Besides producing sensational statistics and playing exceptional defense, LeBron James is achieving something else in these playoffs: He is helping put the opponent’s top scorer in foul trouble.
Indiana’s Danny Granger, Boston’s Paul Pierce and now, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, all have encountered foul trouble while trying to defend James.
“When he attacks, he has the ability to draw sometimes upwards of double-digit fouls on the opponent,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
James said Monday that trying to get an opponent in foul trouble “can take away from what you’re trying to accomplish offensively.”
But Dwyane Wade wanted to try to pick up Durant’s fourth foul in Game 3, which he achieved with a pump fake with 5:41 left in the third. “I knew he had three,” Wade said. “When I went in there and he jumped, I knew I had him for his fourth.”
Durant went to the bench for the rest of the third quarter, and Russell Westbrook joined him there 40 seconds later. The Heat then outscored the Thunder 15-7 before both returned to start the fourth.
Two of Durant’s fouls resulted in three-point plays for James, including one (Durant’s fifth) that stretched the Heat’s lead to seven with 3:47 left. Of his five fouls Tuesday, Durant said, “A few of them, I didn’t think were fouls.”
Durant wants to keep defending James because “I always want to be a guy that does it on both ends, a two-way player. I’m going to try and play smarter.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Durant has been in foul trouble “two other times in the regular season, and he’s been two games in a row…. We might have to change a few things up.”
• Westbrook on Monday was asked seven questions about Brooks removing him from the game in the third quarter — a decision Brooks made partly to “calm him down” after a few “bad possessions.” Westbrook said he slapped a chair after being removed because he was “upset with myself.”
Wade said Spoelstra asked him to come out for a brief rest in the second half of Game 3, but he declined. Westbrook was asked what it will take for him to tell Brooks he doesn’t want to come out. “The coach makes the decisions,” Westbrook said. “I just roll with it.”
Miami’s 37.8 field-goal percentage in Game 3 was its second lowest ever in a playoff victory, topping only the 36.5 in a May 2000 overtime win at New York.
Also, the Heat shot 5 for 31 outside the paint; that 16.1 percentage was the worst by an NBA Finals team in 15 years, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information. What’s more, Miami’s 6-for-34 shooting on attempts of 10 feet and beyond was the worst since James joined the Heat. James, Wade and Chris Bosh were a combined 3 for 22 on those shots.
“ Shane Battier is our only guy that’s making perimeter shots,” James said.
This and that
• Quotable: Bosh, averaging 12 points on 36.1 percent shooting in the series, assured reporters: “I will pick it up.”… Durant, who shot 2 for 6 in the fourth quarter of Game 3: “I’m going to shoot until my arm falls off in the fourth.”… Wade admitted the Heat “got lucky” that the Thunder missed 9 of 24 free throws after leading the league in free-throw percentage.
• Thunder forward Serge Ibaka was quoted by the Palm Beach Post as saying, “LeBron is not a good defender. He can play defense for two to three minutes but not 48. … LeBron can’t play [Durant]” one-on-one.
• The 9.7 average television rating through three games is the highest for an NBA Finals since 2004.