Non-call helps Heat thwart Thunder rally, even NBA Finals
BY MARK POTASH email@example.com June 14, 2012 11:28PM
Updated: June 15, 2012 9:48AM
OKLAHOMA CITY — You expected a foul? Yeah, right.
The boos from the home crowd rained down on the officials as they left the court after the Miami Heat’s 100-96 victory over their beloved Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night. But after four years of NBA basketball in this town, they should know by now: If you’re expecting a call against LeBron James in the closing seconds — or anybody, really — you’re asking for too much.
James got the benefit of the non-call with his team ahead 98-96 in the final seconds when he brushed Kevin Durant on a short baseline jumper and hit Russell Westbrook’s arm on a tip attempt in traffic in the lane. James snared the rebound and hit his 11th and 12th free throws without a miss with seven seconds left in regulation to finally end the Thunder’s valiant, desperate comeback from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit and tie the NBA Finals 1-1 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Durant had scored 16 of his 32 points in the final 8:47 of the game as the Thunder rallied from an 82-69 deficit to close to 98-96 with 12 seconds left after James missed a pull-up three-pointer. Derek Fisher inbounded to Durant on the baseline. Durant, who played the final 10:31 of the game with five fouls, turned toward James and drove the baseline. But with Chris Bosh stepping in the lane to take a charge, Durant pulled up and fired a shot that hit the front of the rim.
‘‘I think I shot a good shot. That’s a shot I shoot all the time,’’ Durant said. ‘‘I just missed.’’
Was there contact?
‘‘I was just worrying about the shot. I really couldn’t tell you,’’ he said. ‘‘I’ve got to watch the film, I guess.’’
Asked again about contact on the play, Durant wasn’t biting.
‘‘I missed the shot, man,’’ he said.
Considering the circumstances, a foul on James would have been a fortuitous turn of events for the Thunder. He’s gotten away with much, much more in key situations before.
‘‘As a competitor, of course I would have been angry [had a foul been called],’’ James said. ‘‘I figured they were going to go to him. He got a small step on me. I just wanted to make him take a tough shot, and he’s made tough shots all year and just that one he missed.’’
The Thunder was lucky to even have the opportunity. After Westbrook (27 points on 10-for-25 shooting, seven assists) scored back-to-back baskets to get the Thunder to 94-91 with 1:47 left, James coolly hit a short pull-up jumper off the glass and Dwyane Wade (24 points on 10-for-20 shooting) fed Chris Bosh (16 points, 15 rebounds) for a dunk that gave the Heat a 98-91 lead with 53 seconds left.
But Durant scored on a baseline drive, and after a Heat turnover against pressure, he nailed a three-pointer to make it 98-96 with 36 seconds left. After James missed a three, the Thunder had their chance.
‘‘Fish [Derek Fisher] did a good job of finding KD on the baseline, and he attacked the basket,’’ Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. ‘‘He missed the shot unfortunately. That would have been a nice opportunity for us to make that or get to the free-throw line. But unfortunately we didn’t get the play, and we move on.’’
But as Brooks noted, the Thunder lost this game much earlier than the final seconds — like when it fell behind 18-2 in the first quarter.
‘‘That’s one play,’’ Brooks said. ‘‘We have so many other lays that we could have done better to put us in a position to stay closer. I’m not going to get into that. I haven’t in the past. I’m not going to start now. He didn’t get the call. The bottom line is we have to play aggressive basketball and we didn’t do that to start the game. The last minute, I won’t even look at that.’’
The Heat took control early as the Thunder missed 10 of its first 11 shots and fell behind 18-2, 25-8 and 27-15 in the first quarter. The Heat repelled every Thunder rally to maintain a 78-67 lead after three quarters before the Thunder rallied behind Durant, Westbrook and James Harden (21 points on 7-for-11 shooting), who combined for the Thunder’s final 33 points of the game.
It turned into a battle of ‘‘Big Threes’’ in the end. James, Wade and Bosh combined for 19 of the Heat’s 22 fourth-quarter points. The only other Heat player to score in the final quarter was Shane Battier, who banked in a huge three-pointer that gave the Heat a 90-83 lead with 5:50 to play. Battier, who scored 17 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting, was good and lucky. That’s what it takes to win in the NBA Finals.
‘‘That’s competition. That’s what it’s all about,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘‘Thais is going to be like every single game, and that’s the beauty of competition at this level — embracing the competition and seeing what it brings out of you collectively.’’
‘‘We played too well in the first 36 minutes to let this one slip away from us,’’ James said. ‘‘We knew we were going to keep coming. We knew they were going to keep fighting. They’ve been doing it the whole postseason, especially on their home floor. We just wanted to make one more or two more plays than they made and we were able to do that.’’