Can we stop criticizing LeBron James and Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra now? Both had faced the usual sniping after LeBron was completely outplayed by Kevin Durant in Game 1 of the NBA Finals loss, and Spoelstra was hearing he was vastly outcoached by Scott Brooks in the opener, much like Spoelstra was in last year’s Finals loss to Dallas.
Well, LeBron finally came up big in the clutch of a Finals game and Spoelstra made a key lineup change as the Heat beat the Thunder, 100-96, in Game 2 on Thursday night to tie the Finals at 1-1. The Heat can assure themselves no return trip to Oklahoma City if they can win the middle three games at home, with Game 3 on Sunday. However, only two teams have swept the middle three games since the 2-3-2 format was introduced. One of those was the Heat in 2006 – after losing the first two on the road in Dallas.
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Thunder at Heat Betting Story Lines
LeBron finished with 32 points (a new Finals career high) in Game 2 and he had three key plays late in the game that won it for Miami. The first came with 1:26 remaining and the Heat up three points. LeBron banked in a sick fade-away jumper on a broken play over Thabo Sefolosha. There were four seconds on the shot clock and the Thunder were storming back at that point. Then, with 9.9 seconds left and he disrupted (fouled?) Kevin Durant enough on a short jumper that would have tied the game, but Durant missed. And James followed that with two free throws with seven seconds left – he was 12-for-12 from the line – to all but ice the game.
Thursday's game marked the third time in this year's playoffs that Miami took the court while trailing in the series. The Heat have won each of the following three games, all on the road, and James has been sensational: He scored 40 in Game 4 at Indiana, 45 in Game 6 at Boston and then his big effort Thursday.
As for Spoelstra, he inserted Chris Bosh back into the starting lineup for the first time since he returned from injury. But that was expected. Spoelstra also decided to go small and play Bosh at center. That left Shane Battier and LeBron as the forwards to play alongside guards Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, a lineup the Heat did not start together during the regular season or playoffs. It worked wonders. The Heat got off to a scorching 18-2 start and OKC never fully recovered. Battier finished with 17 points for the second straight game and hit 5-of-7 from three-point range. Battier never scored in double-digits in consecutive games during the entire 2011-12 regular season. He hadn’t had a two-game stretch with nine total three-pointers (four in Game 1) in more than five years. Bosh put up 16 points and 15 boards after missing seven of his 11 shots and grabbing just five rebounds in 34 minutes Tuesday.
That small lineup seemed to make the Heat a much quicker team and helped slow the Thunder in transition. OKC didn't have a single fast-break point in the first half and finished with just 11 overall.
On the positive side for OKC, Durant had another huge fourth quarter with 16 points. He now has 33 combined fourth-quarter points, which is by far the most since the merger in a player's first two career NBA Finals games. James Harden bounced back from a subpar Game 1 with 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting. But on the negative side, the Thunder saw Russell Westbrook take 26 shots (four more than Durant) and make only 10. Throw out the Big 3, and the rest of the Thunder were 5-for-20 from the field for 16 points (or one less than just Battier). Because Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were offensive non-factors, the Thunder were outscored 48-32 in the paint. By comparison, the Thunder won that battle, 56-40, in Game 1.
In addition, the Thunder are starting a dangerous trend in falling behind early. In the clinching Game 6 of the West Finals vs. San Antonio, the Thunder were down 18 at one point in the first half before rallying. In Game 1 of this series, they were down 13 in the first half before winning by 11. And their largest deficit on Thursday was 17. Remember, too, all these were at home. It’s going to be much tougher to come back on the road.
In the lone game between these two in Miami in April, the Heat won, 98-93, behind 34 from LeBron. Durant had 30 but a career-high nine turnovers and missed two shots late in the game that would have either given Oklahoma City the lead or pulled the Thunder into a tie.
Thunder at Heat Betting Odds and Key Trends
Miami opened as a 3.5-point favorite on NBA odds with the total at 194.5 (lowest of series thus far) on BookMaker. The Heat are 7-3 ATS at home in postseason and 6-4 ‘over/under’. The Thunder are 5-1-1 ATS on road in playoffs and 5-2 O/U.
OKC is 4-0 ATS in its past four games when its opponent scores 100 points or more in the previous game. The Thunder have covered just once in their past six as a dog of less than five points. The Heat are 8-2 ATS in their past 10 games after scoring 100 points or more in the previous game. The over is 4-1 in OKC’s past five games after a loss. The over is 4-0 in Miami’s past four after a win. OKC has covered seven of its past eight in Miami.
NBA Finals Predictions: Thunder at Heat Betting Picks
It’s funny what one win can do. All the media types were describing the impending doom of the Heat and wondering if Pat Riley made a mistake by getting LeBron and Bosh to come to South Florida after the Game 1 loss. OKC jumped to as high as -265 on the series line after taking Game 1. Now? It’s a ‘pick’em,’ with both at -110.
The pressure is squarely on Brooks to make an adjustment for Game 3, which he did well in the Spurs series by sticking Sefolosha on San Antonio point guard Tony Parker. And Westbrook clearly shouldn’t be shooting that many times. That has been a running theme this year. Durant’s shot total was fine, but Harden needs more than 11.
The Heat got what they wanted in a split in OKC and they clearly played with more urgency in Game 2. I expect the same from the Thunder in Game 3. They cover and the game goes over.
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