A late rally from the Thunder wasn’t enough to put away the Heat who, thanks to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, were able to claim a 100-96 series-tying win in Oklahoma City on Thursday.
The win was not without any controversy, however, as the referees did not call what appeared to be a LeBron James foul on Kevin Durant’s possible game-tying shot.
When asked after the game if he thought he was fouled, Durant declined to discuss the contact, saying, “I missed the shot. I think I shot a good shot. That’s a shot I shoot all the time. I just missed.”
With under 15 seconds to play, and the score at 98-96 in favor of the Heat, Durant pulled up seven feet away from the basket. James appeared to make contact with Durant just before the shot but, ultimately, no whistle was blown.
Durant was able to brush free of the contact and get a clean look, but he didn’t put enough on the shot and it bounced off the rim. As the ball was coming back down, Russell Westbrook jumped up and touched it with his left hand, then his right – but then lost control of the rebound to LeBron James with fewer than 10 seconds remaining in the final quarter.
Durant’s miss came as a surprise to many, especially because he was absolutely on fire in the second half, making seven straight shots – three of them from downtown.
With 10:30 remaining in the game, Durant picked up his fifth foul, one away from fouling out of the game, but Thunder coach Scott Brooks did not take him out, which proved to be the right move, as Durant went on to score 16 more points, including a huge three-pointer that brought the Thunder within two points of the Heat with 37 seconds left.
It all started with an incredible steal by Derek Fisher, as he stayed with Dwyane Wade, who was dribbling up the court, and just got a piece of the ball, sending it towards James Harden, who picked it up and threw it down the court to Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha then tossed the ball over to Westbrook, who paused for a second, then passed to Kevin Durant, who was standing beyond the three-point line.
Bosh, running back, tried to get a hand on the pass, but came up empty, leaving Durant with an open look, and he didn’t miss.
Unfortunately for the Thunder, two points was as close as they could get. It was a huge improvement from the first quarter, when the Heat opened up the game by taking an 18-2 lead over the Thunder.
The Thunder trailed the entire game, though Miami’s 27-15 first quarter was the only quarter in which they outscored OKC. But it was enough to last the whole game, as the Thunder couldn’t quite find their rhythm until the fourth quarter.
James had 32 points in the victory, two more than he had in Game 1, setting another Finals career high for the second straight game. Not to mention the fact that he made all 12 of his free throw attempts, with a few of them providing very important points near the end of the game. And Wade, who had been criticized for his low shooting percentage in his last few games, including Game 1, delivered on his promise of getting more aggressive. He came back with a strong effort, making 10 of his 20 field goal attempts, putting up 24 points in the process.
Shane Battier, once again, was clutch from beyond the line. He made five of his seven three-point attempts, including one with roughly five minutes left in the game that really hit the Thunder hard – an improbable 26-foot shot that was too strong for the hoop, but hit right off the backboard and went in anyway. He finished with 17 points on the night, one better than Chris Bosh.
Durant finished with 32 points, equaling James, but was only able to get to the free throw line three times, making four of his six attempts. Westbrook had a productive game, putting up 27 points and seven assists, but he shot only 38 percent on the night.
James Harden had no such problems – he was seven of 11 with 21 points, and he was absolutely electric in the first half, scoring 17 points and giving Thunder fans hope that the team could somehow overcome their large deficit. Unfortunately, Harden wasn’t as effective in the second half – his notable efforts there included two missed free throws, four points and two offensive fouls that really slowed the Thunder’s momentum.
The Thunder will have to get off to a much better start in Game 3. If they want to recover from their Game 2 loss, Westbrook and Durant will need to keep up their scoring, Harden will have to provide a more consistent effort, and, most importantly, the team needs to show why they were the number one free throw shooters in the regular season. The Thunder only made 19 of their 26 free throw attempts, whereas the Heat made 22 of their 25. This can be helped, provided Durant gets to the line a bit more.
As for Miami, LeBron James simply looks unstoppable. The big question right now is no longer whether he can perform in the fourth quarter. It’s more a question of whether he’ll set another Finals career high in points for the third game in a row. Dwyane Wade has clearly demonstrated that he can still get it done, and Shane Battier seems to be a three-point machine, no matter where he’s taking the shot from. The Heat can’t rely on 18-2 starts every game though, and they almost blew it near the end. The team needs to stay in control – they cannot allow Durant and Westbrook to take over, because once they get started, there’s no stopping them.
The series shifts to Miami on Sunday for Game 3 – tip-off is at 8 p.m.