The question is whether the hometown crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena has the heart to stand two more games like this.
In yet another compelling, pulsating bill of fare in these NBA Finals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade powered the Heat to a 91-85 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
“This is competition at its highest. We kept on mentioning that in the fourth quarter,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what this is about. We’re facing great competition.
“We showed some resolve out there.”
That the Heat did. Holding on despite another late turnover from Wade. Despite shooting just 33 percent from the floor in the second half and .378 overall.
“We were able to make enough plays,” Spoelstra said.
And make enough foul shots.
And grab enough rebounds to compensate for all those missed shots.
The Heat closed 31-of-35 from the line, compared to 15-of-24 for the Thunder.
There also was a 48-38 rebounding edge.
“We don’t necessarily look at it that we’re small,” said Spoelstra, who got 14 rebounds from James, 11 from de facto center Chris Bosh and seven from Wade.
As in the series’ first two games, the outcome wasn’t decided until late, but this time it was the Heat with the finishing kick, after the Thunder had dominated the second halves of the series’ first two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
For the second consecutive game, Thunder forward Kevin Durant had to play through foul trouble.
“I just got to play smarter next game,” he said. “I try not to concern myself with the officiating.”
For the Heat to celebrate in their house, it will require victories in Games 4 and 5, on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Otherwise, it’s back to Oklahoma City in the lone NBA playoff round played on a 2-3-2 basis.
When the Heat won the franchise’s lone NBA championship, it came on the Dallas Mavericks’ homecourt in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals.
In yet another duel between James and Durant, James came up with a critical late 3-point play on the way to 29 points. Durant finished with 25.
With Wade coming around from additional early-game struggles to score 25 points, the Heat had enough to hold on, even with guard Russell Westbrook scoring 19 for the Thunder.
“They made some plays down the stretch and we did not,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
The Heat finally appeared to seize control when James barreled in for a driving layup with 3:47 to play, drew the fifth foul on Durant, waved the crowd into near silence and then completed the 3-point play for an 84-77 Heat lead.
But Wade, who had a near fatal turnover late in the Heat’s Game 2 victory, then had another egregious turnover at midcourt, as the Thunder rallied within 86-85 on a Westbrook jumper with 90 seconds to play.
Bosh then went to the line with 79 seconds to play and drained a pair of free throws to fill out his second double-double in as many games, for an 88-85 Heat lead.
Durant then was off with a runner that James grabbed for his 13th rebound. But James then missed on a bank attempt.
Back came the Thunder, who got an errant jumper from Westbrook, with James Harden fouling James with 16.2 seconds to play.
At 5-of-6 from the line to that point, after going 12-of-12 from the line the previous game, James rimmed out the first attempt but made the second, effectively ending it. The Heat made 25 of their final 27 free throws.
“We fouled too many times,” Brooks said. “We’ve got to do a better job of defending them without fouling.”
The Heat are now 9-2 at home this postseason, with the Thunder falling to 4-4 on the road this postseason.
In series tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the Finals 85 percent of the time (29-5), with last season’s Heat among the all-time exceptions.
Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, the home team has won the middle three games only twice, the Detroit Pistons against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 and the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks in 2006. The road team has won the middle three games three times.
“We showed some resolve there in the second half,” Spoelstra said. “You have to find a way to put yourself in position to win.”
“We just weren’t able to close it out,” Westbrook said, “but we’ll do a better job next time.”
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