The third game was the least aesthetically pleasing of a hotly contested series between an exuberant, young Thunder team whose play sometimes borders on wild and a slightly-more experienced Heat that continues to leap over its mental hurdles of the past.
Both teams can easily feel that better basketball is in store, but the Heat is up two games to one because it made more plays — battling back from a 10-point third-quarter deficit — and the Thunder fumbled until the very end.
“It’s not saying that we want it more, I just feel like we understand situations more. We can deal with it better,” Wade said after scoring 25 points. “We come from the Finals last year to this year; experience is not overrated at all. That helped us win the ballgame. We kept grinding and kept grinding.”
James scored a game-high 29 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, and provided what would be the decisive points with 2 minutes 18 seconds remaining. He drove down the left side of the lane, twisted his body and flipped a shot over his head and off the glass to give Miami an 86-79 lead.
Oklahoma City needed only 48 seconds to get back within one point, as Kendrick Perkins made two free throws, Thabo Sefolosha stole the ball from Wade and flipped the ball over his head and into the basket, and Russell Westbrook buried a 17-foot jumper.
But almost as quickly as the Thunder got back in the game, it folded.
Kevin Durant missed a short jumper, Westbrook missed a three-pointer and Sefolosha threw a pass out of bounds after a miscommunication with Westbrook.
“A couple mental mistakes,” reserve James Harden said. “We can’t let that happen, especially in cruch time like that. In the fourth quarter, we had a couple of turnovers, a couple of missed shots, a couple of defensive mess-ups, but we gave it a good battle. We’ve let two [games] get away, the last two get away.”
Miami pulled away from the foul line: It made up for shooting just 37.8 percent from the field by making 31 of 35 free throws, including 22 of 24 in the second half.
A team that has dealt with the disappointment of failing in the NBA Finals last season has found a way to win.
“Every day we remind ourselves, we think of that pain that we experienced last year. And it really doesn’t matter how you shoot the ball,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “On defense, we have to play solid. You have to have that energy, and sometimes you’re going to be tired. But it hurts a lot worse when you’re not successful. We carry that pain with us. That really helps us succeed in this series.”