Due to a busy schedule (and a limited knowledge of the topic at hand), I’ve handed the NBA Finals duties over to my blogging buddy, Steven Jeffries. Be sure to check out more sports write-ups from Steven.
“We carry that pain (last year’s Finals loss) with us. We think about it everyday and that really helps us succeed in this series.” — Chris Bosh, Miami Heat (courtesy of ESPN.com)
In my preview of this year’s NBA Finals, I said that, statistics aside, the team who plays harder and “wants it more,” will win the series. That’s because despite the game plan, or the statistics which may favor one team over another, the emotional element can make or break any team in any situation.
The Thunder are a great, young team with a lot of promise. Scott Brooks is an excellent coach who is obviously adept at developing his team’s talent. They have shown all year they know how to win, and they have shown surges of great ability in the first three games of these Finals.
But there’s just something about the Miami Heat that seems to be emerging. It may be a resolute, to-the-death desire to win, which even they have never had to this degree before. It may be that they are dedicating themselves more with each quarter of each game.
Perhaps it is fueled by the past, as expressed by the words of Chris Bosh above. Maybe the motivation is found in these words of LeBron James: “(I’m) just trying to make plays. I told you guys, last year I didn’t make enough game-changing plays, and that’s what I kind of pride myself on.”
It would seem the Heat have developed a way to “micro-manage” the game. They don’t look at the series as a whole. They don’t even look at one whole game. They take things one quarter at a time. And then, within each individual quarter, each player asks himself, “How many important plays can I make in 12 minutes?”
The Heat know their keys to victory. Get 30 points in the paint and 30 trips to the free throw line each game. They must control the transition game of the Thunder. And, it would seem, they have added another key point. Get the stars like Durant and Westbrook into foul trouble as early as possible. At the very least, get OKC to commit enough team fouls to put themselves on the line instead of taking in-bound passes.
However, it is only when this absolute will to win is added to the plan that they seem invincible. And it may be that this is getting into the minds of their young opponents.
Thunder MVP Kevin Durant had this to say after the crucial loss Sunday night:
It was frustrating. Of course we had a good lead and they came back and made some shots. We fouled shooters on the 3-point line twice. It’s a tough break for us, man. You know, I hate sitting on the bench, especially with fouls.
Witness the effect of emotions which propel success. Even though Miami turned in a poor effort in the last quarter Sunday, they managed to overcome nine turnovers with enough good plays to still “win” the fourth quarter, outscoring OKC 22-18. And it was a Thunder turnover on an inbound pass with 13 seconds to go which sealed the win for Miami, 91-85.
It was such a tightly-contested game from the very start. Both teams played a back and forth contest, it was just that Miami played parts of Game 3 a bit better. They made more of their opportunities, making more plays than they missed, “winning” more quarters than they lost.
LeBron James paced the Heat’s win with 29 points and 14 rebounds. Five of his boards were on the offensive side, leading to a couple of easy put-back shots. Dwyane Wade had 25, with seven boards and seven assists. Chris Bosh turned in “doubles” along with James, scoring 10 points and snatching 11 rebounds. Shane Battier continued his hot hand, hitting both of his 3-point shots and all three free-throw attempts.
For OKC, Kevin Durant managed 25 points and six boards despite having to play a bit less aggressively due to foul trouble for a second game in a row. Russell Westbrook had just 19 points and four assists, making only 8-of-18 shots from the floor. And James Harden had his second sub-par game of the series, chipping in just nine points on 2-for-10 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
The Thunder actually out-shot Miami from the floor, 43 to 38 percent, with neither team doing well from 3-point range; the Heat made 31 percent, while OKC hit on only 22 percent of their tries. However, once again, the free-throw game was a huge factor in the win for Miami.
OKC, who lead the NBA in free-throw shooting during the regular season, continued to do poorly from the stripe, going 15-for-24, which is just 63 percent. Meanwhile, the Heat, a normally-adequate free-throw shooting team made 31-of-35 attempts, a very healthy 89 percent.
Game 4 is set for Tuesday night in Miami.