Dwyane Wade said it was going to take 48 minutes of defense to beat Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
He meant it.
After hitting a pair of free throws with 1.5 seconds left to put the Heat ahead by two, Wade forced Westbrook to double pump on a final three-point shot at the buzzer. It bounced off the backboard and fell harmlessly to the AmericanAirlines floor, clinching a thrilling 97-95 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“That felt like the playoffs,” said Wade, who scored the final eight points for Miami (11-6). “That was our best game of the year from start to finish. We really executed, took the individual challenge. They have two of the greatest players in our game and they’ve got a good team. This is our best win of the year.”
How much of a nail-biter was it Thursday night? There were 38 lead changes and 11 ties. No other NBA game had more than 25 lead changes this season.
“My stomach was in knots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The guys love it. This is what you play for.”
Wade was front and center, finishing with a team-high 28 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Before Wade drew a foul on Serge Ibaka as he was triple-teamed under the basket and hit the winning free throws, Miami had cost itself at the free-throw line most of the game, missing 10 of its first 22 attempts. But Wade made the last two, offsetting 25 points each from Westbrook and Durant, and the 21 of 24 free throws Oklahoma City (11-8) made on its own.
Point guard Goran Dragic had 14 points and seven assists, Chris Bosh added 16 points and eight rebounds, and Josh McRoberts provided a season-high 12 points off the bench.
With the scored tied at 91, Dragic stripped Westbrook from his dribble and passed ahead to Wade for a dunk that put the Heat up 93-91 with 2:39 left. After Durant made 1 of 2 from the line, he came down the floor and drilled a three over rookie Justise Winslow to give the Thunder a 95-93 lead.
But Durant missed three other three-point attempts in the final two minutes. Wade then tied it on an improbable drive to the basket in which he lost the ball several times before laying it in with 29.3 seconds left.
“He was slipping and falling,” said Bosh, who set several screens for Wade on the play. “I was like, ‘Oh boy. This is really screwed. I’m just going to get back on defense.’ ”
But Wade sunk the shot.
Durant and Westbrook sat on the bench resting for the first 5:36 of the fourth quarter, but the Heat was unable to take advantage initially. Dion Waiters scored nine of his 13 points off the bench to open the period and give the Thunder the lead.
The Heat shot 52.5 percent in the first half and played solid defensively for the most part, but went into the half down 51-50 after 21 lead changes and six ties in large part because of free throw struggles.
The action got testy at times. Durant drew a technical foul with 2:44 left in the half when he got in the face of Dragic moments after Miami’s point guard escorted him out of bounds as he made a catch on a fast break.
Durant said he thought Dragic undercut him. Dragic said it was a clean play.
“I was just trying to add some flair to the game,” Durant said.
Durant has a heated history with Miami. He drew a technical in 2011 when he jawed with Bosh and then afterward called him “a fake tough guy.” Then in 2013, he told Sports Illustrated former teammate James Harden should replace Wade on the list of the magazine’s Top 10 players. Wade then responded to Durant on Instagram by saying: “Note to self: Make him respect your place in history … again.” In response to Wade’s response Durant posted on Twitter: “Show me, don’t tweet me.”
Durant drew two early fouls in the first quarter and went to the bench four and a half minutes in. But the Thunder had no problem grabbing the lead without him. Westbrook put up 15 points — seven from the free throw line — to lead Oklahoma City to 28-23 lead after one quarter.
The Heat rallied to take the lead in the second quarter. The highlight for Miami: Wade and Whiteside hooked up for a thunderous dunk on a Wade lob with 5:19 to play. The duo had been working a lot in practice Tuesday to bring that back to the team’s arsenal after the last couple of opponents had been taking the play away with different defensive looks.
▪ Luol Deng missed his fourth consecutive game with a strained left hamstring. Deng said pregame the Heat has not sent him to have an MRI on the hamstring because they believe it will heal with time off. “If tonight was a playoff game I’d probably go out there and try to play,” Deng said. “But we want to make sure it gets right.”
▪ The Heat reassigned forward Jernard Stokes to its Developmental League affiliate the Sioux Falls Skyforce. Stokes has yet to play for the Heat since being acquired from Memphis.