Wednesday, December 26, 2012
MIAMI — LeBron James and Kevin Durant exchanged words. Dwyane Wade and Serge Ibaka did some shoving. Five technical fouls were called, and Russell Westbrook punched a table in frustration.
This NBA Finals rematch met expectations.
And like that series, the game ended with Miami winning.
James collected 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds and the Heat survived a frantic finish to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-97 on Tuesday.
“Felt a little bit like a different month,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Regardless of what your script is coming into the game, when you play this team, it’s not going to go according to script. They’re too good.”
But on this night, much like in June for higher stakes, the Heat was better.
Mario Chalmers scored a season-high 20 points for the Heat, which was 19 for 19 from the free-throw line, the second-best effort in franchise history behind a 30-for-30 game in Boston in 1993.
Chris Bosh added 16 points for Eastern Conference-leading Miami (19-6), which has beaten the Thunder (21-6) five straight times going back to last season’s title series.
Durant scored 33 points and Westbrook added 21 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, but both Oklahoma City standouts missed potential tying three-point attempts in the final seconds.
“It was a great game. I can’t complain,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We could have done a better job of not turning the ball over in the first half.
“All in all, it was a great game to play and a great game to coach. Unfortunately, we didn’t come out with the win.”
The game had a little of everything — a fast start by the reigning champions, a one-handed dunk by James on an offensive rebound that will be added to his copious highlight reel, a scrum after a hard foul that led to double-technicals on Wade and Ibaka early in the fourth quarter, a rally by the Thunder from an early double-digit deficit, and even workout partners Durant and James barking back and forth in the final minutes.
Such was the intensity that James slumped over the scorer’s table with 1:08 left, exhausted.
“I’m tired as hell right now,” said James — more than an hour after the game ended.
On an emotional day, there was a dramatic finish.
Wade lost the ball on an ill-advised, behind-the-back dribble and the turnover set up Durant for a two-handed dunk that reduced Miami’s lead to 96-95 with 44.1 seconds remaining.
Needing a stop on the next trip, the Thunder instead forgot to play defense. Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka both were confused on the ensuing Miami possession, and Bosh was left alone to take a pass from James and throw down a dunk that restored Miami’s three-point edge.
“There was miscommunication, but we still had a chance to go into overtime,” former Sonic Durant said.
Two chances, actually.
Oklahoma City was down by a point after Durant made a jumper over James, but got no closer.
Ex-Sonic Ray Allen’s two free throws with 15.6 seconds left made the score 100-97, and Miami’s last three points came from the line.
Durant missed a 3-pointer James contested, Westbrook wound up with a second chance Wade defended, and the Thunder guard smacked a nearby table as he argued he was fouled.
“Part of the game,” Westbrook said later.
While the stars were stars, the Heat got help from one unexpected source. Chalmers was 8 for 14.
“I got going early,” he said, “and I stuck with it.”
The Heat came out flying, opening a 13-2 lead after making six of its first seven shots. Oklahoma City scored the last eight points of the first quarter, reducing Miami’s lead to 27-24.
“Both teams really played up to the billing,” Wade said. “An excellent basketball game.”