MIAMI -- Five thoughts from the Heat's 91-85 win over Oklahoma City ...
A win is a win... ...no matter how sloppy it is. Neither team played exceptionally well, with Oklahoma City bricking free throw after free throw (more on that below) and Miami committing a whopping nine turnovers in the fourth quarter. In the end it was Miami's Big Three proving to be the difference. The trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh accounted for the Heat's final 15 points, with an assist from some stifling defense that kept Oklahoma City scoreless over the final 90 seconds.
Where has the free throw shooting gone? Oklahoma City was an NBA-best 80.6 percent from the line during the regular season, and have been even better (82.3 percent) in the playoffs. However in the Finals, the shooting has gone south. The Thunder have failed to crack 75 percent in any game this series, including a woeful 62.5 percent (15 of 24) in Game 3. Nerves? Maybe. But Oklahoma City has several key players (Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant) who make a living attacking the basket. They need to shoot better, period.
Credit Miami's D on Durant. Durant has, deservedly, received accolades for his fourth quarter play in the first two games. But in Game 3, Durant scored just four points, largely due to having James draped all over him. James is arguably the best wing defender in the NBA and he showed all his skills Sunday, pushing Durant out of the post, forcing tough, contested shots. When he did get beat, Bosh was there to contest his shots. Durant shot well (11 of 19) but committed five turnovers and finished minus-5 for the game.
Miami wins the small wars. For the second straight game Miami won two key offensive battles: in the paint (46 to 42) and in transition (19 to 12 edge in fast break points). The Heat were attacking early, with 10 of their first 11 baskets coming in the paint. Much of the offense was orchestrated by James, who continues to show that, when motivated, his size and vision make him an elite post player. Paint and transition buckets will be two categories to watch: The team that has swept them has won in this series.
Whither, James Harden? The NBA's reigning Sixth Man award winner struggled for the second time this series, scoring just nine points (on 2-of-10 shooting) while missing on all four of his three-point attempts. Derek Fisher (nine points) picked up some of the slack, chipping in with some intelligent defense. But Harden is a key cog in Oklahoma City's offensive system. When he is in the game, he is both playmaker and scorer, counted on to take some of the ball handling duties from Russell Westbrook as well as create space with his shooting. Harden reportedly was not happy with how many minutes he played in Game 1; if there is any carryover from that issue, he must get past it, quickly, before Oklahoma City digs itself too deep a hole to climb out of.