How many clutch shots will LeBron James have to make to silence his critics? The real question may be how many rings will he need. With Miami’s Game 3 win Sunday night, the Heat are now just two games away from the promised land. And this game had all the hallmarks of a Heat victory, good and bad.
Miami got out to a strong start, leading 26-20 after the first quarter. Their offense was extremely efficient and LeBron went off for 10 points in the first quarter alone. The real key to Miami’s offensive success was the quality of shots they are able to acquire. In the first quarter, every field goal made, but one, was taken inside the paint. These buckets were largely coming off dribble-drive attacks and dump-offs at the rim. This is the type of offensive aggression that will bring LeBron his first championship. Miami can not settle for jumpers. They live or die on driving to the basket.
Yet in the third quarter, Oklahoma City made the needed adjustments and forced Miami into more jump shots. These are the shots OKC wants Miami to take. They love seeing LeBron toss up a fade-away 3-pointer deep in the shot clock and grin every time Wade triple pumps an off-balance leaning 19-footer. This series comes down to who can dictate the style of play.
In the fourth quarter, Miami was able to get back into their brand of attack-the-rim ball that leads to free-throws, penetration, and easy buckets. The Heat largely executed in the first 15 seconds of the shot clock and got the bench support they needed from role players, like Shane Battier, who went 2-2 from downtown and 3-3 from the free throw line. That’s the type of offensive efficiency Oklahoma City was getting against San Antonio from players like Serge Ibaka, who last series went 11-11 in one game. The Thunder did not get that same effort Sunday night.
LeBron went for 29 points and 14 rebounds and Dwyane Wade showed up when it counted most for an additional 25 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. The Thunder’s big three were reduced to the big two with James Harden having an off night, with only nine points on 2-10 shooting. Kevin Durant went for 25 and Russell Westbrook added 19, but Durant sat too much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters while in foul trouble — that crippled Oklahoma’s attack.
Durant needs to keep his hands out of the cookie jar. He picks up too many tic-tac fouls on plays that have no impact on the game. Durant is one of the most composed and poised young players in the NBA, but he needs to add a slice of defensive discipline to keep his lethal shooting touch on the court. Oklahoma City can’t afford to have Durant sitting on the pine and Harden getting cold at the same time.
Game 4 is in Miami on Tuesday and will be sure to be another amazing LeBron vs. Durant matchup.
Photo Credit: AP