The Heat is throwing a pair of Big 3s at Oklahoma City now in these NBA Finals. Each of them played their part in a Sunday night victory that put Miami back in charge and in a position to win the league championship on its own home court.
The first Big 3, of course, is LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — and they combined for 64 points and 32 rebounds to help fashion an ugly 91-85 victory over Oklahoma City that Heat fans surely found quite beautiful, indeed, as a packed downtown arena emptied into the night.
The other Big 3 would be Miami’s three consecutive home games in this seven-game series, with the next Tuesday, and then Thursday. Winning the first of those three straight Sunday meant Miami, now up 2-1 in the series, has an opportunity to win the franchise’s second championship on its own court and avoid a return trip to Oklahoma City.
Miami trailed by as many as 10 points late in the third quarter but prevailed largely because James, Wade and Bosh took it upon themselves to combine to score the Heat’s last 15 points.
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This was the ballyhooed Big 3 that fell short of a championship in last season’s Finals. A year later, they are giving every indication they plan to be vindicated.
“Every day we remind ourselves of that pain we experienced last year,” Bosh said after Sunday’s win. “That really helps us to succeed in this series.”
Nothing has come easily in this postseason, with Miami on target to become the first team ever to win an NBA title after trailing in three different playoff series. Neither have these Finals been anything less than down to the final minute — the way it should be when everything is at stake for the league’s two best teams.
Sunday underlined the struggle as the Heat shot only 37.8 percent on its field goal attempts and took the game inside of the final, frantic minute before giving its fans a chance to smile, to relax, to exhale.
Not all victories are things of beauty, especially in a Finals dominated by stars yet led fundamentally by two strong defenses. It has been Miami’s defensive ability to limit a high-powered Thunder offense that has the Heat in the strong position it is in.
Sunday showed a welcome ability by Miami to win even when the shots aren’t falling. When you extract the points scored in the paint, Miami shot a miserable 5-for-31 on longer shots. When you shoot that badly but win, you look to defense and rebound and toughness and file it all under resourcefulness.
“We’ve built up some toughness now that we can find different ways to win,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said afterward. “And we had to, because we didn’t have a lot of great offensive possessions in the second half, but we had enough stops, enough timely scores, to find a way to grind a win.”
The game was marked by physicality and fouls, with Miami enjoying a huge advantage of 16 additional free throws made, the difference in the game. The Heat also caught a break when Thunder superstar Kevin Durant was forced to sit in the second half with foul trouble more than Oklahoma City would have preferred.
Still, OKC drew within one point with 1:30 to play before the Heat scored the game’s final six points.
James’ 29 points and 14 rebounds and Wade’s 25 points led Sunday’s triumph, with Bosh adding 10 points and 11 rebounds.
History now smiles upon Miami’s championship chances. In NBA history, 29 of 34 Finals that were tied 1-1 have been won by the team that won Game 3 for a 2-1 lead. That’s 85.3 percent. The bad news? One of the exceptions was Miami just last year, when a 2-1 series lead over Dallas was engulfed by three straight losses.
But that’s nearly impossible to fathom happening again. Not with two more of those big three home games to follow. And not the way LeBron James is driving himself to his first career championship and taking the Heat with him.
James is enjoying a fantastic postseason, averaging 31 points per game, and that includes games of 30, 32 and 29 in these Finals.
That’s consistent excellence.
That is the league’s MVP making memories of last season’s Finals defeat, and his role in it, slowly disappear — replaced by relentless dominance.
“I never got fully adjusted last year,” James puts it simply. “This year I’m more comfortable with the system, my teammates, the city — everything.”
Points in the paint — dunks, layups, short baskets — help define the physical toughness the Heat likes to think of as their identity, and led the Heat to a fast start Sunday. Those points mean powering the ball inside, not settling for outside jump shots. It means dirty work, no fear of bruises.
“It’s who wins the line of scrimmage,” as Spoelstra described the battle for the paint.
So this was the Miami mindset. And these were the Heat’s first five baskets: Dunk by Bosh. Dunk by Wade. Another dunk by Bosh. Driving layup by Wade. And a layup muscled in by James through heavy traffic after an offensive rebound.
I’m not sure if Renoir ever had better control of the paint than that.
The thing is, the paint slowly dried for the Heat.
Miami scored 20 paint-points in the first quarter on 10-for-14 shooting inside, but in the second and third quarters combined managed only 16 on 8-for-20 shooting before persisting and managing 10 close-in points in the telling final quarter.
“We had to continue to be aggressive,” Spoelstra said. “That’s the style we want to play.”
That style was not particularly pretty Sunday night. Neither was this victory.
But a 2-1 Finals lead with the next two games at home?
To a Heat fan, that’s a beautiful thing.
with the next Tuesday, and then Thursday.