There is nothing like home sweet home. After gaining a split in Oklahoma City, the Miami Heat took advantage of an energized American Airlines Arena crowd to win Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
The Heat rallied from a third-quarter deficit and pulled out a 91-85 victory Sunday night to take a 2-1 series lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Here are a few observations from Game 3:
DON’T FOUL 3-POINT SHOOTERS!
The last 15 minutes of the second half wasn’t OKC’s finest moment and the pressure of the NBA Finals may be finally catching up to Scott Brooks’ young squad. The Thunder blew a nine-point lead in a three-minute span in the third quarter with two boneheaded plays fouling 3-point shooters. Within a matter of seconds, the Heat were able to cut the deficit to three thanks to six free throws by Shane Battier and James Jones. So, instead taking a lead into the fourth, the Thunder got outscored 15-3 down the stretch in the third and trailed by two entering the fourth.
MORE THUNDER MELTDOWN
After Russell Westbrook cut the Heat lead to 86-85 with 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, the Thunder never scored again and committed some costly gaffes. The worst one was James Harden fouling LeBron James with 16 seconds left when the Miami lead was just three and there was a six-second difference in the game clock that would have given OKC another possession with just one defensive stop. After James made it a four-point game, Thabo Sefolosha and Westbrook had a miscommunication on an inbounds play that led to a turnover.
FOUL TROUBLE FOR DURANT
For the second consecutive game Kevin Durant was in foul trouble. He picked up five fouls in Game 3, but only two of them were legit. Three times Durant was whistled for fouls on LeBron that could have easily been non-calls. Instead, Durant had to taper his aggressiveness and couldn’t play his normal game. Guarding LeBron is hard enough, but when the officials are going to call cheap fouls on Durant it is almost impossible to stop LeBron from scoring.
MIAMI SMALL BALL CAUSES BIG ISSUES
Despite starting two small forwards and a power forward at center, the Heat outrebounded the Thunder 45-38. James had a team-best 14 rebounds playing the big forward spot, while Chris Bosh grabbed 11 rebounds as the starting center. “We don’t necessary feel that we’re small. Everybody calls it small ball, ” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have two forwards, but neither one of them is a power forward and one of them is as big as anybody. Chris is as long as any center. We look at the benefits of the flip side. You gotta make decisions against us. Our versatility may seem unconventional we think it’s one of our greatest strengths.” What the small lineup does for Miami is keep Serge Ibaka from patrolling the paint. Ibaka has been matched up with Shane Battier out in the perimeter, negating his effectiveness and forcing Brooks to match the Heat’s “small ball” with his own brand of “small ball.” Instead of playing a conventional lineup Brooks sits two of his three bigs, which plays right into Miami’s hands.
TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO
Since Game 1 when OKC ran circles around Miami to the tune of 24-4 in fastbreak points, the Heat have been able to play at their pace and control the Thunder speed. Spoelstra has been preaching “imposing their will” on the Thunder and taking away their air space. Having Bosh in the starting lineup really helps the Heat control the boards. He had 15 rebounds in Game 2 and had 11 more in Game 3, and that allows the Heat to set up their defense and keep the Thunder from running wild on the break. Westbrook is the one player the Heat have really attacked defensively. Westbrook nearly had a triple-double in Game 1, but the Heat have adjusted their defense and is making Westbrook more of a playmaker than a scorer, which he struggles with at times. Westbrook was so disjointed and out of sync in the third quarter Sunday that Brooks had no choice but to sit him for the last five minutes of the quarter, allowing the Heat to rally. For the Thunder to pick up the pace, Westbrook needs to push the ball harder and make the Heat scramble by attacking the paint and not settle for jump shots.