MIAMI (AP) - The lead was 10, the building was quiet, it was late in the third quarter and the Oklahoma City Thunder were on the cusp of grabbing command of the NBA Finals again.
Then the mistakes started.
Soon, it was the Miami Heat taking the lead in this championship series _ and ensuring the Thunder would spend two days with the memories of so many things going wrong at the wrong times.
A night of missed free throws, more foul trouble for Kevin Durant, wasted opportunities in critical situations and one dreadful stretch to end the third quarter all added up to a loss for the Thunder on Sunday, falling 91-85 to the Heat in Game 3 of the finals. Miami now leads the best-of-seven championship series 2-1, with Game 4 back on its floor Tuesday night.
“A very intense playoff game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I thought we did some good things, corrected some things going into this game, and I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win. That’s what you want to do on the road. The game was basically anybody’s ballgame that fourth quarter.”
True. Except it probably shouldn’t have been that way.
Down by eight in the early going, the Thunder clamped down defensively to change the complexion of the evening, taking away the easy paths to the basket that Miami enjoyed in the first half and forcing the Heat to shoot from outside. It simply couldn’t have worked better for the Thunder, with Miami missing 11 straight jumpers in one stretch and finishing 5 for 31 on shots taken from outside the paint for the game.
The Heat needed help to win. And the Thunder accommodated them, with mistake after mistake.
“This is not over,” said Durant, the league’s scoring champion. “It’s not over.”
He repeated the words for emphasis. But if the Thunder repeat those mistakes, then it might be over.
“Game 4 is crucial,” Thunder guard James Harden said. “It’s the series. We don’t want to be down 3-1.”
LeBron James led everyone with 29 points and 14 rebounds for Miami, which got a 25-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist effort from Dwyane Wade and 10 points and 11 rebounds from Chris Bosh.
“This team is not going away,” Heat forward Shane Battier said of the Thunder. “This is an evenly matched series. Literally every game has been decided by four or five possessions. We just want to be on the right side of those possessions when it counts.”
Like they were on Sunday night.