Despite win, Heat look vulnerable in Game 3
MIAMI — A nation celebrated when the ratings-killing San Antonio Spurs were denied a fifth NBA Finals appearance in 14 years.
Well, it sure looked Sunday night as if the grind-it-out Spurs were back.
In an uneven affair that at times made the U.S. Open golf going on at the same time appear more action packed, Miami defeated Oklahoma City 91-85 at AmericanAirlines Arena to take a 2-1 lead in the Finals.
"We're not a satisfied team at all," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said after the game. "So (Sunday) we won a ball game. It was an ugly game, and we can't wait to look at the film. You've got guys in the locker room saying, 'I can't wait to look at the film and see where we can get better and get better opportunities.'"
Heat fans were happy as they filed out after the game, some singing along to "The Heat is On" as it blared out of the loudspeakers. But there are two ways to look at the game.
One is that it's a victory, and nothing else matters since the Heat are now two wins away from an NBA title. The other is Miami better play better if it hopes to win Games 4 and 5 at home and prevent the series from going back to Oklahoma City's rowdy arena.
"We turned the ball over nine times in the fourth (quarter), and that's not winning basketball," said Heat forward LeBron James, who had 29 points and 14 rebounds while Wade added 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Well, it was on Sunday. The Heat actually outscored the Thunder 22-18 in the fourth primarily due to winning the rebounding battle 13-6 and shooting 9-of-10 from the foul line to Oklahoma City's 4-of-6.
The Thunder made several ill-advised turnovers down the stretch, and forward Kevin Durant, after averaging 16.5 points in fourth quarters in the first two games, had just four Sunday on 2-of-6 shooting. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra didn't even give his defense a lot of credit for that.
"At the end of the day, sometimes it's make or miss," Spoelstra said of Durant, who had 25 points for the game after having 34.0 in the first two. "He had some looks that he can make."
So, Miami was fortunate Sunday that the Thunder gift-wrapped a victory. But give the Heat credit for not returning the present.
And give them credit for battling back from a 64-54 deficit with just over four minutes left in the third quarter.
"It just shows our character, how we were able to come back from that and make plays and regain the lead," James said of his Heat, who outscored the Thunder 15-3 the rest of the quarter to take a 69-67 lead entering the fourth.
It sure helped that Durant had picked up his fourth foul with 5:41 left in the third and spent the rest of the quarter on the bench. The Heat also didn't appear too upset that Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks sat out talented but mercurial guard Russell Westbrook for the final 5:01 of the quarter because Brooks said he wanted to give him a breather and he had made some ill-advised plays.
Well, Westbrook hardly made the most ill-advised plays of the third quarter for the Thunder. Those were courtesy of Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher, who fouled Heat forwards Shane Battier and James Jones on three-pointers on consecutive possessions late in the quarter right in front of the Oklahoma City bench. All six resulting free throws were made, and suddenly a 65-56 deficit was 65-62.
"They stepped up and shot threes and we fouled them," Brooks said. "It was the right call (on both). We fouled both shooters."
Even if one of the guys picking up those fouls was Fisher, who is 37 and has five title rings, one could say overall Oklahoma City's inexperience showed on this night. Nevertheless, the Heat still had to take advantage of it.
And they did. They grinded out the victory despite shooting 37.8 percent (the Thunder weren't much better at 42.9). Down the stretch, they got timely defense from center Chris Bosh, who grabbed five of his 11 rebounds in the fourth quarter.
After Oklahoma City fought back from a 86-79 deficit to get within 86-85 with 1 ½ minutes left, the Heat closed the game by making five of six free throws. Bosh made two, James split a pair and Wade hit two.
"We can find different ways, resourcefulness, to find different ways to win, and we had to, because we didn't have a lot of great, great offensive possessions in the second half," said Spoelstra, whose team shot just 33.3 percent after intermission. "But we had enough stops, enough timely scores, still able to get some free throws down the stretch to find a way to grind a win."
For the night, Miami shot 31-of-35 from the line to 15-of-24 for Oklahoma City. Unless somebody on the Heat wants to take credit for great free-throw defense, they were fortunate the Thunder shot 62.5 percent from the foul line after they having been at 82.3 percent in the postseason entering Sunday.
In the end, the Heat found a way. They scored their second-fewest points of any win this postseason.
But stay tuned to see what the television ratings look like after these two usually exciting teams had record ratings in the first two games of the Finals. On Sunday, with the U.S. Open in prime time and already assured of stealing some viewers, the Heat and Thunder looked at times as if they were playing out of a sand trap.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @christomasson