA Finals exam: Test your knowledge of pro basketball history

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.