OKLAHOMA CITY – LeBron James has seen his share of great starts turn into faulty finishes.
So with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh providing the help he needed, he wasn’t letting another one get away Thursday night.
James scored 32 points, got a disputed big stop on Kevin Durant and the Miami Heat held off a furious fourth-quarter rally behind their three All-Stars to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-96, tying the NBA Finals at one game apiece.
“We had played too well in the first 36 minutes to try to let this one slip away from us,” James said. “We just wanted to make one more, two more plays than they made and come out with a victory, and we were able to do that.”
Wade rebounded from a poor opener to add 24 points, and Bosh had 16 points and 15 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup for the Heat, who snapped a four-game Finals losing streak with their first victory since Game 3 against Dallas last year.
“It’s been so long since we’ve had them all together,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “They played like the All-Stars that they are, and that’s the effort that we need.”
Now they go home to host Game 3 on Sunday and the next two after that, knowing they don’t have to hear the noisy Thunder fans again – not to mention all their critics – if they win all three.
Miami blew a 13-point lead in Game 1 and seemed headed toward a repeat of the second game of the Finals last year, when it blew a 15-point edge on its home floor.
Not this time.
“(Oklahoma City) is a good team, and we didn’t want to be down 2-0,” Bosh said. “We know in order to accomplish our goal, we have to win on the road.”
It was the first home loss in 10 postseason games for the Thunder.
Durant scored 32 points, but missed a short jumper with 9.9 seconds left after appearing to be bumped by James. The basket would have tied a game the Thunder trailed the entire way.
Oklahoma City’s explosive point guard, Russell Westbrook, finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists but shot 10 of 25 from the field.
James Harden tried to keep the Thunder in the game early and had 21 points, but this time they couldn’t come back from a double-digit deficit after spotting Miami a 17-point advantage during their worst first half of the season.
“That was the game. We can’t start off down 18-2,” Durant said. “We can’t go down that much, especially at home. We’ve got to correct it.”
James had what was his career high, 30 points, in the opener, but afterward said Wade needed to be Wade – All-Star, Olympic gold medalist and 2006 Finals Most Valuable Player.
In Game 1, Wade shot 7 of 19. He wasn’t sharp in the last round and continues to hear reports that something is physically wrong with him. He was all but asked Wednesday if his explosiveness was a thing of the past, what must have been insulting to a player who, though 30, still believes he’s not far from the top of his game.
Wade bounced back, not quite at the level he was in the 2006 Finals, but good enough with the help around him now for the Heat to win another one.
“Just know that I’m always going to keep coming back until I don’t play this game no more,” Wade said. “I know my abilities, I know what I’m capable of and it was good.”
Wade spun into the lane and found Bosh for a dunk that seemed to have the Heat safe at 98-91 inside the final minute, but a 3-pointer by Durant cut it to 98-96 with 37 seconds left. After James missed a 3-pointer, the Thunder got the ball to Durant, who appeared to be knocked off balance by James as he missed the shot along the left baseline.
Durant said only that he missed the shot, saying he would have to watch the tape to see if he was fouled.
James then sank the insurance free throws – finishing a 12-for-12 night at the line – as fans booed loudly over the no-call.
Bosh started after coming off the bench in every game since returning late last round from his nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. The Big Three joined Battier and Mario Chalmers in the lineup, the first time Miami had gone with that first five all season.
It sent the Heat on their way to a terrific start, and Battier matched his surprising 17-point performance in Game 1 by going 5 of 7 from 3-point range, providing all the help the superstar trio needed.