OKLAHOMA CITY -- This was Eastern Conference toughness. This was Pat Riley hammer-and-anvil basketball. This was LeBron James finally asserting his brutish and ridiculously unstoppable potential on the biggest stage.
Stealing away the momentum of the NBA Finals with three straight games now in Miami, the Heat defeated the Thunder 100-96 on Thursday at Chesapeake Energy Arena to tie the best-of-7 series at 1-1. It was the Thunders first loss at home of the playoffs. James, making clear from the beginning that he was the strongest, most athletic player in the building, scored 32 powerful points, most of them coming from close range on post-up moves or difficult drives to the basket.
We wanted to split, James said. Game 2, we wanted to come out and get a win. We didnt want to go back home down two.
While his offense shaped the game early, his defense saved it in the end. He provided desperate defense against Kevin Durant in the closing seconds, forcing the young offensive maven to miss from seven feet with a chance to tie the game. James was 10 of 22 from the field and 12 of 12 from the free-throw line.
I just wanted to put a body on him, James said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra uttered words like muscle and toughness after the game, clearly pleased with his teams effort after allowing the Thunder to dominate the paint and the second half in Game 1. Once again, Oklahoma City outscored the Heat in the second half, 53-45 this time, but Miami did just enough to hold on. The Heat was 22 of 25 from the free-throw line.
We were able to play a little bit more to our disposition and to our identity more consistently tonight and that was probably the biggest factor, Spoelstra said.
Miami outscored the Thunder 48-32 in the paint, held Oklahoma City to 43 percent shooting and seemingly executed every adjustment it wanted to make after its collapse in Game 1. Still, somehow, the Heat watched it nearly all unravel in the final seconds.
Miami led 98-91 with less than 50 seconds to play when Durant cut it to a two-possession game with a driving layup. Then disaster struck. Dwyane Wade fumbled away the ball bringing it up the court, which led to an easy three-pointer by Kevin Durant with 37.5 seconds. It cut the Heats lead to 98-96.
Suddenly, after so much had gone right for the Heat, it was dangerously close to going down 2-0 in the series. James missed a three-point attempt with 14.9 seconds left and Durant, who finished with 32 points, had the ball in his hands with 12 seconds to play.
We had a chance, man. Its tough, said Durant, who had 16 points in the fourth quarter. Its tough to lose that way. I was open and I missed the shot.
James grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled immediately by Westbrook. James made his final free throws of the night to seal the victory.
Well, thats competition and thats what its about, Spoelstra said.
Dwyane Wade, critiqued for looking a little past his prime in Game 1, responded with 24 points, including 13 in the first half. Wade was 10 of 20 from the field to go along with six rebounds and five assists. He was 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.
Just know that Im always going to keep coming back until I cant play this game no more, Wade said. I had more opportunities than Game 1 and I was able to attack it.