The Miami Heat took a 2-1 series lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals with Sunday night’s 91-85 win in South Beach. If there’s a word we can sum it up in, it would be aggressiveness. The Heat aggressively hit the boards and won the rebounding battle. As is often the case, that led to free throws and Miami had a solid edge in attempts from the charity stripe, 35-24. And with the Heat hitting their free throws while the Thunder missed, the actual scoring edge in this area ended up at 31-15, and was the decisive factor in the Miami victory.
It can be tempting for OkC fans to gripe out officiating inequities when you see numbers like this and this was the second straight game that foul trouble on Kevin Durant proved decisive—the Thunder star picked up his fourth early in the third quarter at a time when the Thunder had pulled out to a 10-point lead. Because I was watching the end of the U.S. Open last night while following the basketball score online, I can’t comment specifically on any foul call prior to the latter part of the fourth quarter. But after a few years of reading box scores, both college & NBA, I can safely say there’s a definite correlation between rebounding and free throw attempts. Maybe it’s because of fouls on second chances, but I think often its intangible—both are the fruit of aggressive play. The same mindset that helps a team hit the boards also helps them drive to the basket and not settle for threes.
And for the second straight game Miami did not settle for threes. They only attempted 13, a prudent number. LeBron James scored big baskets down the stretch by driving. He ended up with 29 for the game and also had 14 boards. Chris Bosh had 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Kendrick Perkins was the only Thunder player who showed an interest in crashing the glass, with 12 boards. Serge Ibaka had only five, and that number needs to be improved or this series will not return to OkC.
Game 4 goes on Tuesday night and I think the winner of this game will win the championship. As long as the Thunder pick up one win in Miami they’re at least even money going home—the historical track record suggests a 3-2 margin in favor of the underdog makes a series basically even heading into Game 6 and the last two years have borne that out. While Dallas got the road clinch in Miami last season, the Lakers beat Boston two straight in 2010. But none of the favorites who got the series back home ever fell behind 3-1 and that’s an area the Thunder don’t want to test. If they keep Durant out of foul trouble they’ll win. If not, they’re at the mercy of Miami to shoot themselves into a loss. That’s often a reasonable hope, but the last two games have shown a Heat squad intent on playing like a champion. I believe OkC is going to win on Tuesday and claim a title in seven games, but they’re on a dangerous brink right now.