There was a moment during Sunday night’s Game 3 between the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder that just made me really proud of my team and the organization.
LeBron James’ 29 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists? That’s an average statline for the reigning MVP by this point. Watching James crash the boards and making it a purpose to attack the rim at all costs gave me butterflies, but it wasn’t what made me proud.
Dwyane Wade’s 27 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals, as well as two extremely clutch free throws in the final seconds? It’s nice to Wade step up in a big way, but his game was frustrating to no ends and we’ll get to that.
Shane Battier tying the NBA Finals record for most three-pointers in the first three games with 11? That’s incredible and it’s exactly what the Heat needed in a game where absolutely no one could hit a jumper. Still, it was not the crowning achievement of the night.
What made me proud was watching the tip-off and seeing a full stadium. The Heat fanbase has been criticized just as much as their favorite team, but they proved many wrong by getting in their seats early and staying audible the entire game. When the Heat were down by as much as ten in the third quarter, the crowd was right behind their team as they should be.
The fans answered the call. They became the sixth man that the Heat have so desperately needed. Is it a little ridiculous that I’m proud of my team’s fans for showing up to an NBA Finals game early? Of course. But isn’t this Miami Heat team all about being ridiculous?
Ridiculous in its execution, its frantic style of defense and in the manner they score a large majority of their points. The Heat can turn from the Harlem Globetrotters to the Washington Generals in mere seconds, but they always seem to find a way to pull out a victory when it matters most because that’s what great teams do.
Game 3 wasn’t even close to what you’d expect from a contest featuring the Heat and Thunder. After two consecutive games where the winner scored at least 100 points, the Heat only needed 91 points to defeat one of the league’s most volatile and prolific offense.
Holding the Thunder to 85 points was something that team was not used to seeing. The Thunder were uncharacteristic all-around. Costly turnovers and missed shots late; 63 percent free throw shooting from a team that shot 90 percent during the regular season; and the league’s top sixth man scoring nine points on 2-of-10 shooting.
That stuff is happening for a reason, and at some point we have to give the Miami Heat some credit where credit is due. How they made the Thunder work for every one of their 18 fourth quarter points, how James Harden has now played horribly in two of the first three games and how Kevin Durant only had four points in the fourth quarter is solely because the Heat are playing how we expected them to play.
Durant was averaging nearly 17 points per game in the fourth quarter in the first two games. What changed this time around? His defender. LeBron James, eight points and four rebounds in the fourth, was locked in on Durant from the beginning to the end and it showed. The usually cool, calm and collected Durant was visibly frustrated from foul trouble and wasn’t hitting those same long jumpers he was making in the previous two games.
The pressure isn’t getting to him and neither is the officiating; LeBron James is. And the sooner we can admit that James just so happens to be as good a defender as he is an offensive juggernaut, the sooner we can move on and begin to appreciate the fact that James is the league’s top player and is averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds per through the first three games of the Finals.
I could go on and on and on about LeBron and just how incredible he is and has been. I’ll have to leave an entire piece just for him, so for now I’ll just leave a video of his highlights from yet another historic Game 3 performance:
So how did the Heat hold the Thunder to 85 points? Defensive pressure, for one. The Thunder relying solely on jump shots for the entirety of the game, secondly. As good as the Thunder are collectively shooting the ball, that doesn’t last for 48 minutes and seven games where defense’s are active and capable of making adjustments. Layup’s always fall, jump shots don’t.
Durant and Westbrook, two exceptional athletes who can attack extremely well, combined for six free throw attempts. It’s not just the defense playing a factor, it’s those two settling for the long jumpers that they’re so used to making. The problem is that those shots don’t always fall, unlike the Heat who did nothing but attack the rim.
Lastly, the Thunder couldn’t get anything going because the Heat didn’t allow them to. When Kendrick Perkins is your team’s third leading scorer, you’re going to run into problems. When your second and third best player combine for 28 points on 10-for-28 shooting, the chances are high that you will not end up beating a team that will gladly take advantage of that sort of opportunity.
Durant’s foul trouble played a key part, too. I’m not sure why everyone is complaining about his foul trouble, but I’m not surprised in the slightest. He’s guarding LeBron James, a player who is much stronger and quicker than he is and he’s just committing bad, touch fouls and falling for pump fakes, which he did twice against Dwyane Wade.
The second pump fake he fell for was what garnered him a deserved fourth foul. It couldn’t have come at a better time, too, because the Thunder were well on their way to running away with it. Luckily for the Heat, Durant isn’t a great defender and is getting himself into foul trouble with unnecessary fouls that are detrimental to his team.
The Heat ran off a 15-3 run to end the third quarter after being down by ten. Thanks in part to Dwyane Wade finally getting involved, LeBron James being LeBron James and the Thunder unwisely fouling three-point shooters on back-to-back possessions, the Heat were able to take a 69-67 lead going into the fourth.
And what a fourth quarter it was. The Heat started pulling away late with a seven-point lead, but quickly saw it turn into one with less than two minutes to play following a inexcusable turnover by Wade in the backcourt. At this point, it was expected that the Heat would surely lose to the Thunder. After all, who has the clutch players and who doesn’t?
Chris Bosh, who chipped in the biggest 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks of his career, converted two free throws to push the lead back to three. Durant and James would exchange misses, which would lead to a wide-open Russell Westbrook three-pointer that would tie the game with less than a minute remaining.
Clang. One of the greatest sounds ever heard by the Miami Heat fan organization because they know they dodged a huge bullet. Westbrook was as open as open gets and the regularly solid three-point shooter missed. LeBron would hit one-of-two free throws at the other end to leave the door open.
On the Thunder inbound, Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha entered the realm of miscommunication and it resulted in a turnover. Dwyane Wade took and made both free throws at the other end to make up for two huge mistakes he made a few minutes earlier.
Game over. The Heat win 91-85 and take a 2-1 series lead. They held a 2-1 series lead last year against the Dallas Mavericks; the only difference is that the Heat this year have LeBron James while last year’s Heat team obviously had an impostor LeBron.
I have the strong feeling that the guy from ‘Scanners’ whose head explodes is how many Miami Heat critics are feeling right now:
They’re getting scared. They’re scared because they didn’t expect this to happen. They’re scared because they know if the Miami Heat win Game 4, this series is essentially over. They’re scared because they’re going to have to run out of things to talk about. They’re scared because they’re going to have find a new way to channel all of that hatred to a new outlet.
Fear is setting in and the critics are getting desperate for answers. The Miami Heat faithful couldn’t be anymore pleased to see that sweat on the forehead of every worried critic; hearing the talk about the league assisting the Heat; and listening to the critics new and innovative ways to come up with new excuses for the Heat’s success in the past two games.
The best thing is that these critics aren’t getting silenced. Rather, they’re getting louder and that’s making this little championship run of the Heat’s so much sweeter. Talk is cheap, especially in sports. The only thing that matters in this game is who is putting more points on the board and some people can’t come to terms with that.
The Heat are two home wins away from their first championship since 2006 as well as their first championship in the ‘Big Three’ era.
The kicking of dicks lives on another day.
Game 4 is slated for Tuesday at 9pm because it’s not like we have anything to do Wednesday morning, right?
Ball-crushing stats of the night:
- The Heat shot 16 percent from outside the paint. It was the worst percentage in the NBA Finals in the past 15 years.
- The Heat’s first-half shot chart is insane.
- Miami is 2-17 in playoff games where they shoot 38 percent or worse. Their only wins? Sunday night’s contest and a game in 2000 against the Knicks, when it was normal for games to end with both teams scoring below 80 points.
- OKC had 24 fastbreak points in Game 1. They have 23 combined in Games 2 and 3.