MIAMI — Not many teams win NBA Finals games shooting 37 percent. However, the Miami Heat have rallied; after droppinggame one of the Finals 105-94, the Heat have taken a two-games-to-one lead by calming the Oklahoma City Thunder in the pivotal game three 91-85.
History says 85 percent of the teams that win game three when the Finals are even at 1-1 go on to win the championship. As recently as last year, the Heat led Dallas 2-1 in the Finals, yet the Mavericks were one of those teams in that group of 15 percent to rally and win.
Somebody long ago said defense wins championships. So far in back-to-back games, the Heat have manned up and manipulated the tempo and kept the high-flying Thunder from exploding offensively.
The NBA’s unique 2-3-2 format for the Finals puts major pressure on both teams to win on their home courts. The Heat built a 17-point lead in game two in Oklahoma City and survived a furious Thunder comeback in the second half to win 100-96. LeBron James had 32 points, as did Kevin Durant for the Thunder.
That game turned the Finals in favor of the Heat, and they followed it up by going home and rallying from 10 points down in the third quarter to beat the Thunder 91-85 and take a 2-1 lead in the 2012 Finals.
Amazingly, the Heat made only 18 percent of their shots from 10 feet and beyond and still won! And they trailed by 10 points in the third quarter before coming back to win.
The chosen one, LeBron James, in this his third NBA Finals, had never scored more than 18 points in 10 previous Finals games, losing 4-0 to San Antonio in the 2007 Finals while with Cleveland and 4-2 last year to Dallas in his first year in Miami.
So far in the 2012 Finals, James has delivered 32, 30, and 29 points in the first three games in his duel with Kevin Durant. The NBA Finals has never had a three-time MVP like James vs. a three-time scoring champion like Durant in the Finals. Arguably, these are the two biggest stars in the league dueling it out with the prize being their first NBA Championships.
Years ago, Utah met Chicago in the Finals; that year, Karl Malone was the MVP and Michael Jordan was the scoring champion. Scoring champion Jordan and the Bulls won 4-2 over MVP Malone and the Jazz. Oklahoma City fell behind 2-0, remember, in the Western Conference Finals to San Antonio, who had won 20 straight games.
The Thunder are 19-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better. The Heat defensively have held the Thunder to 43 and 42 percent shooting in games two and three. The Heat are contesting shots and helping each other defensively while switching on the Thunder’s vaunted pick and rolls. James has been doing a better job defensively playing physical while guarding Durant.
The Heat have held the Thunder under 100 points in both wins. The Thunder have struggled making critical free throws; in game three, the Thunder missed nine free throws — that’s huge.
Meanwhile Miami, with James constantly attacking the Thunder inside with drives to the basket, made 31 of 35 free throws, a difference of 16 points. So far in the first three games, Miami has made 67 free throws to the Thunder’s 54.
The bigger story has been the rebounding edge — the team that controls the glass has won each game. “No rebounds, no rings”? That was the theme of Pat Riley, the Heat president, back in the day when he was coaching the Los Angeles Lakers. The big three of Miami — James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — are out-performing the Thunder big three of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Inside the numbers, it’s the Thunder’s Durant with 36, 32 and 25 points; Westbrook with 27, 27 and 19; and Harden with 5, 21 and 9 in the first three games; and the Heat’s James with 30, 32 and 29; Wade with 19, 24 and 25; and Bosh with 10, 16 and 10 points. Bosh has made a huge difference inside with 15 and 11 rebounds in games two and three.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.