With Game 3 won and done by the Miami Heat, let's look at some key points from Monday's battle royale.
Miami Heat 91
(LeBron James 29 pts, 14 reb) def Oklahoma City Thunder 85
(Kevin Durant 25 pts, 6 reb)
Kevin Durant is Critical for the Thunder
If the Thunder are to steal back home court advantage and avoid being blown out 4-1 Kevin Durant needs to stop fouling. A cut throat, defensive minded, high pressure game will not be won without the NBA's premier scorer from the Thunder.
He shot 11-19 from the field (his 3rd straight game of 50% FG% or better) but sat a very crucial stretch late in the 3rd Q. In the 5:41 he was off the court Miami outscored the Thunder 16-7 and took a 2 point lead going into the deciding quarter.
In order for the Thunder to be at their best Durant needs to be playing 45+ minutes and scoring 35+ otherwise Miami will be gifted the 2012 NBA Championship.
Miami Dodged a Bullet
Let me run some numbers by you: 37.8, 30.8, 9 and 62.5. Those number represent Miami's FG%, 3PT%, 4th Q TOs and OKC's FT%. At the start of the game if you told me those first 3 numbers and what they meant I would have told you that Miami got blown out of the water by 11+ and only scored 9 points in the 4th Q.
Instead they "grinded out" a win with a combination of great FT shooting, tight defense and some key stops in the last 5 minutes. The play of their role players is also a concern for Miami as Chalmers went 1-8 and no one played more than 14 minutes off the bench. Coach Spoestra is backing his players in and only time will tell if that is a smart move if the series extends back to Oklahoma City.
The Thunder let themselves down a lot by only making 62.5% of their FTs (15-24) and when a game is decided by 1 point with less than 2 minutes left it cannot be understated how critical missed FTs are. The team is shooting 82.3% in the post season from the stripe so to have another sub-par game from there just hammers home the point. I'm sure they will be staying back in the gym tomorrow to practice those free throws.
Coach Brooks Has to Look at His Rotations
I know early Durant fouls forced his hand on a few occasions in this game but having Derek Fisher play 28 minutes while Russell Westbrook is limited to 39 and Serge Ibaka to 22 is an outrage. I know he has championship experience but he is a couple of years past his due date and should not be playing 20+ minutes if the Thunder want a ring.
The moves by Scott Brooks continue to puzzle everyone as both Westbrook and Ibaka were not in foul trouble at any point during the game. These are players in their early 20s that should have no problem running out 48 minutes of action but instead they are riding the pine while their team crumbles. The decision to sit Westbrook when Durant was in foul trouble in the 3rd Q was one of the reasons Miami snatched the lead back and why OKC took their time getting their mojo back.
In a game where Miami made only four shots outside of 5 feet would it not make sense to have the NBA leader in blocks protecting the rim at all costs? Miami thrive on getting to the paint and when LeBron is posting up I would want Ibaka there on help defense to swat anything he puts up back into the crowd with authority.
Thunder Fouls Were Costly
In the space of 30 seconds the Thunder fouled two Miami 3 point attempts at a time when they were struggling to throw a beach ball into Biscayne Bay. One was by James Harden on Shane Battier (who was 2-2 from beyond the arc so fair enough) and the other was by veteran Derek Fisher, who should know better. This all happened in that horror stretch when Durant and Westbrook were sitting in the pine.
As mentioned before, Durant needs to stop fouling. Some of the fouls he picked up were a bit soft (including a mirror image of the no-call he received to end Game 2) but any good coach would relieve their best player of defensive duties against LeBron James. I'm not sure what Scott Brooks is thinking when he has Thabo Sefolosha on the court and the team defense should be more than enough to cover Wade.
The 3rd costly foul situation occurred when James Harden fouled LeBron James at mid court with 16 seconds left, down by 3 and 10 seconds on the shot clock. I do hate it when LeBron backs into players like he did or drops his shoulder to get the foul, but the refs aren't going to call a charge for soft contact so contest the shot and back yourself to tie the game with the last shot.
I think this young Thunder team are experiencing some growing pains as they hit crucial moments in these Finals but they will have to overcome them quickly if they want a shot at beating Miami on their home court.
Deja vu for Miami?
Rewind to last years NBA Finals and Miami were in the exact same position, up 2-1 with home court advantage. We all know what happened next so can Miami up their level of play and finish this off at home?