Take this game, put it in a time capsule and unseal it in late June.
Heat 103, Thunder 97 on Christmas Day was that good. It was beautiful, rugged basketball and every bit as intense as an NBA Finals.
“Felt a little bit like a different month,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Did it ever.
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“It was one of those late June kind of games,” said Wade, who had 21 points on 17 shots. “A playoff atmosphere. Both teams really played up to the billing.”
It was all there in the NBA’s marquee game of the regular season, the rematch of the 2012 Finals.
You want physical? The game had five technical fouls.
Laser-like focus? The Heat was 19 of 19 from the free-throw line.
High drama? The Thunder had two chances to tie the score in the final seconds and missed them both.
So frustrated with his three-point miss with less than two seconds to play that Russell Westbrook slammed and stomped and screamed and flailed until an official was forced to award him with a technical foul. Westbrook kicked his leg out in an attempt to draw a foul on his shot but the official wasn’t buying it.
The Heat led 96-92 with less than three minutes to play but mistakes by LeBron James and then Wade gave the Thunder a chance to claw its way back into the game. James missed a point-blank layup with 1:11 left, and Wade tried to go behind the back on the Heat’s next possession only to lose the ball.
A dunk by Kevin Durant after the turnover cut the Heat’s lead to 96-95 with 44.1 seconds left.
The Heat gave itself some breathing room after a timeout when Chris Bosh put the Heat ahead by three points with a dunk. The slow-developing play was highlighted by patience from Wade and a crisp pass inside by James.
“It’s the evolution of this team,” Wade said of the play. “We really keyed on it last year. Just because you’re the guy with the ball at the end doesn’t mean that you’re going to make the shot.”
Said Spoelstra: “That wasn’t what we designed, but you have to find a way and improvise. Our poise going down the stretch of games has obviously gotten better over the last two and three years. We were able to break the defense down, and Chris was wide open.”
Wade is 7-1 on Christmas Day and the Heat is 7-2 all-time. Miami (19-6) has won four in a row on the league’s highest-profile day of the season. It was the first loss on Christmas Day for the Thunder (21-6) in three seasons.
James led the Heat with 29 points. He was 12 of 20 from the field, 0 of 3 from three-point range and 5 of 5 from the free-throw line. He had nine assists and eight rebounds.
Many of his assists went to point guard Mario Chalmers, who had a season-high 20 points.
Chalmers had 12 points in the first quarter and 8 of 14 from the field overall. He was 4 of 8 from three-point range.
“That’s the Mario Chalmers we like to see,” Wade said.
The Heat led by as many as 12 points early on, but the Thunder remained aggressive and fought back with an inspired effort that manifested itself in 38 free-throw attempts. Oklahoma City was 32 of 38 from the line.
The Thunder took a four-point lead in the third quarter before the Heat began playing inside and drawing fouls. The Heat attempted two free throws in the first half and 17 in the second.
Going off script
“Regardless of what your script is going against them, you’re going to go off script,” Spoelstra said. “They’re too good. You just have to find a way.”
Durant led the Thunder with 33 points. It was the highest point total by an opponent of the Heat this season. The previous season high against the Heat was 29 points by Carmelo Anthony.
Durant was 11 of 21 from the field and 2 of 4 from three-point range. He had seven rebounds and three assists. Westbrook had 21 points, going 5 of 19 from the field. He had 11 rebounds, three assists and was 10 of 12 from the free-throw line.
The Heat has held its past eight opponents to under 100 points. The Thunder was ranked second in the league in scoring entering Tuesday with an average of 105.1 points per game. The Thunder shot 42.3 percent. Its average field-goal percentage was 48.1 before Christmas.
“Our energy comes from our commitment on the defensive end. Our franchise will be built on that as long as Pat Riley is here,” Spoelstra said. “We weren’t doing it consistently at the beginning of the year. We were trying to outscore teams. But recently we’ve been doing that.”