Dwyane Wade said before the game that it’s no secret that Kevin Durant “is one of the best fourth quarter players in the game.”
Typically so, but not so Sunday, not against a swarming Heat defense. Durant (25 points) made six of his first eight shots when matched against LeBron James in Game 3, but James obstructed Durant with stout defense on two late-game, 10-foot jumpers that badly missed.
And Russell Westbrook, who closed with 19 points on 8-for-18 shooting and four assists, missed a three-pointer that could have tied the game with 30 seconds left.
“Tough loss,” said Durant, who had no assists and five turnovers. “This is not over. It’s not over. We put ourselves in position to win. That’s what it’s about.”
The Thunder led by as many as 10 in the third quarter but was ultimately undone by inefficient offense in the second half: 14 for 39 shooting (35.9 percent) and nine turnovers, including six in the fourth.
It didn’t help that James Harden shot 2 for 10 on a nine-point night. Also key: Miami outrebounded Oklahoma City 13-6 in the fourth quarter. And the Thunder, which led the league in free-throw percentage, missed 9 of 24 from the line.
“We fouled too many times and turned the ball over in the second half too many times,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Durant had an uneven second half — he spent the final 5:41 of the third quarter on the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Durant opened 9 for 13 but shot 2 for 6 in the fourth.
“We tried to put bodies in front of him to make it as tough for him as possible,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Durant made his first four shots of the second half but missed two free throws with 7:55 left in the fourth and had a shot blocked by Chris Bosh with 6:49 to go. He followed that with a missed three with 5:50 left.
Durant then picked up his fifth foul when he made contact with James on a drive with 3:47 remaining. James’ free throw completed the three-point play, stretching Miami’s cushion to 84-77.
Durant hit a jumper 10 seconds later but then shot an air ball when he tried to flip a shot over James with 2:30 to go. Then with 1:06 left and his team down three, Durant badly missed a running jumper against James.
Earlier, momentum swung shortly after Durant went to the bench with his fourth foul (on a Wade drive) with 5:41 left in the third. Brooks removed Westbrook 40 seconds later.
The Thunder led 60-54 at the time, and the margin grew to 10 a short time later. By the time Durant and Westbrook returned to start the fourth, the Heat was ahead by two, after closing the quarter on a 15-3 run.
Why would Brooks have given Westbrook that much rest, considering Durant was out? “You’ve got to rest a guy sooner or later,” Brooks said.
With both Thunder stars on the bench, Serge Ibaka and Derek Fisher foolishly fouled Shane Battier and James Jones on three-point shots, resulting in six points and fueling the Heat rally late in the third.
“It’s unfortunate I’m getting some fouls called on me,” Durant said. “I’ve got to play smarter next game. I hate to sit on the bench with fouls.”