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Closing charge puts Heat up 2-1 over Thunder in NBA Finals

By Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel –

MIAMI — The dream of a first-ever Miami Heat homecourt championship celebration remains alive.

The question is whether the hometown crowd at AmericanAirlines Arena has the heart to stand two more games like this.

(PHOTO: Miami Heat’s Udonis Haslem,center fights for position under the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder’s Nick Collison, right, and Daequan Cook during the third quarter in Game 3 of the NBA Finals at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Florida on Sunday, June 17, 2012. )

In yet another compelling, pulsating bill of fare in these NBA Finals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade powered the Heat to a 91-85 victory Sunday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.

“This is competition at its highest and we kept on mentioning that in the fourth quarter,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s what this is about.

“You have to find a way to put yourself in position to win.”

The Heat did. Barely. Despite another late egregious turnover from Wade. Despite the Heat shooting just 33 percent in the second half.

“We were able to make enough plays,” Spoelstra said.

And make enough foul shots. And grab enough rebounds to compensate for all those missed shots.

The Heat closed 31 of 35 from the line, compared to 15 of 24 for the Thunder.

“If we get those opportunities, then step up with confidence,” Spoelstra said.

There also was a 48-38 rebounding edge.

“We don’t necessarily look at it that we’re small,” said Spoelstra, who got 14 rebounds from James, 11 from de facto center Chris Bosh and seven from Wade.

As in the series’ first two games, it wasn’t decided until late, but this time it was the Heat with the finishing kick, after the Thunder had dominated the second halves of the series’ first two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

For the Heat to celebrate in their house, it will require victories in Games 4 and 5, on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Otherwise, it’s back to Oklahoma City in the lone NBA playoff round played on a 2-3-2 basis.

When the Heat won the franchise’s lone NBA championship, it came on the Dallas Mavericks’ homecourt in Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals.

In yet another duel between James and Thunder forward Kevin Durant, James came up with a critical late 3-point play on the way to 29 points. Durant, who again played in foul trouble closed with 25.

With Wade coming around from additional early-game struggles to close with 25 points, the Heat had enough to hold on, even with guard Russell Westbrook scoring 19 for the Thunder.

James and Wade both filled out the box score, with James adding 14 rebounds and Wade closing with seven assists and seven rebounds.

Also stepping up for the Heat was Bosh with his second double-double in as many starts in his return from a lower-abdominal strain, this time with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Heat finally appeared to seize control when James barreled in for a driving layup with 3:47 to play, drew the fifth foul on Durant, waved the crowd into quiet and then completed the 3-point play for an 84-77 Heat lead.

But Wade, who had a near fatal turnover late in the Heat’s Game 2 victory, then had another egregious turnover at midcourt, as the Thunder rallied all the way back within 86-85 on a Westbrook jumper with 90 seconds to play.

Bosh then went to the line with 79 seconds to play and drained a pair of free throws to fill out his second double-double in as many games, for an 88-85 Heat lead.

Durant then was off with a runner that James grabbed for his 13th rebound. But James then missed on a bank attempt.

Back came the Thunder, who got an errant jumper from Westbrook, with James Harden fouling James with 16.2 seconds to play.

At 5 of 6 from the line to that point, after going 12 of 12 from the line the previous game, James rimmed out the first attempt but made the second, effectively ending it.

The Heat are now 9-2 at home this postseason, with the Thunder falling to 4-4 on the road this postseason.

In series tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the Finals 85 percent of the time (29-5), with last season’s Heat among the all-time exceptions.

Since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 Finals format in 1985, the home team has won the middle three games only twice, the Detroit Pistons against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 and the Heat against the Dallas Mavericks in 2006. The road team has won the middle three games three times.

A 17-3 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters pushed the Heat to a 74-69 lead when James Jones drained a 3-pointer.

But the Thunder, taking advantage of four Heat turnovers early in the fourth quickly pulled within 74-73 on a Durant dunk, later moving ahead.

After opening 12 of 23 from the field, the Heat made only 6 of their next 28, with the ball movement stopping, the offense growing stagnant, and the Thunder moving to a 60-51 lead early in the third period, their largest of the game to that stage.

Even with Durant called for his fourth foul with 5:41 to play in the third quarter, the Thunder were able to push their lead into double figures, when backup point guard Derek Fisher converted a four-point play when fouled by Mario Chalmers on a successful 3-point conversion with 4:33 to play in the third.

The Heat then got their own reward from the 3-point line, when forward Shane Battier and James Jones were fouled on consecutive 3-point attempts, each converting all three of their foul shots to draw the Heat within four.

With Wade continuing his recent pattern of second-half revival, the Heat went into the fourth quarter up 69-67.

The Heat were well aware of the Thunder’s second-half possibilities. The Thunder had outscored then 111-85 in the second halves of the series’ first two games.

Wade shot 5 of 15 in the first half to fall below 50 percent from the field in the first half of games in the playoffs.

The Heat pounded the ball into the paint early, with the Thunder eventually moving to a similar approach.

The Heat led 47-46, with 30 first-half point in the paint, with the Thunder scoring 26 in the paint over the first two periods.

The Heat led 26-20 at the end of the first period and pushed the lead to eight in the second quarter. But the Thunder, who had gotten off to horrible starts in the series’ first two games at Chesapeake Energy Arena, pushed to a one-point lead in the second period before a pair of 3-pointers late in the second quarter by Batter helped the Heat take their lead into the intermission.

James again carried the Heat early, with 16 first-half points and eight rebounds over the opening two periods. The problem was Wade again struggled early.

Durant and Westbrook each had 13 points at halftime for the Thunder.

Foul trouble became somewhat of an issue early, with Thunder forward Nick Collison and Heat swingman both forced to the bench with their third fouls early in the third period.

James had 10 points and five rebounds in the first quarter, the third time he had reached those combined thresholds in a first quarter in his playoff career.

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