MIAMI (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder had their chance. They were up 10 in the third quarter of the NBA Finals and then it all slipped away.
By the end of the period, their lead was gone. And even a late flurry wasn’t enough to save the Thunder, as the Heat escaped with a 91-85 victory Sunday night to take a 2-1 lead in the championship series.
Game 4 is Tuesday night in Miami.
There was so much for the Thunder to lament when this one was over. Kevin Durant was in foul trouble, again — and with him on the bench with four fouls late in the third quarter, Miami started making its comeback push. The Thunder were 15 for 24 from the foul line, gave Miami eight points off turnovers in the fourth quarter and were outrebounded 45-38.
But more than anything else, the Thunder will spend the next two days dealing with the fact that they had a chance to grab home-court back from Miami, which is now two wins away from the championship that LeBron James has spent nine seasons chasing. The Heat led last year’s title series 2-1 as well, then failed to win another game.
That was a different team, a different time.
Sunday wasn’t a perfect night for them either — but it was enough to beat the Thunder for the second straight game. The Thunder had been 7-0 in these playoffs when leading by double digits in the second half.
They’re 7-1 now, and need a win in Miami on either Tuesday or Thursday just to send the series back to Oklahoma City.
Durant finished with 25 points for the Thunder, who got 19 from Russell Westbrook and 10 points and 12 rebounds from Kendrick Perkins.
“He’s a great player,” James said of Durant. “He made some tough shots in the third quarter, but I just tried to get my body on him in the fourth quarter. He was able to miss a few and Chris was able to come over and get a couple blocks. That’s what our defense is all about, helping one another.”
James led everyone with 29 points and 14 rebounds for Miami, which got a 25-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort from Dwyane Wade and 10 points and 11 rebounds from Chris Bosh.
Miami led 47-46 at halftime, after putting together one of the more strange shot charts of the season. The Heat were 15 for 22 shooting in the restricted area near the basket in the first two quarters, 3 for 22 shooting from everyone else on the floor — and two of those made shots were 3-pointers by Shane Battier in the final 2 minutes of the half. The other was a 19-foot jumper by James midway through the opening quarter.
So yes, that meant the Heat did go 16 minutes without making a jumper in the first half.
They missed 11 straight from outside in that stretch, with Wade and Mario Chalmers missing three apiece, and Norris Cole missing two others.
And the first jump shot Miami tried in the second half? James teed up a 20-footer from the right wing — only to see it sail 22 feet and miss everything. Bosh, one of the best outside-shooting big men in the league, had a 15-foot attempt rattle out about a minute later. Another Bosh jumper came on the next possession as the shot clock was expiring, going into the books as yet another miss.
The tone was set. By then, the Thunder had only one defensive option: Pack the paint, try and clog every possible path to the rim that Miami feasted upon in the first half, and dare the Heat to shoot from outside.
It was working. Of all things, a four-point play from Derek Fisher sent the Thunder lead to 10 points with 4:33 left in the third.
Right then and there, it started falling apart. Fisher got fouled shooting a 3 — and then the Thunder did it to James Jones and Battier, who went 6 for 6 to help spark the run that put Miami up 69-67 entering the fourth.
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