LeBron James needed some help, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh provided it.
The Miami Heat finally rediscovered the formula to winning in the NBA Finals – barely.
James had another finals career high with scored 32 points, Wade rebounded from a poor opener to add 24 and the Heat built a huge early lead before holding off a furious fourth-quarter rally behind their three All-Stars to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-96 on Thursday night, tying the series at one game apiece.
Bosh had 16 points and 15 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup for the Heat, who snapped a four-game finals losing streak with their first victory since Game 3 against Dallas last year.
”It’s been so long since we’ve had them all together,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. ”They played like the All-Stars that they are and that’s the effort that we need.”
Now they go home to host Game 3 on Sunday and the next two after that, knowing they don’t have to hear the noisy Thunder fans again – not to mention all their critics – if they win all three.
”We’ve been down. We’ve withstood rallies. The good thing about it, when they scored, we didn’t get our head down. We just got back on offense and started to execute,” James said. ”It’s a great team that we’re going against. So we’re going to need every effort, every play and it’s going to take all the way down to zeroes on that clock to get a win.”
Kevin Durant scored 32 points for the Thunder, but missed a shot after appearing to be bumped with James that would have tied a game the Thunder trailed the entire way. Russell Westbrook finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but shot 10 of 25 from the field.
James Harden tried to keep the Thunder in it early and finished with 21 points, but this time the Thunder couldn’t come back from a double-digit deficit after spotting Miami a 17-point advantage during their worst first half of the season.
”That was the game. We can’t start off down 18-2,” Durant said. ”We can’t go down that much, especially at home. We’ve got to correct it.”
It was the first home loss in 10 postseason games for the Thunder, who had overcome a 13-point deficit in Game 1.
James had 30 points in the opener, but afterward said Wade needed to be Wade – All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and finals MVP.
In Game 1, Wade was 7 of 19. He wasn’t sharp in the last round and continues to hear reports that something is physically wrong with him. He was all but asked Wednesday if his explosiveness was a thing of the past, what must have been insulting to a player who, though 30, still believes he’s not far from the top of the game.
Wade bounced back in a big way, not quite at the level he was as the 2006 finals MVP, but certainly good enough with the help around him now for the Heat to win another one.
He spun into the lane and found Bosh for a dunk that seemed to have the Heat safe at 98-91 inside the final minute, but a 3-pointer by Durant cut it to 98-96 with 37 seconds left. After James missed a 3-pointer, the Thunder got the ball into Durant, who appeared to be knocked off balance by James as he missed the baseline shot attempt.
Durant said only that he missed the shot, saying he would have to watch the tape to see if he was fouled.
James then sank the insurance free throws – finishing a 12-for-12 night at the line – as fans booed loudly over the no-call.
Bosh started after coming off the bench in every game since returning late last round from his nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. The Big Three joined Battier and Mario Chalmers in the lineup, the first time Miami had gone with that first five all season.
It sent the Heat on their way to a terrific start, and Battier matched his surprising 17-point performance in Game 1 by going 5 of 7 from 3-point range, providing all the help the superstar trio needed.
James had his fifth straight 30-point game, breaking Wade’s franchise playoff record, and added eight rebounds. He defended Durant early in Game 1 and helped put the league’s scoring champion in early foul trouble, just one of the problems the Thunder had early.
Another loud, blue and white crowd tried to inspire them to rally, but the team could just simply never get close enough to until the final minutes.
The home team would get the deficit to around 10, and James would get himself into the post or drive powerfully into the lane to score or set up a teammate.
The Heat blew a fourth-quarter lead in Game 2 last year, and doing it again would have meant making them overcome a 2-0 deficit, which they did in 2006.
Durant nailed a 3-pointer and drove into the lane to throw down a dunk over Battier that cut it to 82-74 with 8:22 remaining. His 3-pointer from the wing trimmed it to 90-86, and the Thunder got it all the way to 94-91 when Westbrook dunked Durant’s miss with 1:48 to go.
James answered by banking in a jumper for his first basket of the final period, as the Big Three combined for all but one of Miami’s seven field goals in the fourth quarter.
”The clock is going really fast, but I tried to slow it down in my mind and get a good shot,” James said of the play. ”I had a couple turnovers in the fourth quarter that I didn’t like because I wasn’t aggressive enough. I was glad I was able to make a good bucket and some free throws down the stretch.”
The Heat were more impressive early.
The Thunder missed 11 of their first 12 shots, and when James capped a run of 13 straight Miami points with a basket, it was 18-2 with 4:51 remaining in the period.
Coach Scott Brooks had talked to his team about its poor starts and told the Thunder during a first-quarter timeout that the Heat were playing harder than they were. The Heat kept it up, pushing it to 25-8 on Wade’s jumper with 2:39 left.
With Durant sitting with two fouls, only Harden kept it from becoming a complete blowout, coming off the bench to score 10 points in the period. The Thunder cut it to 27-15 as the first period ended with Serge Ibaka rising high to stop James’ dunk attempt, shaking his finger afterward like Dikembe Mutombo.
Oklahoma City tried to chip away, getting within eight about midway through the second, but the Heat had it back up to 17 with about 2 minutes to go and took a 55-43 lead into the break, holding the Thunder to their lowest-scoring first half of the season.
Notes: The Heat used their 25th different lineup in their 86 games this season, including seventh of the postseason. The most frequently used lineup in the regular season, with James, Wade, Bosh, Chalmers and center Joel Anthony, has not opened a game in the postseason after going 27-10 during the regular season. … Reserve James Jones checked in for the Heat in the first quarter after missing Game 1 with a migraine. … Former Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was at the game. … A powerful storm knocked out power in many South Florida homes, keeping Heat fans from seeing the entire game.