MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Miami Heat have seen this act before and they are hoping for a much different outcome for the 2012 NBA Finals than what happened in the 2011 NBA Finals.
It was just one year ago that the Heat took a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Mavericks and then quickly watched that lead disappear as the Mavericks won three straight games to take the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Dallas.
This year, with Game 4 approaching, the Heat knows they will have to give everything they have and more to bring Miami its second championship in six years. The same can be said of the Heat’s Finals opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“This is not over,” said Thunder forward Kevin Durant. “It’s not over.”
“Game 4 is crucial,” said Thunder guard James Harden. “It’s the series. We don’t want to be down 3-1.”
All of it adds pressure to a series that saw the Thunder strike first only to watch the Heat take the next two games. Miami played about as poorly as a team could in the third quarter of the Game 3, yet still led heading into the fourth quarter.
The Heat went through the first seven minutes of the third quarter without hitting a jump shot. It took 5:40 of the third before Miami even hit a shot from the field, which was a dunk. Yet, Oklahoma City still couldn’t put the Heat away.
At one point during Game 3, 62 of Miami’s 76 points came inside the lane of at the free throw line. The Heat just kept coming and trudged along until an opportunity presented itself and sprinted for the finish line.
“This team is not going away,” Heat forward Shane Battier said of the Thunder. “This is an evenly matched series. Literally every game has been decided by four or five possessions. We just want to be on the right side of those possessions when it counts.”
The Thunder knows they should have beaten the Heat after Miami offered up the game on a silver platter in the third. But unlike last year’s Heat team, Miami was the veteran team willing to sludge through some bad points but never stopped coming.
For Oklahoma City, the pressure is squarely on because a 3-1 series lead for the Heat in the NBA Finals may be all she wrote. But Miami will also be feeling a lot of pressure after last year’s complete collapse in the NBA Finals.
LeBron James has carried the Heat on his broad shoulders throughout the playoffs and he knows he doesn’t want to see the team go through what it did last year against Dallas. LeBron is averaging more than 30 points per game in the Finals, despite going for just 29 in Game 3.
Oklahoma City will play with reckless abandon in Game 4 trying to steal a game away from the Heat. For the Thunder, they have nothing to lose by letting it all hang out in Game 4. But the Heat will counter with a defense that has managed to hold the Thunder’s offense relatively in check.
The Heat gave up 105 points to OKC in game one and has since steadily been clamping down on the Thunder. Oklahoma City has scored 96 points in Game 2 and 85 points in Game 3.
The Thunder’s vaunted offense has struggled in the playoffs. Oklahoma City is scoring nearly 8 points and 4.7 rebounds less in the playoffs than during the regular season. The Thunder is also shooting .295 from behind the 3-point line in the playoffs compared to .358 in the regular season.
Additionally, the Thunder is shooting roughly 10 percent less at the free throw line in the postseason compared to the regular season.
On the other hand, Miami has increased its free throw shooting to 85 percent in the postseason. Miami is also only scoring 3.5 points less in the playoffs than it did during the regular season. And despite the early 3-point woes in the playoffs for the Heat, they’re shooting much better from downtown in the playoffs.
The Heat expect Oklahoma City to play a much tougher game and the Thunder believe the Heat will finally start to hit jump shots in Game 4.
If the Heat win, the Larry O’Brien trophy will be brought to Miami to prepare for a possible series clinching win on Thursday. If the Thunder win, it’s a completely new series and Miami will have to take Game 5 to take the series back to Oklahoma City with a 3-2 series lead.
Game 4 will tip-off at the AmericanAirlines Arena just after 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)