MIAMI – Halfway to a title, and LeBron James shows no sign of letting this one get away.
James had 29 points and 14 rebounds, and the Miami Heat took a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals with a 91-85 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.
Dwyane Wade had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Heat, who were in this same position through three games last year, then didn’t win again against the Dallas Mavericks.
James’ poor performance was part of the problem then, but he seems on top of his game this time. His three-pointer sent the Heat to the fourth quarter with the lead, and he scored five straight Miami points when the Heat were building just enough cushion to hold off another late flurry by the Thunder.
Big time player makes big time plays on the big stage, Heat reserve James Jones said.
Game 4 is Tuesday night.
Kevin Durant had 25 points for the Thunder, but picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and had to go to the bench when they had seemed to have control of the game.
The Heat survived their own fourth-quarter sloppiness – nine turnovers – by getting enough big plays from their Big Three.
James scored 30 and 32 points in the first two games, his two best finals performances. He fell just shy of another 30-point effort but reached his 20 points for the 20th time this postseason, two shy of Wade’s franchise record set in 2006.
Gone is the player who seemed so tentative down the stretch last year in his second finals failure. He’s constantly on the attack now, all while defending Durant in key situations.
It’s all about chemistry, James said. We understand where we like to get the ball, what we like to do in close situations, and it’s good to see us execute down the stretch. But more importantly it was great to see we were able to get stops. That’s where the game is won and we did that.
Chris Bosh had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Heat, which can win a second title by winning the next two games at home.
They seemed out of it when Oklahoma City opened a 10-point lead midway through the third. But Durant had just gone out with 5:41 left on Wade’s baseline drive, though there appeared to be little or no contact. Thunder coach Scott Brooks decided to sit Russell Westbrook with him, and the Heat charged into the lead by the end of the period.
The Thunder had grabbed their last lead at 77-76 on James Harden’s basket with 7:32 left. James answered with two free throws about 20 seconds later, and the teams would trade turnovers and stops over the next couple of tense minutes.
Wade then converted a three-point play, and another minute went by before James powered to the basket, Durant trying to get in position to draw a charge but watching helplessly as he picked up his fifth foul. James made the free throw for an 84-77 advantage with 3:47 to play.
After another basket by James, the Thunder had one last burst, ripping off six straight points to get within one before Bosh made a pair of free throws with 1:19 to play. Durant missed badly on a wild shot attempt, and the Thunder missed another chance when Westbrook was off from behind the arc.
James hit a free throw for a four-point lead with 16 seconds to go and Wade added two to close it out.
The Thunder were 4 of 18 on three-pointers and hit only 15 of 24 free throws. Harden shot 2 of 10 for his nine points. Westbrook had 19 points.